Friday, January 11, 2013

How To Survive Rewriting: the good, the bad, and the ugly

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. In short, it was time to rewrite Fly Away Home.

After having sent the book to numerous beta-readers, the critiques started swinging back in and for the past several days I've been swamped with so much rewriting it nearly made me question my calling as a writer. (I jest, I jest....partly.) At first it was an overwhelming jungle of horrid mistakes, plotting, and things to correct. I stared at the sheets of closely-written notes from my grandmother, and at the lengthy emails from my long-suffering friends, and thought, "What the blazes have I got myself into?"

There is always this moment on the edge of editing and rewriting, and the question is, "What will you do with it?" Only the brave and true survive the process. Only the dedicated have the guts to go through with it.

With all humbleness, I am one of them.

I know that rewriting is only going to make my book better. It's daunting, terrifying, and wretched at times, yes. But there is also a sense of exhilaration. If you are one who is looking down on your work in progress and wondering how you'll ever make a sensible book out of the hash in your hands, you are at the right place. In this post I intend to make you laugh, make you groan, and show you a little of how I go about it. Ready?

All right.

After assembling my thoughts and girding myself with bravado I didn't feel, (and a deal of prayer I did feel) yesterday was the official re-write kick-off. Witness my Facebook postings throughout the day:

January 10, 12:13 p.m. :

That feeling of utter confusion, bewilderment, and terror when you realize "editing" is more like "rewriting" and you gulp, close your eyes, and plunge in the knife.

January 10, 12:19 p.m.:

The general consensus is that I need some yelling in my book. *feels shell-shocked, realizing she must now spend the day getting her characters into several arguments in several places*

January 10, 11:54 p.m.:

Because there are days when you can't escape editing, and a purple pen lessens the terror. A smidge.

So my first suggestion? Use a purple pen. Never use red. Red is the color of blood. Red is the color of guilt. Use anything but red, I beg you.

The first official step in Rewriting is to identify which pieces need a complete overhaul.

In my case there were two key scenes that several beta-readers had commented on. I knew I needed to completely redo these scenes, adding material, cutting material, changing characters, etc. This was extremely daunting and I hardly had the courage to start cutting in. But I knew it needed to be done. When have a head-to-head with a thing that screams "DEATH! DESTRUCTION! RUIN! CHAOS!" the best thing to do is ignore the fact that it's enormous. I went in with a scalpel rather than a broadsword, and began to make my correction little by little. Don't look at the big picture in these overwhelming moments. Go line upon line, precept upon precept (to hackney a phrase) and you'll soon find the thing is done. Rather than editing the original file though, I copied and pasted the sections into a separate document which immediately tamed the tigers.

Working in separate files gives you mental freedom to make changes, knowing you can always revert to the original if you must. Both of my sections were large and unwieldy and it took me all day, but I rewrote 7 or 8k words yesterday. I was so pleased with the outcome, I made the decision to edit the original file and ditch the old material.

It was a wonderful feeling. ^.^

After fixing those two beasts, the next step was to try my hand at the Post-it Note System. This is my version of a system introduced to me by author Stephanie Morrill. I had wanted to try it ever since seeing her example on Go Teen Writers, and today was my chance. I woke up bright and early, knowing that I wanted to get my Wall of Power made before breakfast so I could focus on editing the rest of the day.

I wish my camera had captured the grandeur of the sunrise. It was so brilliant.

Sarah is out of town which has been great for my rewriting schedule because I can work at odd hours and not disturb anyone! After waking myself up with a shower, I sat and wrote a sticky note for each scene in my book. I was well-fortified with brightly colored Post-it notes, my purple pen, and my JJ Heller Pandora station.

Oh yes. And chocolate. Please don't forget the chocolate.

 Stephanie's system was a combo of index cards and sticky notes, but I went with only Post-it notes and created my own method that is working absolutely amazingly for me.

 Each color means something different:

Pink: Average scenes
Green: Key "turning-point" scenes
Blue: Possible scrap-scenes
White: Suggestions
Yellow: General comments

I ended up with 70-some "scenes" and it pleased my organized side to see that they squared up with precision when I stuck them to the wall. I was also pleased to find that--not including the two major rewrite-scenes yesterday--I had only a of couple scenes to consider cutting. (This will be my third edit on this book, so I got rid of, or rearranged several scenes in the former rounds) All the same, I reconsidered several scenes and replaced their sticky-notes with ones of a different shade where needed. After that I took out my white pieces and made lots of suggestions for various scenes such as...

These suggestions are so helpful when you need a quick glance to remind you of what needed fixing in the given scene. Heighten tension? Add an argument? Mention this event? Incorporate a certain character? I was proud that I remembered to number the individual Post-its so that if they fell off the wall I could get them back in order without driving myself crazy.

I had fun with the cryptic descriptions of certain one but myself need know what some of them mean...


Here is the wall after rearranging and adding notes:

The awesome thing about this system is that you can literally see the flow of your story. If my key scenes are the green ones, I can see where I need to check tension in the lesser scenes, where I might need to relieve it in the intense blocks, etc. Since you're dealing with Post-it notes, you also have the freedom to play around with rearranging the various scenes. The yellow Post-its, again, are general things to remember throughout each scene and all the way through to the end. 

