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Tips on Rewriting From Your Peers

Two weeks ago, I asked newsletter readers to submit any thoughts or tips they had on rewriting that could possibly help other scribes. Well, I got a bunch of responses - and enough good ones that I decided to post a handful of them here so they don't go to waste. Thank you to everyone who gave feedback, and remember my newsletter is free; sign up for it here.

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"At this point, it seems that no matter how far away I get from the work of rewriting (lawyering during the day, playing music at night, watching TV with my son, etc), I am always having thoughts and ideas about changing the bar room scene to this way or revising the dialogue between MC and chick #2 that way. Too often these flashes of utter brilliance would dissolve as quickly as they appeared. Unfortunately, they lack the manners to appear only when I am at the computer.
So I carry a tiny digital voice recorder at all times. After carrying it for a while, I've found it increasingly easier for my mind to summon chunks of text from the draft and to think through rewrites in my head, which I then articulate into the recorder. This has yielded some exhilarating results and improved my time management too."
- Peter

"A well-published author read an early ms of mine and gave me the best tip I've ever had. 'This is good,' he said, 'but more color, more smell.' "
- David

"I know one thing - revision is just that: a new vision. The story changes and grows during that process and there are many surprises for the writer. Another friend compared the revision process to a pop-bead necklace. You find the thread that runs through the book. Then you pick and choose what beads to string on that thread. Some you will put aside, some you will keep, sometimes you’ll have to find brand new beads not used before."
- Sharon

"From Stephen King's memoir On Writing: An editor wrote to him on a rejected manuscript: "2nd draft = 1st draft - 10%. Good luck." This has always helped me. In the first draft you simply write the story. Get it down and out and properly archived. Then go back later and operate. One last point, also from Master King, is to be sure and let your first draft rest after it's written. Save it on your thumb drive, your hard drive, and on paper and walk away from it. Don't even think about it for at least a month. Chronological and psychological distance are key to the revision process."
- Ted

"Don't look at (rewriting) as a daunting task. If you do, you will feel like you will never get it done - and I know people who don't. I am one of these writers who personally loves editing and this is why: I think of my end result. I can see just how great my story is going to be once all the polish is on and it's glossy and shiny."
- Madison

"When I'm ready to do a rewrite, I read the 'original' out loud and anywhere I stumble--that gets changed/rewritten/deleted or at the very least fixed so it can read more smoothly. And along this line, reading to a mirror (of what you think might be your last rewrite) helps you get used to reading to an audience (even if it's only an audience of one) and picks up even more rough spots."
- Dia

"My suggestions: 1) Don't rewrite until you've finished the first draft. 2) Take a break. This way, when you come back to it, you can get that lovely feeling of it being written by someone else - and therefore fair game for criticism and cutting! 3) Use a good thesaurus if you must, or really work at re-thinking what you want to communicate - this will bring up some great language, and improve your style."
- Drew

"It is in rewrites that love of language is expressed. First drafts are for inspiration, concept, and organization. Then the fun part comes - get the details right."
- Gene

"Once I have committed to write about the contents, it then becomes a part of my life. There of course is the initial composition. Then I put it aside for a month or two and perform a re-write. Put that re-write aside for the same period of time and do it again. Ad infinitum, until it's press time."
- Bob

"As you work your way through each scene in a novel ask yourself:

  • What is happening in this scene?
  • Why is it important?
  • Is it believable?
  • What is the conflict? Who wants what, and who or what won’t let them have it?
  • What does this scene contribute specifically and integrally to the plot? How does it drive it?
  • Can it be cut, partially or completely, and not effect the plot?
  • Can the integral part of the scene be folded into another scene, and the rest eliminated?
  • When does the scene occur?
  • Would the plot be better served if you moved the scene to another place in the unfolding of the story?
  • From whose point of view is this scene experienced?
  • How does this character contribute to the plot? Can another
    character do it so you can eliminate this one, or combine the two into
    one character?
  • Where is this person?
  • What is the POV character in the scene doing?
  • What is he/she feeling emotionally about what’s happening in the scene?
  • What is he/she feeling emotionally about things outside the scene?
  • What is he/she seeing? Hearing? Touching? Even smelling and tasting?
  • Can you exchange “he said”s and “she said”s with action?
  • Can you exchange passive verbs with active ones?
  • Can you exchange adverbs (“ly” words) with action?
  • What does each paragraph within the scene contribute? Can it be eliminated?
  • What does each sentence within the scene contribute? Can it be eliminated?

While these questions are designed for fiction, as well as memoir and
creative nonfiction, set in scenes, they can also be applied with some
ingenuity and prove helpful to nonfiction, too."
- Cricket Freeman, literary agent, The August Agency

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