Emerging from the Rewrite Cave
Hello from outside the Rewrite Cave! Or maybe I should call it a tunnel as there was an entrance, a very long (as in, eight-plus months long) middle, an exit, and even the metaphorical light at the end, at first a pinprick and then daylight, searing the near-translucent skin of my hermitage.
In either case, 107k words, a shift in character ages, POV, an added alternating narrative, and countless domino changes later, here I am! Shouting into the void. Or, in the least, using hyperbole to describe my pasty skin.
This was not the first time I’ve completely rewritten my novel, though it was the most extensive (and hopefully the last), and the process earned me a few bits of wisdom that might help if you ever find yourself stuck in that tunnel too.
1. Nothing is sacred except for your integrity.
That scene you love and those secondary characters you think you can’t live without? You can. And you may have to.
Many of my darlings met their final Delete during this rewrite, and others mutated to serve different purposes. But while some cuts were harder than others, my goal was to write a better and more cohesive whole, not to cling to imagery and secondary tidbits that, while I liked them, no longer fit when the big picture shifted.
So, no clinging, except to your book’s ‘soul’. Your book is still your book. My book is still my book, and maintaining that, my story, my point, and my belief and confidence in both of those things, is something I’ll never sacrifice. (It’s also my firm belief that with the right agent and/or editor, you shouldn’t have to.)
2. Trust yourself.
This can be a tough one. After all, a big (the main?) reason to rewrite your manuscript at all is because as is, it isn’t working. Whether it’s the narrative’s point of view or tense, the pacing, world-building, character arc, or that it doesn’t quite fit in the market, the point of a rewrite is to fix what’s wrong with your book. And accepting that something (in my case, many things) isn’t working is a little like accepting that you’ve failed.
But, who doesn’t fail? Who writes everything perfectly from the first sentence? No one. (Don’t tell me differently, or I’ll have to plug my ears and hum until you’re done.) And being imperfect, having ‘failed’, doesn’t mean you can’t succeed, it just means you have to try again.
Therefore, trust yourself. You made it this far for a reason, most likely because of many reasons. So, focus. Find what does work within all the things that don’t, and run with it.
3. If you have to bang your head against the wall, do it gently.
No, really, don’t do this. Imagine it if you have to (worked for me), but find another, less violent outlet for your inevitable frustration. Like exercise. Or laughing maniacally in public. Or petting your (or a friend’s) dog.
4. Keep working.
Some days I stared at my computer and felt hopeless. Some days I ripped each word out of my brain, one at a time, like pulling my own teeth with rusty pliers. Some days EVERYTHING CAME TOGETHER AND I WROTE LIKE THE FREAKING WIND.
The point is, writing is hard! Really, really hard. Especially when you got so close and an epic rewrite feels a little like having to start over. Especially when there’s a fulltime job or a baby or insert-your-circumstance-here to take care of and you feel like there will never be enough time. But, as obnoxiously cliche as the next thing I’m going to say is, writing (and hopefully selling) a book is a lot like running a marathon or walking across the country or whatever arduous long-slog analogy you prefer. Because as those are done by putting one foot in front of the other, writing (or rewriting) a book is the art of putting one word after another after another after another after…
You get the point.
The point being, eventually, all those steps and all those words will add up, and you’ll be looking back at the exit to that incredibly long and dark tunnel, saying, “I did it. I’m actually done.”
Pure and simple, edit your work. Be brutal. Be careful. Accept that it’s tedious, and take your time. Make your manuscript as clean and close to perfect as you can possibly make it. Because you want all that work to guarantee you’re giving yourself the best chance you’re capable of.
6. Feel proud.
You rewrote your book! You did it! And that is something to feel good about. Even if the objective success of this venture is still up for debate (as mine is), you accomplished something big. So, celebrate! Let yourself, even for a little while (as in, until you face number seven), feel nothing-held-back proud.
And finally, 7. Hit send, take a break (drink, sleep, binge-watch that show everyone’s been talking about that you haven’t had time for), and brace yourself for feedback and revisions. Because in writing, you aren’t ‘done’ until that thing’s bound and printed. (And, even then, even if/when that happens, I’ll totally be that person inking up the pages of my own book.)