Key-Word Cavalry: The Goal of Rewriting a Novel

For those of you who are new to my blog, every Wednesday except for the first one every month, I take a key-word or phrase that have drawn or will draw readers and then I write about it.

This week’s phrase is: “What the goal of rewriting a novel.”

See here for credit and awesome post on Revisions vs. Rewrites

My guess is that everyone has a different reason for rewriting a novel, but in general, rewriting is mainly done to correct problems that are so big and so pervasive that it’s easier to write the novel again than to simply revise it.

Because trust me, most writers will revise and revise until they can’t any more before they rewrite.

Most writers whose blogs I’ve read keep rewriting as a last resort when they absolutely can’t fix the story in any other way. And even then, rewriting will usually happen after a long period of putting the ms on the back-burner.

On the other hand, I think of rewriting as just another tool in my arsenal, along with revisions and edits.

Where edits are to fix small errors, revisions are for fixing big issues. Rewriting fixes errors, plot holes and other problems that are even bigger.

And I find it incredibly useful. So useful, in fact, that I don’t write a single book that I don’t rewrite before I revise. It’s something that I would recommend to any pantser, because rewriting shaves out all those orphan scenes where we got distracted. It cuts out or ties up loose strings.

Basically it pretty much uniformly improves the quality of your manuscript before you start sanding it down and polishing it. Where revision fixes things part by part or aspect by aspect (I.E. by focusing on characterization or conflict), rewrites is a good way to improve everything throughout the entire draft.  

BUT. If you want to use rewriting as part of the editing process, it’s important to take some time to think about your story. Give your draft a rest so that you can get some distance from it and then reread it. Think about everything that needs to be smoothed, added or removed. Then you’ll need to have some sort of a plan before you rewrite. Yes pantsers, I know this sounds insane, but if you don’t plan before rewriting, you’ll just be writing a slightly altered rough draft of your original story. That won’t help you, since the point is to come out with a more polished version of the same story you wrote.

You definitely want to recognise your WiP when you reread your rewritten draft.

In summery, rewriting can potentially have two main goals: To completely change the story you’ve written from start to finish, or to improve the quality of your ms as consistently as possible.

How do you use rewrites? Do you hate rewriting?

17 thoughts on “Key-Word Cavalry: The Goal of Rewriting a Novel

  1. Actually, I rewrote Secondhand Shoes twice. I made it more interesting and less boring. I don't mind rewrites or editing. I say write out all your thoughts…drain yourself from them so the story can flow out of you. Then, go back and do whatever you need to.

  2. For me, the greater part of writing is working with a manuscript — once I have something, a foundation, then I can get serious about writing. I wouldn't call that rewriting, though — not starting from scratch. It's hard enough for me to get it all down once. Starting from page one again would mean I'd never, ever finish.

  3. My first book was a complete rewrite, but considering I wrote the first draft as a teenager, it was necessary. I keep the two main characters and one scene – everything else I chucked.

  4. I have been rewriting my shorts since some of them have good ideas but need a little drama and some liveliness for want of a better word.

  5. Rewriting from the very beginning? Yowza. I nearly swooned, there. 🙂

    I'm facing (or rather, not facing, but must soon face) a honking huge revision to one of my books. That alone wigs me out…perhaps I'll find myself to be rewriting it after all, though there's quite a lot of it I want to keep.

    Misha, tell us more about what your rewriting process is like: do you open up a whole new Word document (or notebook, or whatever software you use) and really start from scratch or is it more like you save a new electronic copy of your work and then have your merry way with it?
    Some Dark Romantic

  6. I always rewrite from scratch. After losing an entire rewrite because I wrote it in the same document as the original (one of the few times I drafted digitally), I decided to stick with my tried and true recipe:

    1) Rough draft with v-tipped (preferably black) pen in beautiful and special hard-cover notebooks. Usually I use one and a half per draft.
    2) Rewrite to get the entire story – but a better version – on my computer.
    3) Copy/paste to a new document before starting revisions. None of my drafts are in the same document. Not even my editing rounds.


  7. Thanks, Misha. I'm a lot like you in that I love to write longhand, with pretty pens and notebooks, etc. After I'm done, I put it away for a bit, then type it up and edit as I go and consider that a 2nd draft, but I'm not necessarily “rewriting” the story, I don't think. And I do #3 too – it just seems to make sense to do so, dunnit? 🙂
    Some Dark Romantic

  8. I do hate rewriting. I'd much rather revise. Unfortunately, an editor told me I need to rewrite my memoir so I can flip my secondary plot line with my first. Needless to say, the ms is still on the shelf.

  9. I'm only rewriting one novel, which yes, means it's been backburnered and I haven't worked on it in years. I do probably half planning, half pantsing (I write out a loose outline to give me direction but I still do what I want when I write) and then go back and finely comb things out or add ideas in. The only “rewriting” that happens would be parts of scenes or even whole scenes (assuming I don't chop them out). For me, since I write 350k novels, I have to get as much right the first time as I can, because rewriting is out of the question if I ever want to actually publish anything.

  10. My first novel ever needs a rewrite. It will rest some time. The more I write, the less rewriting I seem to have to do. With that said, you've read some in HL #1. I will have to rewrite #2. I think you read chapter one of that. That's the only part that will remain in tact. The general plot will remain the same, but everything else is getting changed. Basically, she had no friends in the first draft and when I started writing this story, I figured that had to change. Do not write book #2 in a series before book #1. If you do, there's no getting around rewrites. lol

  11. Hmm. I've done extensive edits that are bordering on rewrites because I restructured the story, changed the goal and motivation, and deleted and wrote new scenes. It's a very different story from the one a year ago, but I didn't rewrite it from scratch. I have another one I'm going to rework next year, but I think I might just write it from scratch. That sounds like the easiest thing to do.

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