R is for Rewrites

Hello, and welcome to the April A-Z Blogging Challenge! Over the first 26 days of April, we will explore aspects of writing and marketing books – authors, feel free to weigh in, and readers, feel free to observe and ask questions!



Originally, today’s post was R is for Reading List. Then I remembered that so many people have already covering that beautifully. In short: read a lot, read in many genres, and don’t listen to any of that crap about how you should only read Important Serious Things. Read whatever you’d like.

So, that’s reading. On to Rewrites!

Whether by slow, painstaking first drafts, in which you pause to choose the correct word and shift the sentences slightly this way and that, or by wildly different second drafts, tossing out whole paragraphs and snarling in frustration, a great deal of what you write will be, well, rewritten. There are a few reasons for this. When you write the first draft…

  • …there are inevitably some plot surprises waiting for you, so you may have to go back and change the groundwork
  • …there are also inevitably some typos
  • …in fact, there are whole sentences you will look back at and think, “what was I even trying to say?”
  • …you may or may not have found your character’s voice consistently
  • …and many, many other things

As you can see, rewriting does not occur simply because you did anything wrong. It is not something that can be avoided entirely with more forethought and planning. Rewriting is a natural result of the fact that by writing, you discover new parts to your story. You learn more about your characters than you ever could without getting into their skin and writing, and you get so caught up in scenes that you skip letters or words as your pen races over the paper. Rewriting occurs when you return to your manuscript and try to guide it gently closer to the book it was meant to be.

It is very important to remember that rewriting is necessary and expected, because it can feel an awful lot like failure to have to go back to your work and redo it. A manuscript is a labor of love, and after pouring (hopefully metaphorical) blood, sweat, and tears into it, it won’t feel great to realize there’s another whole manuscript’s worth of work to do. Because of this, piling on self-hatred and doubts about your writing talent can make rewriting go from intensive to daunting. You may retreat, or put the manuscript away. And yes, I do this, too – overwhelmed by the amount I needed to change, I set aside my manuscript for Remnant about a month and a half ago, and I’m just now working up the courage to go back!

Yes, rewriting invites a certain amount of, “if I’d only…” Writing your manuscript, however, is quite a lot like gardening. You go out each day, sometimes into beautiful weather and sometimes into blazing sun or sullen clouds, and you try to guide the plants into health. You prune some plants in order to keep them from expending all of their energy on stems and leaves. Others, you check for disease. Some, you harvest. In any case, there is a certain amount of working to control the natural chaos of life: aphids, broken stems, errant branches.

And like a garden, a manuscript is a living thing – it is a repository of thoughts that raced along neurons and made themselves into words on a page. It evokes passion and humor as you read it. It will, inevitably, hold chaos, a force that in itself is neutral, and that in your writing will carry you to both wonderful ideas and non-functional ones. To allow chaos in is to learn to work with ideas and adapt your story to the stellar ones. To deny your writing chaos is to deny it to live.

And can I share a secret with you? To deny your writing chaos, to stick rigidly to pre-appointed plot events and pre-established character arcs, is to invite rewrite after rewrite as you try to infuse your writing with emotion – a thing that is inherently chaotic and disturbing.

So, really, the question isn’t whether or not you’re going to have to rewrite some of your manuscript. It’s how you decide to feel about that. It whether or not you embrace it, and throw yourself into your writing, going fearlessly down side paths to see where they lead. It’s whether or not you let your story grow beyond your outline.

(Re)write on, my dears!



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