Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Question on Rewrites

I've officially gone back to my other wip.

[Note to self: start calling it by its name.]

Okay, from here on out, when I refer to my wip, I'm talking about After the Fall. Here's the ROUGH description:

A man dies during a home invasion/attempted rape in the first chapter, and the rest of the book follows his family and the family of the person he attacked. The families are very close and their friendship is tested as they try to come to terms with what he did and figure out what drove him to it.


I'm still working on the blurb, but that gives you an idea. It's very different from The Other Side, and I'm excited to work on something that takes place in Michigan because my dialect is the way they actually talk!

Now here's my question:

I hear a lot of writers talk about "doing a complete rewrite", and while I understand what that means, I'm curious about the actual process. Do you open a new document and start writing? Do you have the older file open (or printed & in front of you) and use it as a guide? Or do you write within the same document, and just cut, delete, and write as necessary?

I use the third approach while editing, but since I don't think I've ever done an honest-to-goodness "rewrite", I'm curious how others approach this.

22 comments:

Allen said...

I let the book sit for at least 6 weeks. then:

I print it out, convert to a PDF, and listen to the book while the computer reads the manuscript to me. I pause when I need to make a correction, write a note on the page, then continue until the computer reads, "the end."

Next, I open the original file and begin to work from the notes, the file, and a new file I create specifically to work out details. I use "comments" often, too.

Works for me.

Melanie Avila said...

Allen, I just recently discovered the reading feature on my computer, but I haven't put it to work on anything I've written. I think I had a map open so it was very disjointed. :P

Thanks for sharing.

LurkerMonkey said...

You've come to right guy! I'm all about the rewrites ...

It depends on the severity of what I'm trying to do. If it's an extensive, end-to-end rewrite, I usually work outside of the manuscript for a while, coming up with ideas and directions, etc. Basically a two- or three-page mini outline. This is helpful for me because once I'm in the manuscript, it's easy to get confused.

Then I do the heavy cutting. Basically, I go through the MS and cut everything that doesn't belong any more. Sometimes I'll do it sections or by chapter, but I always remove the old stuff first.

Then I just start revising and plugging in the new stuff where the holes are. After this, I usually have to go over it about a zillion times to make sure it still flows and I've removed/updated all the little pieces. Characters change slightly, etc.

For small rewrites, I just work straight in the document and start revising/cutting as needed. I only bother with external notes if I'm basically laying a new story over the bones of the old ...

Janna Qualman said...

Any "rewriting" I've done thus far (none of which has been an entire rework) has fallen under category 3. So pfft, I'm not help. :)

Jenna said...

I've been contemplating a post on this...

About a month ago I used something I found online and mapped out my WIP. After I mapped it I realized I had a messy, first draft on my hands and could now officially move to the rewrite phase (I said a little "YAY" that night).

After trying to jockey the messy draft into position and failing miserably I opened a new document and started typing from scratch.

I may print some of old WIP out but for now I have it open on my laptop and refer to it here and there--so far I have cut and paste very little--instead I'm re-writing the stuff I like and writing new stuff and I'm finding the new writing has what I liked about the original draft but there is something deeper and better, even sharper, in my writing since I started over completely.

Now, in the new draft and document I am editing and deleting and moving stuff around to get the scenes just right.

I know you writer cleaner drafts than I do so maybe you don't need to start completely over but I'd suggest at least trying it and really being open to taking the writing and the story to the next level and see what happens.

This may sound stupid to others but I think writing inside the old document makes it harder to let go of the parts that aren't working.

Melanie Avila said...

Jenna, that doesn't sound stupid at all. That's exactly what I was hoping someone would explain, and I completely agree that staying within the original draft keeps you from expanding, or looking at a scene from another direction.

One thing I do that I failed to mention in the post is I'll step away from the computer and think about what I'm trying to say. Then I'll rewrite that scene directly above the old one (or I'll cut and paste it into a different file so it's not gone forever) and rewrite there.

I'm tempted to try your way -- perhaps when I hit a scene that I know needs a lot of work.

Thanks for explaining this!

Melanie Avila said...

Janna, it makes me happy to know I'm not the only one who does it that way.

Melanie Avila said...

Lurker, I'm at the re-outlining point right now. I started off by going through what I'd already written and flushing out a few points.

I'm glad to hear you have to go through it a lot to catch everything. I use the Comment function in Word to point out things I need to correct but don't want to deal with at that moment, but I still miss things. A lot of time I rely on my good memory, which probably isn't a good habit.

JLC said...

