Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Editing vs. Rewriting

I have a guest post up at Roof Beam Reader for the Austen in August reading event. I read and reviewed Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, and Lady Susan, one of Austen's unfinished novels, for the event, in addition to writing my guest post. The post is about what you can learn from Austen's dialogue to be a better writer, and I was pretty proud of how it came out.

And now, onto my own post.

I wrote on Tuesday about how you can ignore as many rules and conventions of writing as you want, but then you have to edit what you've written. Editing is essential, whether you're a pantster or plotter. The first draft will never come out perfectly.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress
I've already posted about how to preserve the tone when you edit, and why you need to give your words some space before you edit. I also discussed where to start, and how to prioritize your edits.

Tonight, though, I want to run a question past you that only you can answer: should you edit your manuscript, or should you rewrite it?

The answer will depend on your manuscript, and your approach. Before you answer that question, though, I want you to do one thing. Read through your entire manuscript. Go ahead and fix typos if they bother you, and touch up anything that stands out. But I want you to jot down the big-picture edits you need.

Do you need to add a character? Squeeze in a few extra scenes? Delete a character? Fix inconsistencies? Go back to a scene after you've done some research? Those are all examples of a need to edit your manuscript, rather than rewrite it from scratch. Even if the answer is "Yes" to all of the above, you can fix it through editing, and your story is salvageable.

If, however, you have a main character who's blatantly inconsistent, your plot is all over the place, or your ending totally changes everything you thought you were setting up from scratch, you might want to scrap it and start over. You can keep whatever sections work with the new book, so perhaps "from scratch" is a misnomer. But, if the vast majority of what you've written doesn't work with the ending you decided was the ending this book needed, you have to start a new draft.

Personally, when I start rewriting, I keep all of the words I have so far. I hit the enter key some 10 or 12 times, so that all I have to do to refer to what I might want to keep is scroll down. Then I start writing, and I delete the old manuscript as I go. Whenever I find a section I can keep, I delete the blank spaces, then scroll down in the old manuscript until I get to the next section I need to scrap.

That doesn't mean that's the perfect way to go about it. I can hear some of my writing group friends tearing their hair out from here. It's what works for me, though.

The most important thing to remember, when you're considering whether to edit or to rewrite, is to keep a sense of perspective. It can certainly feel like, "I AM THE WORST WRITER EVER" when I'm rereading a draft of something I thought I'd written well. But I have to keep in mind that some mistakes can be patched over.

If I don't remember that, I could be rewriting forever.

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