Friday, July 1, 2011

GAAAHHH!!! Rewriting!!!

That's how I feel when I have to rewrite. Plain and simple. I love writing, but rewriting requires the real elbow grease. Some background on me: the first two novels I ever wrote got stuck in revision purgatory. My first novel made it to draft 4, the second to draft 2. Both times, I never followed through on the next draft and moved onto something else. Like I said, I love writing. My favorite parts of the writing process are working out the plot and writing the first draft. I don't think I'm alone. Many writers dread revising. If we love writing, then why do we hate rewriting? I looked at my own experiences and came up with 4 reasons why I can never get through revisions.

1) It feels like starting over. It took me months to brainstorm, plot, outline, and write draft 1. Working out character arcs and plot points, getting the tone right. It was like an obstacle course -- a fun, rewarding one, but still an obstacle course. And obstacle courses are not as fun the second time around. Rewriting means going all the way back to the beginning. Pinpointing my weak areas, reworking those, then reworking those corresponding chapters. After I've come so far, I have to go back. It's like living in a five story walk-up. Trudging all the way downstairs to the street before realizing you forgot your wallet on your desk.

2) I have to overhaul something that is complete. No matter how flawed my first draft is, it tells a complete story. That story may have plot holes and unbelievable character moments, but it is coherent and not awful. Having to go back into my complete story and change parts is daunting. Because I can't just switch some things around and call it a day. There are usually structural problems and major character development issues that need to be fixed. And those affect large chunks of the story. Once I change those, I have to change the other parts that were affected by those changes. Meaning that my complete story is getting blown to bits, and I have to put it together again.

3) I must be analytical rather than creative. The first draft is the fun part because I get to be purely creative. I am setting the narrative tone, fleshing out characters for the first time and writing exciting sequences. I have a blank slate, and I can fill it however I want. All the fun stuff we writers love to do. But when rewriting, I have to take off my writer hat and put on my critical sombrero. I can't reread a chapter I wrote and say "Wow Phil, you're such a good writer!" I have to dig beneath the surface and find out why it isn't working. I have to decide if it belongs later or sooner in the story. I have to excise dialogue I love because it's dragging or out of character. They don't call it Killing Your Darlings for nothing.

4) Rewriting is the opposite of how I like to write first drafts. I write my first drafts fast and furiously. I have a detailed outline, and I try to tackle 1 chapter every 2 days. Momentum helps carry me along. My goal is to finish the draft as fast as possible, so I have a finished product I can begin revising. Problem is, I can't revise fast and furiously. I may tell myself I'll revise 1 chapter every 2 days, but that may not happen. I may get stuck, or the chapter I just rewrote may need more revising. Rewriting is a much slower process, which goes against how I prefer to do my writing.

The popular phrase is "Writing is rewriting." I believe that is true 100%; that is why I am not a published author yet. I do believe I have it in me to revise a novel and get it to agent-level. On my next novel that I write, I am going to work hard to make it through revising. I will put myself on a stricter schedule to ensure that I keep up with it, for one.

What are your thoughts on revising? A necessary evil or welcome pleasure? Any rewriting tips you care to share?


  1. The first time I tried to revise, I read my 36,000 word novel and decided there was nothing I could add to the plot. It was too short. The end.

    Now I'm at my first ever 'real' revision stage and it's scary. All I want to do is shove it away and write something else, but I'm forcing myself to do this. I haven't got very far though, so I'm no help to you at all. Sorry!

  2. Rewriting does take quite a bit of time. I know someone who wrote her novel quite quickly then revised for at least six months. It's not fun to revise, but I sure like the outcome when it's done. :)

  3. Editing is hard but I find it rewarding when it's complete. Sometimes it feels endless, though. I did a lot of reading to improve my art of editing. Here is my blog entry on it. You may find ideas to motivate yourself during the editing phase. Good luck!

  4. @Sarah - I feel your pain, but push on! I know you can finish that revision!

    @AA - From what I've read about other authors, that sounds about right. A quick first draft, then a few months of revisions. I just have to remind myself to keep putting in the work because the outcome is worth the effort.

    @Julia - I LOVED your editing post, LOVED how you pinpointed those macro questions to ask yourself when rereading. I am going to bookmark that page. I need checklists like that. Question - do you reread your draft twice each time (once for macro, once for details), or multiple times to cover each topic (once focusing on characters, once focusing on theme, etc)?

  5. I'm glad you find it useful, Phil. I don't have a rigid pattern of work, but I do the macro and the micro thing a number of times to edit it. (Now I'm about to finish a short story, so I will be doing the thorough editing soon!)