Yikes! I am on the verge of rewriting my very first WIP. (Its been collecting dust for two years!) It is a fantasy and I want to make it an urban fantasy. I also need to rework the plot and change the tense. Needless to say, I need to do a rewrite. *sigh* So I will start from scratch. Read the story in its entirety, open a new doc. and have my old one sitting behind it. Then I will start typing the newer version and possibly paste a few paragraphs/scenes that I like and just tweek them. I am not looking forward to this but the story is worth it.

Good luck!

Melanie Avila said...

JLC, good luck!!

I've debated trying it that way -- with two documents open -- but I feel like I'd get annoyed with all the jumping back and forth.

Sometimes I'll just hit enter a bunch of times so it looks like I'm working on a blank page, but then the material I'm working from is still right there.

Liz S said...

Melanie - I've been lurking on your blog for a little while, so I'm a first-time commenter.

I'm in the throes of revising my WIP, too. This is what I do: when I originally wrote the novel, I saved each chapter individually. As I revise, I save a second version of each chapter (usually in Google Docs, so I can access it wherever I go), and then I start cutting/chopping/rewriting. I put the cut parts at the end of each file under the heading: "Spare parts" so I can go back later and, if I took too much out of the chapter, I can easily find certain details that I need to put back in. Complicated, yes, but way helpful for me. And I always end up going back to an earlier chapter to revise, instead of pushing forward and making it all the way to the end before revising again, but it works for me!

Good luck on your revisions!

DJ FOX said...

Aw, the rewrite. I save the old draft so I can go back to it, if needed. Then I resave it under the new same Draft Four (or Draft 100, whatever).

Then I just delete, cut, delete, add notes, delete, write new scene, and so on.

IT'S MESSY! =)

Nadine said...

I save the current version - WIP July 09 - and then start hacking at a new copy, changing, rewriting, etc. And then I always have the old version to go back to if I don't like the changes, etc.

Melanie Avila said...

Hi Liz!

I do a version of that, only I don't keep separate files for the chapters. Often times if I cut something but think I'll still use it in that chapter, I'll put it at the end of that chapter.

My "extras" file is called Cut Bits. :P

Melanie Avila said...

Hey DJ. I do the same thing. I think my last draft of The Other Side was "Draft 4/5" because while I had readers critique it, I didn't think it changed enough to warrant a whole new file, lol.

Melanie Avila said...

Nadine, you sound like me. :) I don't know how people can just delete old stuff. I need to know it's there!

I also have various stages of each draft saved in my email.

Benjamin Solah said...

I'm a bit in love with rewrites at the moment because I've found my first drafts can act as outlines, or things to test out. And then whilst writing, I work out new directions, things to put in and take out.

I do either the first and second method but find the first method, just writing with the memory of what happened in the first draft, to be the most natural and it's good to build up a natural rhythm that way.

Great question!

Melanie Avila said...

Ben, that's the approach I took with my synopsis -- writing from memory -- but it seems scary to write an entire draft that way! But the idea of creating a new tone or rhythm is appealing.

Natasha Fondren said...

If it's a total re-write, then I'm with you and Jenna. I need to start with a whole new blank page and let the possibilities unfold. I cut and paste a few scenes in, but generally, I re-write it.

I don't do that often, though. I've been so behind the past year, that it's often been write a chapter, turn it in on Thursday, and live with the consequences. I think it's been good for my writing, although I'm not sure I would choose that method. :-) But one adapts to whatever situations we're thrown in.

Amy said...

What a great question. It's not the writing, but the rewriting that has the genius for me. My first drafts are CRAP. But I never start over from scratch. Yikes. Scary.

First I rewrite everything as I write--as many times as it takes to get it sounding good. Then when I'm sick of it and can't find any more precious words to cut, I let the thing marinate for a few months in a file and go live life or write something else.

Then with a clear head and a few more skills, (I hope) I go back and save the old file and save it again under the current wip name. Then I think hard about my story lines (I usually have too many) and isolate exactly what the book is about and how to get the fun bits to emanate from that. Then I happily go through the document and shred the whole thing from beginning to end, changing characters and plot, adding scenes and throwing some out. I put long, beloved bits in a separate outtakes file for future use if necessary--which is almost never.

Then I go back and try to make sure it's all coherent. Time consuming, but worth it.

Melanie Avila said...

Natasha, I'm doing seriously heavy editing this round -- it's taking a long time but I can see the results!

Melanie Avila said...

Amy, I hear you on the crap. The mantra of NaNoWriMo is "let yourself write crap!" The trouble comes when you go to edit that crap! I have good ideas and I'm really just rearranging things, but it's taking a lot longer than I expected.

I need to get better about the marinating part...