Successful Rewriting- A Guide
Rewrite- the author’s metaphorical four-letter word. It’s never an easy task to rewrite a work, regardless of who says it needs to be done. It’s a gut-wrenching exercise to revisit your words and decide almost everything needs to change.
My personal journey while writing (and rewriting) The Erden Archives is a meandering one. The serialized, short story version of the Archives is a rewrite. Originally, the story focuses on the journal of a young woman, given to her mother. However, the single perspective is too narrow to tell the story I wish to convey.
For two months, I rewrote chapters without producing any new work. Not good. My novelization had bogged down to a halt. I changed formats hoping to write, complete, and move on.
Changing to serialized short stories greatly improved my forward production. To date, I’ve completed five rough draft short stories, with one in progress, and more in brainstorming. That is, until my personal deadline for publishing first short story, “Music of the Masters,” crept closer.
Again, I found myself stalled. While sometimes we cannot find the acute reasons for losing our forward momentum, I can. My particular was not given to be by some editor or publisher. I found it while reading over someone’s shoulder during a panel on short fiction. “Write in first person, present tense to engage your readers quickly,” it said. Darn my nosiness.
I could take it or leave it without any issue, but something said give it a shot. I’m after all, a bit young in my career to not take advice (I hope I’m always that young). Adopting the rewrite was entirely my decision. Beginning with a simple, single-page rewrite, I fell for the story even harder!
To date, I’ve rewritten three stories, and I’m about to start my fourth, a pattern is emerging. About halfway through each rewrite, I lose all steam and feel completely lost. I wonder if it’s all worth it, and fears of stalling, like I did on the novel, percolate into my mind. This seems really ridiculous- I want this, I love this, and it’s a genuine improvement!
Why, then, do I feel lost, overwhelmed, and unmotivated doing something I know I’ll really love when it’s over?
I’m hopeful I’m not the only writer that suffers this sort of slump. We each have our own underlying motivations for writing, and at some point, we will all come to a point where our motivations are challenged. We will be asked to do something that interrupts our normal way of finding our joy in creating the written word.
In those moments, we have to dig deep and perform beyond our own expectations. In those moments, it helps to have a plan, something you can remind yourself to do, something that will keep you on the path. In the military, they’re called battle drills- small exercises and tactics that are trained so much that they become second nature.
So, I think it’s important that I share my method with you, my readers and inspired authors, on how to handle rewrites. It’s also a way I can remind myself.
1) A rewrite is an opportunity.
This cannot be stressed enough. If revision or an edit helps clarify your work, how much more concise and beautiful will your prose be when the rewrite is finished? You’ve improved your ability to write since the first draft, merely by writing more since the ‘offending text’ was put to paper. How great, then, is the opportunity to display those newly honed skills than by giving yourself the chance to write it the way it was meant to be written?
2) Introspection, not narcissism
Excessive ego is a killer in writing. I’m a youngling in my career as a writer, but I’ve yet to meet anyone successful who has bought into their own image so wholeheartedly that they can’t look at themselves critically. The ones who let themselves get to that point are already on their way out. Introspection is a trait to cherish, and rewrites are an opportunity to look at the representative you and really polish out the rough edges.
3) Own the process.
The only way to make progress in life is to take responsibility for what you’re doing. That said, regardless of where the rewrite comes from, it’s your job to make it your own.
This is a make-or-break moment for you as an author. If you don’t like constructive criticism, trust me, you’re in the wrong industry. Even the most ham-handed feedback is an opportunity for you to look at your work with a critical eye and own any potential improvements. There is always a better way to say something.
4) Have a mission statement for each rewrite.
Goals tend to make achievements possible. Having a mission statement gives your rewrite a distance and direction. The more concrete the better.
When I was rewriting “Music of the Masters,” groping my way through the process, I realized that I was delving deep into the psychology of my characters, even to the point of selecting different words to describe the same things. I realized how much better the story read when I gave the story a biased narration. So, when I began the rewrite for “Road to Ruins,” I put a note on the first sentence- “Charge me by the letter on this story. Sargaron is laconic.” As a result, I cut half the text completely out.
Having something simple and concise to refer to helps the rewrite stay on task.
5) Begin simply; progress is progress.
It is actually easier to keep up the rewriting momentum, so long as you keep rewriting. The work is going to go back through the editing and revision wash cycle again anyway, but now, you have a blueprint to base your text on. The outline has already been filled in, so you can focus on wordsmithing, themes, and characterization over plot, which will enrich your readers’ experience and captivate their minds.
6) Test the rewrite.
Don’t fully commit to a rewrite out of the gate. You need to give the work room to breathe, like a good wine. Copy the original text and try a single paragraph or a page. Reread it yourself and show it to trusted people. Maybe something else needs to be tweaked. Sometimes, fixing one thing breaks three more. In those moments, going slowly helps identify what needs to be changed further.
7) Some things were better said the first time.
Remember, there are always moments in writing where things really gel. When you see something good, don’t be afraid to leave it alone if you think it still fits well.
In one of my first Instagram posts, I wrote, “The slag falls off in every forge.” This couldn’t be more true in a rewrite. It may feel like a setback, but really what you’re doing is turning up the heat and burning away all the unnecessary bits, leaving pure, wonderful prose waiting to be worked to perfection.