When You Just Have To (Re)Write

My editor and I have a very cool arrangement for how we overhaul my books. She gets a PDF of a chapter, opens it up, rips it into shreds via the markup and highlight tools, then tosses it back to me. Then I pull that PDF side-by-side with its Word-document twin and work it over per her instructions. Some instructions I follow, others I discuss with her. Sometimes, I overhaul it so completely that I have to re-send the entire chapter back to her.

It’s incredibly effective. It’s also the style of editing that I had adopted for my own business clients as well.

The thing is, though, is that I fillet my work before it ever goes to Gayle, and thus, am several chapters ahead. As it so happens, this way I get to see where my book had gone into, and what I have to do to make it an effective story. Gayle gets the refined draft, hardly ever the rough one. This way, I can also correct storyline inconsistencies before the story ever gets to the editor’s desk.

Usually, it’s a pretty smooth process, albeit time-consuming and eye-crossing, like most editing tends to be.

And then you have moments like I had recently, wherein you continue to edit, and then come to the realization that pretty much the entire second half of the book needs a full-scale consistency overhaul, a.k.a. a massive content edit. Or, better put, a rewrite.


Rewrites are a funny thing. They’re definitely a step above a conventional copyedit, and are a very necessary thing in most cases. I have said it before and I will reiterate myself: a first draft is a first draft only. Few times, if ever at all, does an author get the novel right on the first go. Chances are, the first go is not the best book in the world, and it is often full of plot holes, bad grammar, and underdeveloped storylines.

Surprise rewrites of the breed that mine had happened to be are a completely different animal, though. They just happen after you had edited through a good portion of your first draft, and are feeling that you can clock through the rest of the manuscript without a major overhaul. It kind of creeps up and bops you over the head, and then you’re surprised and wondering how you can possibly overhaul this much.

You know what the answer to that is? Slowly, and without discarding what you have already.

Granted, I’ve done it before when, upon the initial re-read, the first half of Book 1 had struck me as so cliche that I couldn’t keep it in the book. I’m talking a full-scale I cannot believe I wrote that sort of moment. Thus, I spent the better part of three years rewriting it. It was an interesting deal; I had to work mostly from scratch on that first half, but the scenes that were already there had given root to what it had ended up becoming. For the most part, though, I was writing the entire beginning half all over again.

With Book 4, though, the content is all there, and even in the current state, the action ramps up and cools off at just the right pace. The thing is…it’s a series. And considering that, 1) this would wrap up the first arc, and 2) the second arc is already mostly written, the main purpose of this overhaul is to make it all cohesive. My task is to both wrap up all the loose ends from Books 1-3, and springboard the plot properly into the next arc. Book 5 is its own little set of adventures, and the beautiful thing about Book 5 is, when laid out in Scrivener, all those plot holes hidden in the wall of text that’s usually the end result of novel-writing in Word are suddenly as obvious as spotlights.

This is the approach that I would recommend for attempting the Surprise Rewrite:

– Read the remainder of your story. By this time, it had already sat around for a while, and after you’ve already started the edit, you have a pretty clear idea of where this story is going to go. If you have a look at the rest of your story with your editing framework in mind, you suddenly end up viewing your writing in a much more critical frame of mind.

– Take notes, and lots of ’em. Whether Post-Its are your poison, the Notes feature on Scrivener had struck your fancy, or you like OneNote from MS Office, you have to take notes. Make them as detailed as you like, but make sure that you will be able to understand them two months after you take them.

– Go slowly. Scene-by-scene, paragraph-by-paragraph, it matters little how you do it, but make sure that you take as much time as possible. As I’ve said before, editing a mass amount of text at the same time can and will make your eyes cross. You can and will get lost in your own story. If you have to rewrite or insert a scene, make sure that that’s all you do for a given block of time.  It will, without fail, take you a lot of time to get done this way, but your story quality will be glad for it.

– If you’re straight-out rewriting chunks of your story from scratch, don’t discard the original portions. Don’t. They won’t come in useful just for nostalgia moments, but for future inspiration as well. As I learned the old-fashioned way, you literally have no idea where your next story idea will be coming from. Copy-paste your discarded segments into a separate file, and store it somewhere in your archives. When you have writer’s block some months – if not years – from today, have a read. You never know.

As it is, I have inadvertently started the overhaul earlier today. I touched back onto a couple of points in Book 3 and realized that if I wanted to have a turning point for one of my characters, then that was the perfect way to engineer it. It may cost me half of a dialogue to do it, but it’ll be pretty great.

As far as deadlines, I’ve had a small chat with Ragan Whiteside, a hell of a talent on the flute and a great fan of my books, and realized that, realistically, there was no way to get this done early. So, with that said, the deadline for the release of Book 4 is…my 27th birthday, May 13th, 2012. 

I think it’ll be a hell of a way to celebrate.