Witty Nib Writing Club – 5 Tips for Rewriting Prose

06092019 Writing Club

This month in the Witty Nib Writing Club, we’re focusing on a major editing skill – rewriting!  Join in the prompt here and start honing your skills.

5.Critically Read The First Version You Made

I don’t mean just remember what you wrote last time.

Unless there’s a good reason to ignore what you’ve already done, look at what you’re trying to replace and figure out why. Write some of those things down if you want. Know where you are and where you have to go. I’ve rewritten the entirety of novels before, but I needed to understand what sorts of things went wrong the first time.

Another point of reading critically is to decide if you need to rewrite or if a passage just needs editing. It’s really great if you can have an alpha or beta reader, because they can give you another perspective. Rewriting is done when a scene in its entirety needs to change. This usually happens to me when the process to get from A to B doesn’t make enough sense.

Read it critically. Make notes about what you want. Then put it away as much as you can. If you use the old version too much, you’ll end up with the old version at the end.

4. Does It Need to Exist at All?

On major hurdle I have toward rewriting is getting rid of useless statements and passages. If I wrote it in the first place, it needs to be there, darn it!

But we all know that’s not necessarily true. When you read, you want the author to give you good stuff to read. A bunch of useless babble can slow down the book, make it confusing, or make readers focus on parts that aren’t important. This isn’t Victorian England, and you’re not Charles Dickens – in today’s market, you aren’t going to be promised payment per word before you show your chops.

Here’s some tips to  clean out unnecessary stuff:

  • Did you skip over it when you read the paragraph? People skip things when they read, and it’s for one two reasons: either the info isn’t worthwhile, or they’re looking for something different. If you skipped it when reading, consider if it needs to be moved or get the ax.
  • How many times do you say it? If you’ve given that piece of information before in a similar manner, you might not want to do it again. Give the statement a good think.
  • Do you feel bored? Don’t fool yourself that you’re bored because you’ve written/read it before – try to think critically about it. Get rid of boring.
  • Delete it. Read the paragraph/passage again. Did it flow? If so, you can probably keep it out.
  • Give yourself a break. Don’t work on that story for a while; when you come back, you might have a fresh enough outlook that you can read what you actually wrote, not what you intended to write.
  • Listen to your beta readers! If they’re bored with a passage, pay attention – even if you don’t need to delete it, figure out what kind of oomph the passage needs.

3. Remember, Rewriting Isn’t Editing

Part of why I suggest writing something brand new without using the old version as the skeleton is the temptation to change individual words or fix grammar and call it good enough. Changing words and grammar is important, but sometimes it’s not enough. Sometimes, you want to add a new feeling, change the logic of how the characters got to a certain plot point.

Put away the old version while you’re rewriting. Make something new, make what you think you want this time. Think about where you want to go and write it. If you use the old version, you’ll end up with something substantially like the old version. Remember, it’s fine to edit, but when you need to rewrite – i.e. when you need to do something substantially different – it can be helpful to get rid of what you don’t want.

2. Merge the Old and New Versions

It helps me, once I’m done, to re-read the old version and try to see if there were old parts that I forgot in the new version. I have to be really critical about this, though, because I didn’t think the element was important when I started the rewrite. Usually, I rewrite for a specific scene to get from point A to point B, and the things I add back in are hints or foreshadowing that I had left out.

Another reason to merge the two at this point – being selective with what you use from the old version – is you can examine who the characters are. If you’ve finished a book or story with dynamic characters, you may want to check afterwards to be certain you have the right stage of character. You will want to make sure they don’t know twists or secrets they learn later in the book.

1. Save The Old Version

I can’t stress this enough – SAVE OLD MANUSCRIPTS! You probably won’t come back to it after enough time has changed, but you never know. As well, just having that older version on your computer gives you more evidence of when you wrote it, gives you a record of your process, and may contain ideas that you’ll want to re-use later.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve rewritten a story then wished I could at least compare it with an older one and make sure it was the best it could be. Save it for peace of mind if nothing else.

When I write a book, I create a dated version. If I’m just adding a chapter to the end, I just keep the same file. When I need to edit or rewrite any portion of the file, I’ll create a new version with a new date. At the end, I’ll put all the versions except the final one into a folder, then zip them together. You can use 7zip to compress it further than you can with just a .zip file.

At some point, you’ll declare your work done. Be proud of where you’ve taken it.

Other Places Full of Neat Hints

Other people have a ton of advice about editing and rewriting.

Necessary Fiction’s “A Month of Revision” (Strongly recommended – lots of tips for novel writers)

7zip zipping software can help you store a lot of archival information in a small space. You’ll never have to feel bad about taking up too much memory on your laptop or desktop ever again!

Do you have any more hints or tips that I’ve missed?  Something you’d like to focus in on?  Leave it in the comments!  Or, better yet, feel free to talk about it in your own response to Witty Nib Writing Club’s prompt!

12 thoughts on “Witty Nib Writing Club – 5 Tips for Rewriting Prose

    • H.R.R. Gorman says:

      I learned this lesson when I wrote an enormous, 300,000-word book about a sci-fi interpretation of Revelation, then deleted it out of despair. Even though I still think it was ultimately garbage, I kind of regret not being able to retrieve it ever again.

  1. robertawrites235681907 says:

    I think it is important to have a few other readers (beta readers or just readers) read your story and see if they follow it or whether there are plot holes. My mother does this for me and she always picks up places where I have assumed to much knowledge by the reader and not filled in the gaps properly.

  2. crispina kemp says:

    I fully endorse your hints & tips. The most important of which is NEVER DITCH ANYTHING. Cos 10 years later, when you revisit that piece of writing, be it whatever it may, you might decide it’s worth reviving. But first it needs to be smartened. And in that process you could find some of the discarded material works better than what’s left.

    • H.R.R. Gorman says:

      Oh, definitely. There’s an element of maturity that some stories need; one of the people I beta for, E. Kathryn, writes some great YA that she started when she was 13 or 14 (don’t remember exactly), but she’s talked about how she’s revamped it after growing more and thinking more critically about difficulties as a teenager.

      • crispina kemp says:

        My critique partner is now revamping a story idea begun in her teens. And The Spinner’s Game first saw light of day back in 2006. I had saved all but the earliest drafts, they being saved in 3.5″ disks. And I did have occasion to mine material from the next-to-oldest versions

  3. D. Wallace Peach says:

    “This isn’t Victorian England, and you’re not Charles Dickens.” Lol. I tend to overwrite and number #5 is a biggie. I cut and cut and cut, and then my editor cuts and cuts, and then I cut. It’s painful but worth it. I’m reading a book right now that I want to take a red pen to. Repetition and endless explanations are book-killers. Great tips!

    • H.R.R. Gorman says:

      I’m actually listening to an audiobook right now that has the same problem. Almost every dialogue line has “he said” or “she said” appended to it (or, worse, “he exclaimed loudly” type things). I’m trying to get better at cutting my darlings, but usually I end up having to add rather than cut, so maybe that’s indicative of my style anyway.

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