I’ve been reading different authors talk about how they do rewrites. There’s no right or wrong way. Each person has to find what works for him or her. Some of my friends write “long,” throwing everything on the paper for their first drafts, and then go back to cut and tighten when they polish their books. Some of us write lean and then have to add when we do rewrites. But those are the BIG rewrites, when the manuscript’s finished and we’ve let it set and we’re ready to dig in and do whatever it takes to make it work.
I’m not patient or brilliant enough to multi-task and to do too many things at once. Keeping that in mind, I tend to do lots of smaller rewrites as I scribble away. Every day, when I start writing, I polish what I wrote the day before. There are times when I spend my entire writing schedule for that day, going over the same scene I fought with before. Once it’s decent, I move on. When I reach the end of the first fourth of my book, (and yes, I do have my main plot points planned out, so I know where each turning point is), then I go back and rewrite that fourth of my book. I look for passive verbs (and I still miss some). I look for “show, don’t tell.” I look for description and emotion. Have I used the five senses? Have I made my protagonist real? Did I use enough internal dialogue so that the reader feels what she feels? Did I make her reactions true to her character and remember that how she reacts is often how the readers will react. Have I given the story a sense of immediacy?
Once I’m satisfied with that fourth of the story, I write two or three ideas for big scenes for the next fourth of the book, remind myself what the twist is at the end of that section, and start the whole process again. I write and rewrite as I go, then do another rewrite of that fourth when it’s finished. I can hold a fourth of a book in my head. I can’t keep track of the entire thing, so I inch my way along, scene by scene, fourth by fourth.
When the entire manuscript’s finished, then I start at the beginning and do a final rewrite of the entire thing before I humble myself and give it out for critiques. This time, I look for more than just basics. I look for vivid images, specific words. Did I get lazy and use a generic verb when I could have used a better one? How does the manuscript flow? Does the tension escalate? Do I care about the characters, or did I create a sidekick that functions, but never came to life? And did I do anything special? Something that surprised myself? A turn of phrase I didn’t know I had in me. A clever plot twist I–and hopefully readers–didn’t see coming? And even after all that work, my pages return from my trusted friends with red ink rimming their borders.
I read all of the critiques (which are usually right, darn it!), and I do my last, hardest rewrite before I send the manuscript to my agent. Then I keep my fingers crossed. Sometimes, I get lucky and only have a few scenes to fix. Sometimes, like for Shadow Demon, she tells me she’d like the book to be tighter to make the action move faster. I cut the word count from 85,000 to 70,000–tossing two, small subplots. And then she okayed it.
When I first started writing, I hated rewrites. They weren’t as much fun as the burst of creativity when my fingers flew across the keyboard, describing new scenes, new adventures. Now, I think of rewrites as my best friend. They let me add layers, nuances, polish that I could never manage in one or two brushes of words and energy. Rewrites allow me to add layers to the skeleton of my story and characters, to flesh out scenes and plot points. Rewrites aren’t just about fixing things. It’s about polishing a diamond from a rough cut to a gem.