Rewriting: the Love/Hate relationship of writing and how we manage it

I have a draft open on my laptop right now:  “Lucky Numbers v12 100p June4”.  Tomorrow, the version 12 will be version13.  One hundred pages will have been re-read and minute changes made, for the thirteenth time.  If I can finish those hundred pages tomorrow it will be submitted, along with the synopsis (currently version 14) to an editor who requested it at the WRW retreat in May.

But my secret is, I didn’t write all of it.  I’m putting the final rewrite on a manuscript I’ve been writing with a collaborator for two years.  This is the most recent version of the tale, and it’s been a long and complex production.

How do you handle rewrites?  Is putting the story down a breeze, and the rewriting a slog?  Do you plot as you go, and then have to go back and patch up all the holes you left behind?  Or is it all carefully planned, with minor time needed for revision?  Do you struggle for the words, even though you love the craft?

I’ll out myself here:  I rewrite too much, and it ends up being an excuse not to submit.  I’ve done rewrites where entire pages were dropped or scenes reworked.  My heroine in “Lake Effect” had a sister (briefly) suffering from Multiple Sclerosis.  Poor thing, she’s gone after one scene and six pages.  Reworking the plot yet again, she was unnecessary.

In “Lucky Numbers” this evening, Joanna’s cat went from having silky fur to having almost none.  After all, a life that’s trying to achieve perfection needs something that can never be perfect at all.  It’s a minor detail, but it says a lot about what she’s been through.

I have a deadline for the “Lucky Numbers” project, though, and a collaborator who is waiting for me to perform.  I can’t let them down.  So, I will read every line of these 100 pages for detail.  I will find the periods that were deleted by accident when a line was changed.  The awkward phrasing will be reworked.  A better word will be chosen.

And, though these current 100 pages has been through twelve versions, I’m reminding myself this weekend that I’ve had my hands on just six of them.  We send the work back and forth, with strict rules for rewrites and comments and (most important) version control.  Yes, I’m thrilled to have the final say in this manuscript.  Terrified, too.  Tomorrow, it goes out.  I owe myself, and my partner, that much.

So, back to the question:  how do you approach your rewriting?  Are you eager to tackle the job?  Is it an excuse not to submit?  And how do you cope with someone else’s comments if they mark up your cherished words?


About Susan Jeffery

I am loving the challenge (sometimes) of re-entering the contemporary romance market after a lifetime of raising two fantastic children (it never ends, btw). Just when I thought I was done with kids, I accepted a position as librarian to 900 boys in a Bronx private school. I'm a vintage published author, Harlequin American #206 Fair Game (1987). Winner of the Golden Heart, 1986. Currently exploring the possibility of indie publishing under my new pseudonym (see fresh name, above).

9 thoughts on “Rewriting: the Love/Hate relationship of writing and how we manage it

  1. Susan,
    I despise rewrites. I wish my writing could be just declared “genius” at the beginning so I don’t have to deal with it. I have copied and pasted and deleted and replaced with deleted scenes again and again. LOL. I have so many versions that they even begin to confuse me! I know other writers have the same problem. My friend Vanessa asked me to read her newest version, and then when I was almost done, she sends me an email with “Stop Reading Right Now!” It was an earlier version. Which made sense because I didn’t see any changes. 🙂
    Good luck with submitting your baby! I know it’s hard to send it out and wait to hear.

    1. I love rewrites! Am I weird? I just finished the gazillionth rewrite on a book I first wrote last decade. This time I think it’s perfect. (Though, I said that after the previous revision.) Good luck with your submission, Susan.

      Kim, I’m sooooo sorry (again!) about sending you the wrong copy of my book! Thanks for being such a sport in reading it. 🙂

  2. I like rewrites. Don’t get me wrong – I find them unbelievably hard – but if I didn’t constantly reassure myself that I can always fix it later, I would get absolutely nothing on the page. Rewrites give me the freedom to write a crappy first draft, and they break down a seemingly insurmountable problem (how to get from blank page to completed novel) into small, more easily accomplished steps. I suppose it is that very last rewrite before your baby goes out in the world that is the most terrifying, but take heart in the fact that your pages are already 95% of the way there! Good luck today!!
    And a bit of advice I heard somewhere: you know you’re done rewriting when the story starts getting worse instead of better.

  3. Good luck with submitting, Susan-Mermaid! YOU CAN DO IT!!!

    I’m with Kim – someone please tell me my writing is perfect and we can all go about our days. I tend to write my first draft very quickly. Just the kind of writer I am. And I’m not usually a fan of rewrites. Although with my current WIP, I’m actually kind of enjoying it. I’m just taking a chapter at a time.

  4. This is funny, I know we hate rewrites and I get tired of it, too. But I am SLOW in drafting. Of course, Master Collaborator says that’s because I’m in denial and have a plotter/pantser disconnect.

  5. Ooo, I find this fascinating! I’m a bit of an oddity in that I write and re-write at the same time (enough to make a girl crazy!). I outline a project– sometimes in vivid detail– and then write chapter one. And then I edit chapter one. And then (you guessed it) I edit it some more. I won’t move on unless I’m happy with it, and I mean down to the minutae. Sometimes it’s excruciating, but for some reason, I don’t feel like I really own the story unless it’s “perfect” (psst– it never really is!).

    The good news is that my final edits take less than a week for a full length novel, and they’re almost all polish. But yeah. I’m just not a “drafter”. I’m a bit envious of you gals who are! 🙂

    Good luck with your submission, Susan!

  6. Kimberly, you and I must be secret sisters! An hour ago, I submitted those 100 pages and synopsis. Now I get to sit back and wonder what’s going to happen.

  7. Hey Susan,
    I’m with PH. I sort of like re-writes, because I see the work getting stronger right before my eyes. Though they are terrible, too, in their way. Especially when you realize that you’ve read something what must be three hundred times and still find a typo, or the wrong word choice, etc etc. Good luck with the submission, I know that you have good stuff there. 🙂

  8. Hi Susan,

    At our last WRW workshop/meeting, Sherry Lewis said something that I loved and want to share. She said the only person allowed at her computer while she’s writing the first draft of her story is her creative inner woodsprite. Then, if I understood correctly, she prints out her story and with hard copy, only then allows her internal editor to come out to do the rewriting and editing.
    When I thought of that process, I sort of sighed in relief because I sometimes get started rewriting before I’ve even finished the story and I don’t think I want to write that way. At least not all the time.
    Anyhow, GOOD LUCK with your recent submission!!!!!!

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