This article explains why so many shun the rewrite and why they should learn to love doing a rewrite.
Is there a manuscript in your bottom drawer? You’re in good company! Many writers just can’t be bothered with revising.
Writing a poem or a story is just wonderful. We let our imagination take flight, and off we go on an exciting journey. Once a text is written, reality kicks in. We spot typos, grammar mistakes, plot holes, register breaks, many kinds of shortcomings. We know we must address them. But we don’t. Rewrites are probably reason number one for procrastination among writers. But why?
Reasons To Hate Rewrites
1. Rewrites show that first drafts aren’t perfect.
Revisiting the first draft gives writers a sense of failure. Even the bits we thought were so creative, so witty, so meaningful reveal their flaws at a second glance. ‘Kill your darlings’ is a tried and tested phrase because it does feel a bit violent to chuck what we once thought was just perfect.
2. Rewrites show we need to invest more work.
The first draft of a novel takes about 70.000 words and lots of time. It’s a lot of work. But not enough! Writing ‘The End’ is the beginning of the rewrite. Suddenly writing requires tenacity, and it can become drudgery for some.
3. Rewrites are less tangible than the first draft.
Writing the first draft, wasn’t it satisfying to see the word count go up? It’s how you could watch your progress. Rewrites can’t be judged that way. Sometimes rewriting a line takes more time than writing it. Rewrites are just not measurable in numbers.
4. Rewrites require a different set of skills.
Writing requires imagination, a good vocabulary, knowledge about literary forms, and the skill to put it all together in an interesting way. But the first draft produces repetitions, redundancy, and storylines flying off on a tangent. This loose mess of ideas needs to be harnessed and structured; these are the skills required for the rewrite. It’s like putting on your reading glasses so you can check up on all the details. Here’s an article to help you edit like a pro.
5. Rewrites kill motivation.
After the first draft, doing a rewrite seems like boring paperwork. It’s like looking into a fine print of a contract to see if everything is ok. It must be done. You need to rev up your motivation again. It’s hard, especially when you write in addition to a full day job, but so worthwhile! Remember why you started writing in the first place. Rewrites are necessary. So why not learn to love them?
Why You Should Love Doing A Rewrite
I come from the world of radio and TV journalism. That means zero time for a rewrite. I had to learn how to write texts so that they could go on air the second the paper left the printer. The editor only had time for minimal corrections. If the text wasn’t perfect, it went to the bin, and I didn’t get paid. This job is very stressful.
Can you imagine my relief when I learned that in writing fiction, I didn’t have to be perfect right away? It was mind-blowing! I love rewrites.
Reasons To Love Rewrites
1. Rewrites mean self-care for writers.
They take the stress out of the first draft: perfection is not necessary. You can rewrite as often as you need. Do what you can and enjoy the process. I no longer ‘kill my darlings,’ I simply save them for later. Create a file with all the discarded bits from your manuscript. This comes in handy for all the stories to come.
2. Rewrites let you indulge in your world a little longer.
Wasn’t it hard to write ‘The End?’? With a rewrite, you no longer need to feel sad that your wonderful story is finished. These characters have become friends, so why not stay on a bit? Rewrites let you do just that.
3. Rewrites are like polishing a diamond.
A first draft is like carving a raw diamond out of the rock. You know it’s valuable, but you need to polish it to discover its beauty. Rewriting does that to your text. The different rounds of editing and proofreading are like different tools to make that raw diamond sparkle. Here’s a downside: Nobody knows how much rewriting is needed before the sparkle sets in.
4. Rewrites are easier than you think.
The story is already on the page. All the critical decisions (the characters, the conflict, the setting, and the plot points) have been made; you just can’t see that yet. Your first draft is like an overgrown garden. You need to trim the shrubs here and there to find the roses. The difficulty of a successful rewrite lies in deciding what to trim. But if you’re not satisfied with the result, there’s always another rewrite.
5. Rewrites are made by experts
Remember what it was like to write those first lines? You were a newbie to your story. By finishing, you’ve become an expert. If you think your first chapters are terrible, it simply means you’re past that level of experience. You’ve become a better writer already. That’s why you spot all the shortcomings. It’s also what makes you ready to do a successful rewrite.
You’re Not Alone
The most famous authors have been through long and often laborious rewrites. Here’s a small list:
- T.S. Eliot’s first draft of The Waste Land was edited for several months with the original material cut in half before it was published in 1922.
- Bestseller Author Laurie King says she’s a pantser: ‘A first draft is a short, meandering, half-developed heap of paper that no one but an experienced editor can make any sense out of. […] The rewrite is when that…[outline] …is turned from a list of events involving half-developed characters into a full-blooded narrative with people we care about.’
- James Michener says: ‘I’m not a very good writer, but I am an excellent rewriter.’ He wrote over 40 novels!
- Ernest Hemingway is said to have rewritten A Farewell To Arms 39 times before he was satisfied with the result.
If you’d like to read more quotes on rewriting, read these quotes.
The Last Word
When you rewrite, you take your manuscript to the gym. You get it into the best possible shape. It’s hard work, but in the end, you’ll be so proud! I hope this article has shown you how to enjoy your rewrites.
By Susanne Bennett. Susanne is a German-American writer who is a journalist by trade and a writer by heart. After years of working at German public radio and an online news portal, she has decided to accept challenges by Deadlines for Writers. Currently she is writing her first novel with them. She is known for overweight purses and carrying a novel everywhere. Follow her on Facebook.
More Posts From Susanne
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- How To Write An Elevator Pitch For Your Book
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- Why It’s Okay Not To Write (& Simple Steps To Start Writing Again)
- How To Edit Like A Pro