How Do You Tackle a Rewrite?

Here's hoping this blog (and its comments) can be informative for all involved, including the writer, because the prospect of rewriting and revising a novel can be very intimidating for some. And I won't lie. It definitely is for me. I have never revised a novel of my own. I'm so good at marking up others' work. When I send it back to them, I feel relieved that I don't have to do the next step, because let's face it: revising is the hardest part.

I'm not sure if I even have the mechanics of it right. I'm a pretty intuitive person, but that doesn't always mean efficient. When you receive a highly marked up document back from your first reader(s), what is the first thing you do?

For one, I read through all of the margin comments. I can't help myself. I want to know immediately what parts they liked and what they didn't so I have a sense of the overall scope of work ahead of me.

Then what happens?

I go through all of the red lines. And they can be numerous. This is where people will correct your grammar and punctuation or insert prose suggestions directly into the text. These edits can be even more tedious, depending on how clean the draft was that you sent out.

After that, I start tackling the big stuff. My current novel, Scarlet Letters, needs some minor rearranging at the chapter level, but a good bit at the scene level. Some scenes will need to be rewritten completely. There are also some character development things that I need to add that will likely expand the story. This is akin to replacing a head gasket in a car. You gotta take a whole bunch of crap apart, put it back together, and in the process get your hands really dirty.

Finally, I need to assemble all of the little additions that will hopefully make the book stand out. In this case, different chapter headings, epigraphs and--in the case of this book--endnotes and (possibly) an appendix. This is the point where the book will more or less look the way it's supposed to when I start querying agents.

There is a lot of work to do, and I wonder if I'm going about it the right way. What's the method to your rewrite madness?


  1. Gosh. I haven't finished enough work to really answer this question fully, and not yet with novel -sized works, but what I've done with my few shorts is:

    1. After "the end" I go back and do quick spelling, typo, and sentence fixes (such as getting rid of passive voice or eliminating adverbs), as well as some formatting, if needed.

    2. Walk away for 4-6 weeks.

    3. Dust it off and read it. Write marginalia. Add or cut sections. Polish language, tweak metaphors that are shaky or cliched.

    4. Walk away for roughly 1 week.

    5. Line edit. Ask myself with every single damn sentence "Is this the best word? Is there a better way to say this? Does it flow from the previous sentence and lead into the next smoothly? Does this sentence perform its function appropriately?"

    6. Find beta readers. Listen to their feedback. Decide what suggestions to implement. Follow through.

    7. Walk away. 2 weeks.

    8. Read and redo-line edits. Send it back out for final crits.

    9. When the answer to the question "is this the best I can make this peice of writing?" is Yes! then it is done. If I'm proud of it, I start shopping it.

    Time consuming process. Looks like revising my novels is gonna be a bitch.

  2. oh, I should add that I go through 3 hard-copies with each successive edit, especially with the first 2 line-edits. I don't do line-edits and deep read-throughs onscreen.

  3. My short stories get a lot more attention in the rewrite than my novel length stories. Short stories I tend to go a little nutsoid over every word used; viciously cutting and pruning till as few words as possible can tell my story the way I want it told. Novels, on the other hand, I just want to sound smooth. Conversational. Easy. If my novel is sent back to me needing massive cuts and rearranging (like what you were talking about with the mechanic and the broke down car that still has a chance but will have to undergo some major surgery) I usually put them aside and say I'll get to it later. And then I don't. I'm a bit too lazy for my own good, I'm afraid. Now, If it's just a matter of pruning, no problem. Cutting I can do. Massive rearranging and rewriting--having to turn my motorcycle into a truck--no. I'm not gonna do that. WAY too much work.