Another perk of the Wall of Power is that it allows you to easily identify, add, and follow "circularity"--a topic Jill Williamson touched on over at Go Teen Writers earlier this week.

Me standing against the Wall of Power. 

Or the Wall of Terror. 
Both were appropriate depending on when you caught me during the day. By lunchtime, my Facebook statuses were less than cheerful:

January 11, 12:13 p.m.
Historical accuracy makes me want to up and write fantasy. :P


January 11, 1:19 p.m.
Waaaaaaaaa. Editing today is a Sudoku puzzle. Move one piece and the rest goes to shambles behind it.

After I came down to lunch, Mama listened to me rant about wishing there was a coffee shop that wasn't twenty-five minutes away, then calmly said, "Well, you could go anyway. It isn't that far."

I could, couldn't I? With computer in tow. 

It is a maxim of mine that a change of scenery does wonders. Therefore I toted my laptop full of its quibbles with Mr. Barnett, geography, Callie Harper, and 50's slang, and went to Panera. There, I ordered therapy in the form of a cinnamon roll and hazelnut coffee. I took a window seat and flipped open my computer. 

I heard Eric Hutchinson's "Rock Roll" and smiled.

It was a good spot for editing. 

And for taking awkward pictures with the self-shot of one's tablet.

And for embarrassing oneself by taking one's laptop from the laptop case borrowed from one's guitar-playing brother, and finding there is all a manner of horrid things springing out at you like strings and papers and pens and picks. And everyone stares at you tolerantly.

I was there an hour and a half and got nearly all the way through the list of corrections I'd copied down from my Wall of Power. YES! Along the way I was aided by a phone-call from a friend who has just been Sher-locked, and musing over just how amazing Steven Moffat is, and how he probably had to go through this self-same rewriting process for his genius. Tomorrow is Saturday, and therefore a day for cleaning house, but I expect to be right back to my Wall of Power on Monday, making corrections and giving Mr. Barnett a temper, and finding out just where in Manhattan The St. Evans' Post ought to be located, and doing all a manner of things. In fact, I'd rather not think about it. In the past two days I've taken huge leaps in the rewriting, and it's amazing to see what persistence and elbow-grease will do to a story. 

Rewriting isn't easy, and I'm not trying to make it out to be a lark, but it is helpful to have tips and tricks. I hope I've encouraged some of you with a peep at my system, and I assure you it helps. Just get down and get your hands dirty, and it'll all come right in the end. 

We hope. ;)


Unknown said...

Thank you so much for the tip!

Rachel said...

Great tips, great pictures, fun post, and good luck on your rewrite! :D You'll do amazingly I'm sure my dear, keep at it and soon twill all be done! {hugs} This post gives me encouragement and courage for when I someday may need to edit my own book (yikes, don't want to think about it right now! lol). :)

Love ya!

Elisabeth Grace Foley said...

I'm excited for you, and feel for you at the same time! Right now, I don't know if I'd have to nerve to cut and slash into a big project like that. I'm going to remember your tips, the end of this month I have to decide whether to try and rewrite a (pretty awful) first draft of a novel or start a new one. I'm still not sure which it's going to be.

Anne-girl said...

Second... Draft....almost*gasp*done. Not really I just like telling myself that. Congratulations on getting a good start!

Carmel Elizabeth said...

Rachel, I'm bookmarking this right now. Thank you so much! I'm hardly an inch away from finishing the first draft of my darling Psithurism, and then it's on to editing! I plan on finishing the first draft over the weekend (scary, intimidating, and altogether exciting!). :)
Lucky for me, we have a little Starbucks within walking distance (read: I can't drive). :D
Also, this was hilarious. And a huge blessing. Can I say thanks again? K, thanks. ;D

Love ya!

Chloe M. Kookogey said...

More than anything, Rachel, I admire your courage and perseverance. You've accomplished so much in such a short period of time, and that is incredible. I love the idea of using a sticky-note system! And yes, a change of scenery (especially if it involves some form of pastry and a hot drink, preferably tea) is always a good idea. :)

Thank you for these tips, dear! I'll be sure to keep them in mind when I get to the editing stage with Rifles.

Much love,

Dakota Densmore said...

Sounds like fun! Hard, demanding work, but fun nonetheless. ;) I will definitely be utilizing the Wall of Power (and Terror) when it comes time for me to rewrite my story. :) Although I may have to steal my brother's laptop to use in my bedroom. . . I don't think my parents would like sticky notes all over the computer room. X)

Joy said...

That was a fascinating post, Rachel, and very helpful too!

All I recall was editing my short-story 'A Love that Never Fails'... and the biggest thing I had to work on was historical accuracy (that made me scream like you... 'let me ditch historical fiction and take on fantasy!') and wordcount (which included grammar in the collection as well) as well as dialogue tension. That's all, but for a short story, that was a painful lot!

It was so fascinating reading and seeing all the photos of your editing and rewriting process... I have yet to attempt that on my novel, 'The Crown of Life' or my new novel adaption of the short story mentioned above but I shall keep these steps in mind for later use ;). I hope the edits for 'Fly Away Home' fly away smoothly and swiftly (pun intended!) and all the best with it =D.

God bless!

Joy said...

I admire how swiftly and diligently you take on your editing work... I'm sure it would take MONTHS for me to get through a chapter or two :p