How to tackle a rewrite (without wanting to burn your book)

Here's my third instalment in my series for Pitch Wars. I've asked writer Jodi Gibson to share some tips on how to handle the sometimes daunting revision process. Jodi is working on her first novel and has almost completed the revision process of her book (yay!), so this is all fresh in her mind. Over to you, Jodi!

Redrafting, rewriting, revising, editing; whatever you call it, it’s tough. There’s no easy way to sit down and work though a draft.

At first you will procrastinate - don’t worry; it’s completely normal. When you’re done procrastinating, take a deep breath and prepare yourself – it’s going to be a long ride.

You will be overcome with myriad emotions. Periods where you think your manuscript is the worst thing ever written. Where you will question your successful completion of elementary grade English. And times where you would rather have your fingernails pulled out one by one rather than look at your words again.

But…

There will also be times when you will surprise yourself. When you think that your manuscript was sprinkled with magical fairy dust as there is no way you wrote that beautiful scene/dialogue/description. Those moments are the best. Savour them.

With all that in mind, here are six tips to help you through the editing/revision process.

1.    Put it away.

Don’t tackle a revision, read through or edit of your manuscript until you have let it rest. Put it aside for at least a month and focus on something completely different. This is the only way to make sure you have fresh eyes when you come back to reading it.

2.    The read through.

Read it through from start to finish without marking up. The idea of this is to see how the manuscript flows as a story. You will pick up on pacing issues, saggy middles, and things that just don’t flow smoothly in the narrative. Hold back from making any sort of detailed notes, just yet. Take light notes along the way if you must, but your focus should be on viewing the manuscript as a reader at this stage.

3.    The structural edit.
Now the hard work begins. The structural edit is where you will work on your plot, story arc, character journey, and conflict. Questions to ask yourself at this stage (in no particular order) are:

-       Is the pacing working?

-       Does the conflict ramp up progressively through each chapter?

-       Are the goals of my main characters clear and obvious and does the narrative reflect this?

-       Am I only including scenes/chapters that move the story forward?

-       Am I punishing my characters?

-       Does my main character change/grow by the end of the story?

-       Did I begin the story in the right spot? (deep in action)

-       Is the climax the most dramatic scene of the story?

-       Is point of view clean and consistent?

-       Is there too much/not enough backstory?

-       Is my opening scene attention grabbing to make the reader want to read on?

There are so many more questions, and you will find answering the ones above, will lead you to even more. But that’s good – the more questions, the stronger your story will become.

Don’t be afraid to cut whole scenes, chapters, and even characters. Yes, it may feel like tearing your own heart out, but it’s the only way to get to the crux of the story and allow you to rebuild (aka rewrite).

4.    Repeat

Repeat step 3 as many times as possible. I know. Sorry.

5.    Add colour and layers.

Now that the structure of your story is solid, it’s time to work on fleshing out scenes and characters. This is the fun part! Here you get to really focus on showing and not telling. Go through and highlight every area of your story that could be shown rather than told, and work on adding sensory detail – touch, sight, taste, sounds, smell. Develop your characters and work on their dialogue and voice, their quirks (that make them unique), and make sure their actions reflect their personality. Once you layer your scenes and characters you bring your story to life in such a magical way. It’s not easy, but it’s fun!

6.    The copy edit and proofread.
Check your spelling, your sentence structure, and your grammar. Is your novel formatted how your intended publisher/agents like to read them? Check their preferences.

There’s no right or wrong way to edit or revise your manuscript. What’s important to remember is that your story improves with every draft. Every rewrite and revision makes for a stronger, more believable story and gives you the best possible chance at attracting an agent, publisher, and ultimately, a reader’s attention.

It’s tough and it will bring you to tears, but I promise it’s worth it.

For more writing tips from Jodi, visit her website.

Jodi Gibson writes contemporary women’s fiction and is currently working on her first novel. She also blogs about all things writing and books. In her spare time, you’ll find Jodi with her nose in a good book, baking in the kitchen or dreaming of her next travelling adventure. Jodi lives in country Victoria, Australia with her husband, daughters, dogs, cat, horse and chickens.