Thursday, May 21, 2015

Learning to Rewrite

by Jemi Fraser

For me learning to rewrite a draft was NOT an easy road.

Stage #1 - Complete Ignorance

  • in my first rewrite, I had no idea what I was doing. I went through the draft, fixed all the typos, tweaked some sentences, and was daring enough to eliminate a couple of paragraphs here and there
  • then I met some amazing folks over at Agent Query Connect and learned that a rewrite should be a slightly more intense process
Stage #2 - Gaining Confidence
  • the next step in my journey was realizing that everything I'd written in my first drafts didn't have to be included in the final draft. I could take out entire scenes. I could move entire scenes. Change pov.
  • these realizations actually shocked me, and took me a while to wrap my head around 
  • at this point, I carefully saved each new 'draft' with a date indicating the changes
Stage #3 - Gaining Crit Buddies
  • this changed my world and burst my naive little bubble. And I will be forever grateful.
  • I learned that a rewrite involved more than the tweaking I'd been doing.
  • reaching deep down into the story was pretty tough. I was faced with some big realizations. Probably the biggest one was that external conflict isn't enough. There needed to be internal conflict too. For both my MCs (I write romance).
  • this involved re-reading and re-writing scene by scene, making changes, keeping track of changes, making notes, deleting favourite scenes & lines, adding conflict (lots and lots of adding conflict)
  • I no longer saved drafts, only the main one, with a folder (I'd discovered Scrivener at this point) with the very few scenes I though I might want to reuse or rescue somehow
Stage #4 - A Real Rewrite
  • I tried my Stage 3 version of rewriting for several of my novels, and found it very discouraging. Several stories I know have tons of potential were languishing. I also discovered Stage 3 is HARD. Very hard. For me, a million times more difficult than writing a first draft.
  • brainwave!
  • I decided to dump all my chapters and scenes into a new Scrivener folder titled Draft 1
  • because I love (LOVE!!) writing first drafts, I decided to treat Draft 2 like a Draft 1
  • I rewrote the draft from scratch. At first I found it tough to not peek at the first draft, but it definitely got easier. The changes I needed to make were core changes and because of that, the story changed dramatically, while keeping the same basic plot elements, and I already knew those plot elements, so I didn't peek.
Stage #5 - Unknown
  • as I'm evolving as a writer, I know my style will change too
  • I've got 5 or 6 stories begging for rewrites (I was stuck fast in Stages 2 & 3 for far too long) and at this point I'm nearly salivating wanting to do a Stage 4 rewrite for each of them
  • I wonder if I'll have discovered Stage 5 by the time I get to them all?
Learning to write well (and to rewrite well) is a personal journey. My journey will probably look nothing like yours, but I hope by sharing mine, you might find some ideas to help you move along to the next step. Or suggestions as to what Stage 5 might look like for me!

Do you rewrite? Do your rewrites look anything like mine?

Jemi Fraser is an aspiring author of contemporary romance. She blogs  and tweets while searching for those HEAs.

9 comments:

JeffO said...

It's interesting how you can work without a net--or, in this case, a base copy of your draft--and come out with something remarkably similar, sometimes, even the same, as what you started with. These stories get ingrained in our brains somewhere in the writing.

On this project, I'm typing the whole thing in as I go, reading off a marked up hard copy, rather than cutting and pasting, and it's going pretty well.

It is an ever-evolving process.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Critique partners really make a difference and can rock your world.
I save some of the versions as I print out my manuscript several times.

Jane Steen said...

I learned to rewrite with my current WIP-in-editing (I also have a WIP-in-draft). I tweaked and tweaked the first version, because I just wasn't happy with it. After a year of editing, sending to readers, etc., I decided I had to rewrite. And I allowed myself to write long.

So I ended up with a 175,000 word MS. My readers told me the same thing: after Chapter 33 they couldn't put it down, but the first 32 chapters needed shortening.

So I made some decisions on which plot lines I could eliminate and rewrote Chapters 1 through 32, again referring to version 2 but it was still a proper rewrite.

And now I'm happy. Took me forever, but it was worth it to produce work I can feel good about.

Jemi Fraser said...

Jeff - ever-evolving is the perfect word! I find it amazing how much the brain hangs on to from a draft. :)

Alex - I think I've only printed out once or twice and it does make a difference Have to do it more!

Jane - that sounds like a fabulous process! If you hadn't written the long version, you might not have found out where the shortening needed to happen. That's awesome! :)

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I like that you've reminded us it's a journey to get to where you are now! Revising is a skill to learn, just like everything else. So glad it's going so well for you!

Medeia Sharif said...

I'm revising right now and I'm moving things around, adding things...a lot that is needed. I love seeing the manuscript taking on a better shape.

Jemi Fraser said...

Thanks Elizabeth!

Medeia - moving things around can give me the heebie-jeebies! But I'm learning! :)

Caryn Caldwell said...

I love seeing how your process evolved! Honestly, I think that's the mark of a good writer, and one who will do well: they are willing to really get in there and learn how to revise -- including cutting and adding scenes and finding remarkable critique partners.

Good luck with your book! It sounds amazing!

Jemi Fraser said...

Caryn - I hope so! I've been having a ton of fun with it, so I'm hoping that's a very good sign :)