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Revising My View of Rewriting

by Beth K. Vogt

It’s often said that writing is rewriting.

And I’ve often said how much I love rewriting.

But if you’d seen me a few weeks ago as I rewrote the fast draft of my second novel, you would have doubted not only my love of rewriting-but my emotional stability as well. Over the course of three days, I:

• Walked away from my computer – again and again and again.
• Muttered under my breath.
• Buried my face in my hands and cried.
• Took several naps – because, when all else fails, why not nap?
• Ate an entire one pound bag of jelly beans. And, no, it did not take me three days to finish the bag.

Not a whole lot of love going on.

My stated goal? Forward motion on my work-in-progress (WIP): Up my word count, polish my prose, build my storyworld, deepen my spiritual thread.

I did not want to tear my manuscript apart, sift through my chapters and rebuild my story’s structure. And yet, there I was, going all the way back to chapter 1 and formulating a timeline, of all things. A timeline. My story morphed from a manuscript to one of those crazy sliding block picture puzzles where the scene is all jumbled up. I spent hours shifting scenes and chapters around until-finally!-the story fell into place again.

I learned two important lessons on this side of my crazy rewriting days:

1. Rewriting doesn’t always mean you’re writing. Sometimes rewriting means re-plotting your book, ensuring the story spine is straight. One possible pitfall of a fast draft (a high-speed rough draft) is veering off-course and losing sight of the story’s beginning, middle and end.

2. Don’t fight the process. I knew what I wanted to accomplish during the rewriting phase. But I didn’t leave any room for what needed to be done. Expectations so often block out reality. This is true in my writing life, as well as my personal life. It would have been so much easier – and wiser – to stop the writer tantrum and go with the flow. I wasted valuable energy and time resisting what needed to be done.

The moral of my story: Rewriting – whatever that looks like – is writing. I also learned one other minor lesson: Sometimes you eat the jelly beans … and deal with the calories later.


Beth K. Vogt’s contemporary romance novel, Wish You Were Here (Howard Books), debuts May 2012. She’s the Skills Coach for the My Book Therapy writing community and a consulting editor for MomSense magazine. Join the conversation over at Beth’s blog, In Others’ Words, at bethvogt.com.

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24 Responses to Revising My View of Rewriting

  1. Pingback: In Others’ Words: Progress » Beth Vogt: Christian Author, Speaker, Editor

  2. This is extremely valuable and professional. Thanks so much, Beth, for sharing your gifts and life.

  3. Oh, the pain sometimes. And how we fight going back to that first chapter and starting over. Even if it’s only changing one small think,there is a domino effect through the whole manuscript. so glad it all fell into place.

  4. Thanks for giving me a new perspective on rewriting. Perhaps now I’ll take suicide hotline off speed dial. :-) Great post Beth!

  5. Melissa Tagg says:

    Awesome stuff, Beth! But can I switch out the jelly beans for M&Ms or something? :)

  6. Beth K. Vogt says:

    Thanks for stopping by, Delores, P.T., Reba & Melissa.
    P.T., you’re right about the domino effect in a manuscript. And, Reba, hang up that phone!
    Melissa: It’s always writer’s choice when it comes to favorite snack foods.
    :)

  7. Great post, Beth. Thanks for sharing your pain (and glory) if not the jelly beans!

  8. Paula Boire says:

    Great post, Beth. Thanks for sharing so honestly. Yes, JBs make a writerly snack, don’t they! But, like M-Tagg,M&Ms are wonderful too.

  9. Beth K. Vogt says:

    If I could, I would share the jelly beans too. First, to replenish the stash.
    :)

  10. Keli Gwyn says:

    Oh, Beth, how I can relate. I spent months rewriting the story that had led to my offer of representation. However, like you, I wasn’t writing all that time. I was slashing lots of scenes, switching a couple of scenes, and salvaging a precious few scenes. The process was painful, and I consumed far more shortbread than is advisable. But it was so worth the effort, since that story sold. I learned a valuable lessong: sometimes a story gets ugly before it shines. :-)

  11. Beth K. Vogt says:

    Love your insight, Keli! A new writer’s mantra: Sometimes a story gets ugly before it shines.

