Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Power Of The Rewrite: Distance

Hawaii writer’s retreat and conference, 2009, taught me many things, such as the reality of editing and rewrites. One bestselling author had said, “I rewrote my first novel 22 times before it was published.” Another said, “I rewrote this novel 13 times.” Similar comments were tossed about the conference. This concept of rewriting appeared to be a common occurrence among the best. New to the game, I had to wonder what is the difference between an edit, and a rewrite?

While ‘edit’ and ‘rewrite’ are found on different pages in the dictionary, they have a unified meaning in my vocabulary: The continual process of transforming flat characters, poor structure, and inadequate pages into something remarkable that moves the reader. It is a process.

How many times will we need to perform this process? Until you can’t find anything else to change. This can only occur if you give yourself space from your novel. Write it. Edit. Revise. Rework. Reread. Re-edit. Continue this process until you believe that your manuscript is perfect. Then set it aside for a month. Yes… a month! I actually tied a ribbon around mine and set it in the middle of the dining room table. When you return to read it again, you will look at it with a fresh set of eyes and discover what worked, and what did not

Two tips:

1. Read aloud. You’ll hear your own mistakes far easier than you will see them while reading silently. Your mind knows what you wanted to say, and your eyes will deceive you into thinking that’s what you wrote. If you ‘hear’ the words, you’ll catch your mistakes.

2. Have your spouse, or someone who can be brutally honest with you, and is willing to discuss it with you, read it. Then let the discussion flow.

Today I untied my novel, and began my fourth editing process. For all those who believe editing, and the ensuing rewriting, is work, I beg to differ. This process is just as enjoyable, if not more so, than the initial writing. Confessing however, that after the third edit that followed the speedy first draft, I was somewhat tired of her. Our distance apart, with her tied up and laying alone on the table, and our recent reunion today, has reignited our love affair and I am very much enjoying this edit and rewrite.

Sometimes we just need a little distance.


  1. I couldn't agree more Karlene. It's hard but I set my novel aside once I'm finished with the first draft. I try to leave it alone for at least a week. When I come back to it I'm seeing it with a fresh perspective and I catch a lot more that way. Thanks for the great advice!

  2. Thanks Heather! Every time I read I find something. I love the first draft. I love the last draft. The time in the middle for me... is the time to think.

  3. Those are great those techniques, Karlene. Sometimes it seems crazy to try to read a whole novel out loud, but it works! And I love your definition of 'edit' and 'rewrite.'