Tips for Rewriting Your Manuscript, Part 1

I often have friends and family asking me a burning question:

Is your book finished yet?

I smile and say, "No, not yet. There's a lot of work that goes into writing a book, you know."

In a recent post, I talked about rewriting the first draft of my memoir. I never imagined this rewrite could bring enjoyment to my writing life, but also the simple act of learning new things delights me.

Today I'm sharing a few tips I've learned about rewriting. If you already know them, please share them with a first-time writer (like me) or a younger writer (not so much like me) who may find them helpful.

Tip 1: Taken from the Hemingway Archives

Can you even imagine The Old Man and the Sea being rewritten by Hemingway? Likely, as many other manuscripts have, Hemingway's book saw many revisions and drafts. This assumption may be underscored since Hemingway is attributed with this reference to first drafts:

"The first draft of anything is shit."(via Goodreads)

Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway

Even if given the opportunity to shuffle through Hemingway's work, both unfinished and finished, a full record of every revision he made from one project to the next was kept so would there be time enough to look through it all? But how or why would someone like Hemingway rewrite so often?

Contemplating the quote above, it isn't too surprising for most great writers, including Hemingway, to experience little, if any, grief in killing their darlings or sacrificing their first-born to the fires of revisions and rewrites in order to support the truth of the story.

I learned this lesson the hard way writing my first draft. I believed so deeply in my story and the words flowed so fast and furiously that nothing could keep this from being the first manuscript to pass muster with the first draft. Was I ever wrong! My story was boring and the truth did not shine through in my first draft. It was, in a word, shitty!

Lesson Learned: Do not be concerned about writing the perfect first draft. Allow the mind to tell the fingers what to type to just get  your thoughts on paper. Refining the telling of your story comes later -- with rewriting.

Tip 2: "Never Look Back"

Before beginning the process of rewriting, I did a little research on the dreaded rewrite. A great deal can be found in blog archives on the topic. A plethora of advice rendered by editors, teachers, authors, and publishers. How to know who is right looms as the big question on the horizon.

Not too long ago I read a post by Michelle Gagnon, an author with several successful crime fiction novels as well as a YA dystopian thriller. Michelle also writes with James Scott Bell, award-winning suspense author and bestselling writing coach, on Bell's blog, Kill Zone. No, I am not taking you on a wild goose chase; these people are good at what they do and in offering solid writing advice.

Reading Michelle's post pointed out one thing I had done wrong during the first drafting of my manuscript: I looked back. Quoting Michelle is the best way to share her thoughts on this tip:

In my opinion what separates published authors from people who have been working on a book for years without completing it is this: never look back. I don't start editing--at all--until the entire book is written. A lot of people get fifty pages in, then go back and start editing chapter one. The danger in this is that while you might end up with a perfect first fifty pages, by the time you finish those there's a good chance you've lost the thread of the story.

It's also discouraging to suddenly realize you've spent three months on fifty pages, and another three hundred and fifty remain to be written (of course, that's discouraging whether you've stopped or not--I call it the "interminable middle"). I never even re-read what I've written until I've finished the first draft. (I also spend most of that draft thinking that what I'm writing is the worst junk ever committed to page. But I forge ahead, because I know the next draft will be better.) And then when I do go back, the bones of the story are in place.

Lesson Learned: Never look back!

Tip 3: Write, Wait, Edit

Via Pixabay
Via Pixabay

During my time writing this blog, I have met many writers, many of whom have published their memoirs. I consider many of them mentors in guiding me down the path of writing my truth and protecting family members and myself while considering publishing options.

One of my memoir writing mentors is Madeline Sharples who blogs at Choices. A little less than a year ago Madeline posted a blog on the topic of "My Memoir Revision Process," and as soon as I read it, I clipped it into my Evernote files under "revision process."

It was in Madeline's post I learned to WAIT before editing. I am inherently an impatient person wanting things to be completed quickly and done now. Waiting is hard for me. But I knew if Madeline could wait, then I should try. Here's what Madeline says about waiting:

Leave your work alone for as long a time as you can before sitting down to edit it. While I spent over two years querying agents and small presses, my manuscript laid dormant. So when I finally got my book contract, I read it front to back, chapter by chapter, with my revision plan in hand. I marked up a hard copy with a red pen. Also I made no electronic changes to any part of my manuscript until I completed this first round of edits. And surprise, surprise, I found lots of things to edit, including typos, awkward sentences, repetition, and inconsistencies. Unbelievable! After all the times I had gone over it! During this first edit pass, I also looked for places to insert the new material necessary to my story and where I needed to update material that was clearly out of date.

I did not wait two years while querying agents and small presses, primarily because my mind has not reached a decision about the publishing process or even if I publish. Whether I publish or not, I want to complete this process just as I would if publishing.

Also, I initially chose not to print out the manuscript and instead to edit on-screen. Don't do that! So much can be missed as the edited manuscript on-screen quickly becomes confusing, especially if you are inclined to using a marking tool. Working with a paper draft, red pen and a highlighter in hand, seems to flow much more smoothly for me. Thanks to Madeline for posting her revision process.

Lesson Learned: Follow the instructions provided by those you call mentor and friend--and wait.

Today I've covered three tips in a rather lengthy post. And I have more to share with you in Part 2 next week.

What about rewriting or revising the first draft would you like to share with other writers? Part of our reason for being online is to support and encourage one another. Your thoughts are welcome in the comment section below.