A couple of weeks ago I touched on the subject of rewriting your novel. Wendig’s Writing Haus continues to spew fantastic advice on editing, and this mostly concerns phase two, or what he recommends as phase two. When you edit for content, after all, you’re doing something particular with the manuscript: you’re revising it. And at first, you’ll be taking a hatchet to your beloved work.
I know, it’s mostly a matter of semantics, but let’s break it down into a bit more detail.
Writing a novel, or a story of any significant length for that matter, is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a long haul from your first word to your last punctuation mark. Things will change along the way – your pace, your word choice, the dynamics between characters. It’s important to take this into account as you look over your freshly-forged story. Some of your passages are likely to be weaker than others. Shore them up. If something is happening too soon or too late in the story, trying moving events around a little. Nothing is set in stone.
As you revise, you may find yourself realizing that something just doesn’t work. Maybe a character needs to develop in a different way. Or maybe they’d work better if they were a different race or gender? A single decision can alter huge portions of the text. Don’t be afraid of this. You may want to save a copy of your manuscript under a different name, provided you’re working on a computer instead of by hand. If you are working by hand, you have my respect. No matter how you do it, don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater, but do let that water out and refill the tub.
After you’re done rewriting, it’s time to revise again. Dropping text bodily into your manuscript has likely left some ripples. Descriptions may need to change, events happen sooner or later, etc. Every time you do this, though, you’ll likely find yourself doing it with progressively smaller tools. If your first edit & revision was done with a hatchet, this time it’ll get done with a steak knife. If it was the steak knife’s turn last time, you’ll be using a paring knife this time. Paring knife, scalpel, screwdriver… the tools get smaller and smaller as the work moves closer and closer to being completely done and, in an ideal world, publishable.
How quickly to you find your tools shrinking? Have you ever tossed out something you wanted to keep and found the story was better for it? Has there been a time where you’ve found the story going in a direction you did not expect, and had to revise the beginning to reflect this? Feel free to share.