  12. Sue Harrison says:

    Priceless, Beth! It’s so great to know that other novelists go through the same angst that I do on that horrible 2nd draft. I’m ALWAYS disappointed and surprised at the mess I’ve left behind me in my scramble to get my story down on paper during the first draft. For me, second draft is the workhorse draft, refining, cutting, writting anew. I can usually write a novel in about 3 months. Second draft takes at least that long if not longer.

    I totally agree with what Keli Gwyn says, ‘Sometimes a story gets ugly before it shines.’

  13. Lisa Jordan says:

    Such wisdom in your post, Beth…especially about the jelly beans. ;)

    My favorite part of writing is the rewriting. The blank screen intimidates me. But I’ve learned my rewriting is a team effort. First to God in prayer, then to my wonderful CP who talks me off the ledge and gives valuable insight into each scene.

    Thanks for sharing the reality of the process!

  14. A timely reminder, as I will soon get back into a WIP that has beenon the shelf. It’s due September 1, and I know it’s still a mess. Stop fussing, and just get down to business. (Nutella helps.)

  15. Roxanne Sherwood says:

    Taping these to my computer now:

    1. Rewriting doesn’t always mean you’re writing.
    2. Don’t fight the process.
    And,
    3. Console with comfort food and deal with calories later.

    Thanks for the insight!

  16. This is the stage I’m in today! I’ve looked at my manuscript and changed one sentence, tried napping (twice), rummaged through my Easter candy (I blame my daughter for thinking I needed an Easter basket, bucket, or whatever it is), and watched a movie I taped last night. Can I quit for the day? No. Your article has given me an idea how I can manage my rough draft. Now if I can only find my 3×5 cards. Oh, before I get distracted with something else, thanks, Beth for sharing.

  17. Beth K. Vogt says:

    Sue: love the idea of calling the second draft “the work horse draft.”
    LJ: Having someone to talk us off the ledge (and buy jelly beans as needed) is so, so important!
    Olivia: I am a huge fan of Nutella. ;)
    Roxanne: I have all sorts of “rah rah, you can do this notes” taped up in my office.
    Virginia: I’m thankful my post was timely & helpful. If you need some index cards, let me know.

  18. Dear Beth,
    What a good piece of encouragment, I think it made my morning~ so far. :) Thanks for sharing the inner struggles. It’s good to see we’re all human and good writers deal with what beginners are going through too!
    Blessings~
    Diane

  19. Amen!
    In Karen Ball’s class at ACFW 2011, she said pantsers must leave time for major rewrites like this. It’s painful, though, when every other author in the universe seems to be pounding out thousands of words each day. Stories can seem like a jigsaw puzzle – the picture isn’t clear until the piece are in the right order.

    At this house, it’s not jelly beans – it’s Ghiradelli chocolate chips!

  20. You’ve written my, at times, writing days. Especially the nap ;)

    I have had to take three scenes before and condense them into one paragraph before to make the story work before. It was difficult at times but when I was done it was as if I lost several pounds myself. All in a days work :)

    Great post, Beth. And wonderful encouragement.

  21. PatriciaW says:

    Even with an outline, a fast draft is subject to veering off. Because the words are coming out so fast. Discovering that rewriting might mean replotting is really helpful right now, as I continue to tackle my NaNo project and believe I’ve lost my mind.

  22. Wow, I got interrupted so many times while writing the above post that now that I reread it, I realize…I’m a dork ;)

  23. Beth,

    This is a great post and timely. I’ve just spent nearly a week trying to find (or make) traction with the first scene in what could either be the fifth draft in the current story or an abrupt swerve into a new story. Not sure yet, which it is.

    I spend hours, days, weeks writing backstory, character descriptions, timelines, you name it. By the time I get to the first draft, it’s almost like writing a second draft.

    But there is still a lot of the behaviors exhibited at my house that you described, including snacking and napping (I thought I was the only one who did that!).

    I also often walk when writing frustrates me. Outside if the weather’s nice. Inside if it’s not. There’s nothing like getting away from the computer and the story to spark an idea.

  24. Mary F. Allen says:

    Great post, Beth. I’m quoting part of #2 on my fb because I find it inspirational. Thanks.