It happens. This is not the first time it has happened to me. In fact, even with the magnitude of the rewrite ahead of me, I still don’t anticipate that this will be the most challenging. I will likely award that crown to the book where I returned so far back to the starting line I actually changed my heroine’s name.
But just because it won’t be the most challenging, that doesn’t mean it will be easy. As someone who has been there and done that, turned eight-thousand-word stories into twenty-five thousand-word stories, twenty-thousand-word books into fifty-thousand-word books, (both at the same time and with deadlines in the weeks…) I may have a little insight into how to reconstruct your book while you are standing in it. Here are a few tips and tricks to starting over from the inside out.
Pinpoint the Problem
Why do you have to go back and start rewriting? In the case of this book, my main plot point turned out to be a major consent issue. In the original outlining stages, I had sketched the plot without realizing exactly how creepstatic a hero concealing his identity in those circumstances would be. So yeah, it’s vital that I fix this – and the requisite plot based around it. But why are you reconstructing your book? Does it need to be longer? Do the characters need more time to develop? Is the plot convoluted? Find the big picture so you can have a clear vision of what needs to happen before you start digging.
Outline the Plan
In the case of my current book, I need to dig deep into the revisions before I can figure out all that needs to happen. But I’ve worked on books in the past where I can say exactly what scenes I plan to add, what dialogue I’ll change or moments I’ll expand. Make those lists – even if you don’t use everything on them! We’re still on big picture at this point, so don’t worry too much about cosmetics, but focus on the support beams and foundation.
Listen, if you’re working on any book at any stage, you want to be organized. You want to know where to find your outlines, your character sheets, your notes. But even if you’re used to working in a bit of chaos, when it comes to rewriting your book it’s time to find a new approach. Rewriting your book after it’s written, changing a huge plot arc or character arc or whatever it may be, will get messy. You will not remember every detail. Save the scenes you take out of the book. Take notes. Everything will help you later on and Google Docs are free for all the scribbling and madness. Don’t skimp on the notes.
Find a Way That Works for You
But Holland, I thought you were going to give us all the answers on rewriting our books. Ha. I wish, sweet writer darlings, but I don’t have any answers. The truth is, every book and every author will need something different. Chances are I can make my changes to this book in the document itself with moderate to extreme swearing involved, but minimal heavy lifting.
For the book that deserves the title as the most challenging I have ever rewritten, I sat down with a twelve-foot whiteboard and outlined each scene, the things missing from that scene, the scenes that needed to come between those scenes, the character arcs, the settings, the themes and the general things I needed to keep in mind.
Too much? Not for that book.
Perhaps for you, it will be sticky notes, a whiteboard or index cards on the floor. It could be a spreadsheet if that’s your fancy. You may rewrite scenes in a separate document or right in the manuscript itself. Just find the right way to approach your book rewrite for you.
Just Do It
We can plan and organize and plan and organize forever, but eventually, you’ll have to sit down and do that rewrite. It’s scary and overwhelming and you won’t do it in a day, but you will break it down into smaller, much more manageable pieces until, oh hey, this isn’t so bad after all. Take notes about your changes, keep tabs on elements to remember in the future, but just write. That’s the hardest part and then you can start to frost your book cake.
But First the Crumb Coat
Editing is as fundamental to writing a book as writing the actual book. In the case of a book you’re rewriting, however, it’s far, far more imperative that you edit that sucker to the bone. Look for continuity – plot issues, conversations out of place, characters knowing things they shouldn’t. And then look for that weird vibe, that character behaving a certain way too early in the book, that scene that’s a little out of place with the changes you’ve made.
Where you may give a manuscript one or two developmental edits, give this one more. Give it several readings for several different things before you ever consider line editing. Make sure the structure of your house stands up and will continue to stand when you paint it.
And then it’s all the regular stuff. Copy editing and line editing – all with caveats of remembering to look for details you’ve changed, characters you’ve replaced. Perhaps the most fundamental part of rewriting a book from the inside is editing it to make sure the puzzle pieces actually fit.
It’s not an easy process, not for anyone. But sometimes, it’s necessary. And in nearly every case, we rewrite a book, frustrated and begrudgingly, because we know how much better it will be when we do. So, long and dark as the tunnel may seem while you work to collapse it on top of you, remember that out on the other side, in the light of day and in the hands of readers, is a far, far better book than the one you have right now. Let that thought guide you and you will make it through. ♦