What makes rewriting so hard?
Take your pick:
- Writing and rewriting/editing are two different skills
- Rewriting is more technical and analytical, less creative
- It feels confining compared to the freeness of pure creation
- Self-editing is difficult because of your inherent bias
- When your head is so far down in the weeds, it’s difficult to keep your eye on the big picture
Rewriting may be a challenge, but it doesn’t have to put a brick wall in front of your story’s future development. With that in mind, let’s look at five easy ways to make the rewriting process a little easier.
1. Make a Laundry List of Rewrites
How do you tackle rewriting a manuscript that needs so much work, it’s simply overwhelming? Make a list! A laundry list is a to-do list that itemizes each thing that needs addressed in your rewrite, separated into groupings of big, medium, small, and minor. You go through the list one item at a time, devoting all your focus to solving that one problem, starting with the biggest and most important issues, and then dialing in on smaller line items from there. Addressing big rewrites ends up solving many smaller items along the way. By the time you’ve finished your list, your next draft is suddenly much, much better. Not only does making a laundry list help you get organized, it allows you to focus on only one issue at a time without getting distracted or overwhelmed by everything else that needs to be done.
For more on this technique, read the full article here.
2. Save Every Draft Separately
You never know when you are going to need a snippet from an old draft until you suddenly need it—and can’t find it! Rather than saving over your current files, save every new significant draft as a separate file (or folder). Not only does this allow you to go back to old drafts to recover useful tidbits, but if anything happens to your current draft (e.g. computer crash) or you end up rewriting yourself into a corner, you always have a backup. Version tracking and management can be crucial, especially when working on variable story lines (like video games) or when dealing with complex deliverables (such as multilateral marketing collateral).
3. Keep Your Outline Current
As you proceed through multiple drafts of your manuscript, it’s a good idea to keep an updated outline of your story at all times. That way, as you get wrapped up in the smaller details of your story, you still have an easy reminder of the big picture—that is, the outline helps you see the forest while you are working among the trees. You can make notes about other points in the story via the outline without completely derailing your current writing task as well. The outline also prevents confusion as the story undergoes multiple drafts wherein story elements may change. Your outline essentially overrides any discrepancies between the different drafts, which becomes especially important if you decide to set the project aside for a few months and come back to it later on (see 5. Let It Rest below.)
4. Get Outside Input
Even though the process of soliciting feedback on a creative work can be painful, it’s also one of your most useful tools in rewriting. You get so involved in the world of your story that it becomes difficult to gain outside perspective—that is, how a prospective audience will interpret the story you’ve invested your heart and soul into.
A few tips for soliciting feedback:
- You don’t have to (and shouldn’t) accept every criticism. Many will be way off base. Look for trends or repeat comments among various parties. These will be the areas to focus on.
- Only a fraction of the people who offer to read the work will actually read it. Of those, only some will provide feedback. That’s totally normal.
- It’s okay to preface handing out your work by saying the story is in early stages and you are just looking for general feedback. Let them know it’s not a final draft. Most people will understand, and many will be excited to offer their input.
- Don’t get too discouraged if the majority of people who read your story aren’t super into it—that’s okay. It’s normal. You may get better results if you ask for feedback to a specific target audience similar to that of your story (“anyone out there like horror?”).
- Try to seek out readers who are more likely to offer constructive feedback rather than accolades. While compliments feel good and can be quite inspiring, they won’t as helpful as honest feedback.
5. Let It Rest
You’re stuck. You’re frustrated. It doesn’t seem like anything is working. So you shelve the story to give it some space and “let it rest.” You aren’t giving up. You’re simply setting it aside for a while with the intent to come back to it at a later time. Does this sound like you? Or something you would like to do? Guess what? “Let it rest” is a tried-and-true rewriting method for countless writers over the centuries. Not only is it an acceptable rewriting process, it’s a highly recommended one that can help you get “unstuck.”
Here are few reasons why coming back to a story after it’s been off your mind for days, weeks, months or even years, works so well:
- A fresh look gives you a new perspective on the story, especially the big picture.
- You get to experience the story more like your audience will.
- You have a more mature, experienced skill set.
- It’s easier to spot problems you missed before.
- Coming back to an old story can inspire you to finish it.
After all, there’s nothing so reinvigorating to your storytelling senses than picking up an incomplete manuscript that’s begging to be finished.
We’ve explored five easy ways to improve your rewriting process. These methods are by no means an exhaustive list, but they are easy and everyone can use them.
What techniques do you use to make your rewriting process easier? We’d love to hear them.
Still Feeling Stuck?
If you still need help with finishing your story—no matter the medium—don’t hesitate to reach out to our experts here at StorySci.com. We offer story consultation and rewriting services, among many others.