The difference between rewriting and editing

Oct 19, 2011

Rewrites are like zombies-- they eat your brains.


Or at least that's what it feels like. I'm buried in rewrites for TUGL, and with my bit of leftover brainpower, I've been thinking about the difference between rewriting and editing.

After I finish my first draft, it feels overwhelming to look at it and know what to do with it. It's such a mess, where do I start? While it's tempting to play with sentence structure and tweak a certain scene and rewrite that awkward description, I leave those alone. At first.

Because here's the thing about rewrites: they're BIG. Even with the fairly extensive outlining and character building I did before I started TUGL, I have changed a lot of the structure of the book in rewrites. I cut over 5,000 words in my last rewrite alone, including entire scenes. I added new words as well, fleshing out a character arc that was practically non-existent. I'm planning on completely changing a scene near the end, and adding another one. On the whole, I've changed probably 30% of my book since the first draft.

Do you guys ever watch Extreme Home Makeover? Most of the time, they just do interior decorating. But sometimes, they add a wing, or knock down walls. I saw one where the house was such a disaster, they knocked it down and rebuilt the entire house.

Big rewrites are like that. You have to look back at your goals and refocus the story around them. You have to rebuild the entire book so it all points in one direction, instead of splatting on the page.

When I think of editing, that's  more like doing interior decorating after you build the house. Do I need to tweak this scene so it has more tension? Reword and shorten sentence and paragraph structure? That comes AFTER I make changes on what the character's goal is in this scene, and how they reach it. 

I used to think rewriting meant purely interior decorating. I hardly touched characterization after the first draft. My scenes stayed in the exact same order, and I rarely chopped or added to them. I had lovely painted walls, but it was the most sprawling, weak structure you'd ever see. The basic big picture stayed the same, and nearly 99% of the time, that big picture is going to be flawed in your first draft.

Author Aprilynne Pike once said that while you're working on your craft and trying to get published, one of the best things to do is dedicate SIX MONTHS to rewriting your book. If it's going to take six months, it's going to take big changes. And small ones, too. If you want someone to buy a house, interior decorating is important-- but you don't want the house to fall down around them, either. 

So, my friends, how do you approach rewrites and editing? Can you make bigger changes to build your dream-book? How do you know what things need to change?

26 comments:

Patti said...

I like your explanation of the differences. Right now I'm editing one book and rewriting another, so I'm in the midst of both.

Rachna Chhabria said...

I finished editing one book and am rewriting another. Kind of straddling two boats.

Angela Cothran said...

"Rewrites are like zombies--they eat your brains." This may be the single best quote EVER about rewrites.

One this I do like about rewrites is that once they are done you just feel so good. I've learned not to be married to my story and be open to changing thing things. Fantastic post!

Jessie Humphries said...

This is so interesting to me. My first book I tried to revise and edit, but in the end I just totally re-wrote it. Three years later I started my current WIP with a different attitude. I researched and plotted the H out of it beforehand so I wouldnt have to knock the whole house down during revisions.

Jenny S. Morris said...

I love the zombie thing. LOL. I also love your comparison. I kinda lumped them togehter, but they really are different. I've already done a bunch of rewriting, and now I'm on edits. But, as I read back through I wonder if a little demolition might be in order.

Great post!

Joe Vasicek said...

Six months sounds a little excessive to be bogged down in any one project, but I do think it helps to take a six month break before jumping into a rewrite. It helps to have some distance from the work; makes it easier to kill darlings and cut out the fat.

MKHutchins said...

I actually adore revising...it's the blank page and the first draft that scare me. Like Angela said, revision feels good -- almost like peeling off a scab. My first drafts are horrible, but I love making the next drafts look like a book.

Tara (The Bodacious Pen) said...

I kind of hate revising, but I know it's a necessary evil. I think the six month mark is about right. I'm about half-way through that period now, and I'm ready for a break. So, other than my CP's notes, I'm taking a break from it. That said, revision can be more satisfying than writing, because through the process I've made my book better is so many ways. I think it has layers now that it never had before.

Cynthia said...

Restructuring is such a headache, it's almost like rewriting the book. I done my fair share also. I'm trying out an outline this time, but so far I'm two chapters in and it is already changing oi ve!

Stacy Henrie said...

This is exactly where I am right now! :) I had an editor suggest some changes I needed to make to one of my manuscripts. I mapped them out, but didn't realize knocking out a scene here would require some big rebuilding in subsequent scenes.

For me the biggest help for revising this book was not looking at it for a year. Now I can see things I didn't before. That time away from your first draft before you start revising is important.

i'm erin. said...

