How do we know it’s time to rewrite a draft?

Marie Parks/ September 12, 2018/ Writing Process/ 0 comments

It can be dangerous for a writer to let her writing brain and editing brain get too cozy. Rewriting a draft can send you into an endless spiral of zero progress.

Case in point: I’d been working on a different novel for half a decade, but I just couldn’t make progress. Every time I opened the document, I’d start rereading it, to “reacquaint myself with the story.” It was a convenient excuse that got me neck-deep into edits. And that meant I never made much progress.

That’s why I decided to try NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) a few years ago. I knew that, to write a 50,000 word novel in one month, I’d have to put my inner editor aside. The result: I finished the first draft in just 30 days. Only then was my editor allowed to resurface.

It was a powerful lesson, and it’s served me well. But are there times when a writer in the drafting phase is actually better served by rewriting a portion of the draft? I believe so.

Here’s how we make the call on whether it’s time to rewrite a portion of a draft:

Step #1: Determine how you write. We tend to write in a linear process (likely a byproduct of us being discovery writers), so it feels super hard for us to skip ahead in the story. What if we don’t understand the nuances of the characters’ motivations by then?

Step #2: Answer why you want to rewrite this section. Valid answers for a rewrite include things like, “It’s going to change everything after this, so if I wait to rewrite this, everything after it is going into the recycling bin.” Invalid reasons for a rewrite include things like, “This doesn’t include robust enough characterization / description” or “This section doesn’t flow well / has bad pacing.”

As frustrating as it might be to leave the offending section alone, we recommend leaving a note about what you want to change. Then you can come back to it once you’ve finalized the draft.

Of course, it can be equally painful to decide to strategically rewrite a draft.

We went through this two-step process, which led us to rewrite 10,000 words. It sucked, and it pushed back our timeline a little bit. But as soon as we got over the hump, we’ve been writing much more quickly and with more energy than before. Are the rewrites perfect? No, but they no longer pass our valid answer test, so we’ve left comments for our editing brains to deal with later and moved on.

Happy to report it’s been the right decision, and we’re now 57% of the way through the manuscript! (The second full draft, that is!)


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