Part Two: Rewriting is Important
During the past week, you’ve hopefully taken a break from writing and even from reading and watching things in your genre. But I know breaks can be hard.
Especially when you’ve gotten into the habit of writing every day, it’s easy to decide that you’ll just glance over your manuscript. Or maybe there’s a scene that you suddenly realize you have a great idea for. Hopefully, you resisted, because that will make the next step a lot easier.
Notice that I’m not talking about editing here (we’ll get to that.) Rewriting is much deeper. You’re not polishing; you’re tearing down and rebuilding. If your story were a house, you’d be tearing down the garage and adding a new bedroom, not just painting the siding.
First, you need to go through your manuscript and read the whole thing, start to finish. Depending on how you have it saved, this may be harder than it sounds. Ideally, you have a Word document, so you can either read from there or save it as a .pdf file to read from another device (Amazon’s Kindles can open a .pdf.) Alternatively, you can just print the whole thing out, but that’s going to be a lot of loose paper.
The important thing is to read the story. This should be fun. You’ve taken a week off and haven’t read or watched anything in the genre. You should have totally fresh eyes (unless you cheated.)
Have a notepad next to you where you can mark down continuity errors, plot holes, and scenes that don’t make sense. Even if you’ve printed out your manuscript, it’s a good idea to have these notes in a separate place so you can quickly reference them as you go.
What you’re looking for are things that changed as you wrote the story. Maybe when you sat down, the hero was an orphan, but by the end, he’s talking about lunch with his father the week before. Or maybe a character was supposed to be the surprise villain, but you turned him into a hero.
It can be simple things too. I’ve had a character whose hair changed color four times over the course of the book. If you were writing in order, the beginning of your book probably looks a lot different than the end.
On top of those things, think about the story as a whole. Does every scene add to the story? Are there any that you don’t need anymore or can combine? Are there events you describe through dialogue that should just be their own scene?
Next, you rewrite. Go through the whole text and change it so that it’s consistent. Depending on how long it took to write, you may even need to adjust the writing style in places. Go through line by line and make sure that the story is coherent.
This will probably involve writing additional scenes to remove unnecessary plot devices or tropes, explain events, and put everything in the correct order. It could include removing scenes that seemed like a great idea at the time, characters that you loved, and subplots that you debated making the main plot. It will probably be as much work as actually writing the book in the first place, and you’ll be trying to reference all the different parts of the book to tie it together.
Remember, though, to focus on the story. For this rewrite, you are doing major changes. Obviously, you’ll want to correct grammar and punctuation errors as you see them, but don’t go through an entire scene to fix grammar right before you delete it because it doesn’t fit into the story.
(Also, don’t just delete scenes. Cut and paste them into a “deleted scenes” file that you can reference if you need to. You’ll be extremely frustrated if it turns out you deleted a scene, but you want a section of dialogue from it or it had an important piece of backstory.)
How long this process takes will depend on your story. If you stuck strictly to an outline and wrote quickly, this may only take a couple of weeks. On the other hand, if you’re working only thirty minutes a day on a manuscript you’ve been writing for six years, it may take months. That’s fine. What’s important is that you rewrite, so that the story shines through.