I used to think rewrites would be easier. They're not. for me it's harder.

Jessie Oliveros said...

I had to rewrite my first book because my draft was so awful. I'm still rewriting it...sort of. And I mean rewrite as in not looking back at my first draft and starting fresh. In drafting my second book, I know while it will need major changes, it won't be anything like that first book. Shannon Hale advises to rewrite, rewrite, and rewrite again. Which is a few times too many for me, at least for a complete overhaul.

Shiraz Akhtar said...

I can't agree more with you. I'm on to the second draft of my book, and all I seem to be doing is rewriting. Sometimes you read a particular scene and laugh at it before changing it entirely. The basic idea always remains the same though with the story progressing towards a set goal.

Angie said...

That's a great way to put it. I think I don't spend so much time rewriting because I take FOREVER to get the first draft out. I just can't draft quickly. I really take my time, so then the rewriting and editing go quickly. You have to put the time in somewhere, though. That's for sure!

Kathryn Packer Roberts said...

Yes, the zombie bit is pretty accurate, I'd say =). When I'm doing revisions, I make a checklist of everything I want to check for. For example, one run through will concentrate on 'showing not telling'. One will be compacting descriptions to make good use of space. Another will be looking for plot holds, or building a relationship, or making another plot point look believable. One of the last passes before betas look at it, is trying to find where I can add more tension. There are really a lot of things that can be looked at, but I find that if I make a list (even if it's just a mental list) of things I want to check for, it is less overwhelming, and actually funner to tackle. You know what they say, if you have a plan, things are less scary!

Iain said...

I have one book that needs a major re-write. I was half way through when I realised what I still needed to do. It's a bit too overwhelming at the moment. It's been put away for a while.
The other book I'm editng seems to be a lot stronger, and the changes are manageable at the moment.
The thing I take away from the re-writes is that it will be worth it in the end :O)

Dan said...

I've been working on rewrites off and on now for over a year, and every time I think it's done, it begs to be changed again. Right now, I don't have even have an opening; I chopped it off because it never did work.

Good luck. It's daunting, and it's No Fun, but hey, gotta do it, right?

Dan

Janet Johnson said...

It's hard to resist the tweaking as you go along, but my first edit draft is to fix plot, which are usually sweeping changes. Once I get a decent plot, then on to characterization (which can be pretty big, too. Rewrites can be daunting, but usually I really enjoy them once I know where I'm going.

RaShelle Workman said...

I'm a bigtime plotter. So I approach rewrites and revisions very carefully. It's always necessary... poking, prodding and rearranging until it's just right.

Chantele Sedgwick said...

Great post! I'm actually just getting into my big edits with the book I just finished. This book was so much easier to write for some reason. I knew exactly what was going to happen and haven't had to change much of the plot at all.
My last book? Totally different. I had a ton of scenes that I cut and rewrote. It's really different from what it used to be.
Funny how different books are. And before I start my edits, I always make a list of things I need to change or go through. I cross each thing off as I go along. It makes it less overwhelming. :)

DL Hammons said...

Like you, I'm an outliner and do a lot of prep work before I even put word one to the page. The rewrites I've experienced haven't been as major as you describe. Cutting a scene here, adding a new plot element there. But I also havent had to respond to the recommendations of an editor or agent yet either! :)

Ghenet Myrthil said...

Good luck! I rewrote a lot of my first draft before finishing it. I basically started over when I realized 1/3 in that it already had issues. Now I'm editing the full draft. When I send it to my beta readers, I'll see how much needs to be re-written.

Lynda R Young said...

When I work on rewrites I try to look at the big picture first--structure etc--and work my way down to the smaller details.

Kari Marie said...

I think this is an excellent distinction between rewriting and editing! I'm currently writing, but the short time I spent reviewing my first novel (and I'll get back to it eventually) helped me see that I need to define what stays and what goes before I start tweaking the language.

Melissa Hurst said...

Great post! For my first WiP, I had such a mess by the time I finished drafting that I had to go back and rewrite things from the beginning. The characters and setting stayed, but a lot of the action was changed. For my current WiP, I'm keeping notes as I go for things I'll need to change when I start editing.

Julie Musil said...

I know exactly what you're talking about! I just finished a big rewrite, and at first I felt overwhelmed. But little by little I got it done, and there's probably still more work to do. I'm plotting my next project now, trying to get it all "just right" so there will be less rewriting, but who am I kidding??? There will still be plenty of rewriting to do in the future :D

 
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