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Revisions vs Rewrites

Revisions: When you look at your novel from a fresh perspective, usually with the aid of critical beta/agent/editor eyes, and rethink, redefine, reorganize, and revive the story.

Rewrite: In the immortal words of Kate Hart, "it's like writing fanfiction with your own characters."

There's an in-between area so broad it's difficult sometimes to really understand the difference between revising and rewriting. In the middle of my own heavy-revision-turned-rewrite and wondering just what that difference was, I turned, like a good little geek, to research. From The University of North Carolina in their article on what it means to revise a draft:

Sometimes it means revising the thesis to match what you've discovered while writing. Sometimes it means coming up with stronger arguments to defend your position, or coming up with more vivid examples to illustrate your points. Sometimes it means shifting the order of your paper to help the reader follow your argument, or to change the emphasis of your points. Sometimes it means adding or deleting material for balance or emphasis. And then, sadly, sometimes revision does mean trashing your first draft and starting from scratch. Better that than having the teacher trash your final paper.

Let's translate in fiction terms.

Sometimes it means revising the plot to match the themes you've discovered while writing. Sometimes it means coming up with stronger scenes to illustrate those themes, or coming up with higher stakes to motivate your characters. Sometimes it means shifting the scenes in your plot to help the reader follow your story, or to change the impact and meaning of certain key moments. Sometimes it means adding or deleting material for balance or emphasis. And then, sadly, sometimes revision does mean trashing your first draft and starting from scratch. Better that than having your agent ask you to trash your WIP.

Okay, maybe that's not a perfect translation. But they're all valid points. And let's say you do end up with that option – rewrite or trash. What then?

An interesting discussion with Lee, Kate, Kirsten and Kaitlin led to this unanimous decision: The most important thing when embarking upon a rewrite is distance.

Taking a break before revising is important too; we've all heard (and hopefully heeded) advice on getting away from that first draft for a week or so before tackling it with fresh eyes. But with a real rewrite, we're talking serious time.

For both my books, I had over a year in between. That long's not necessary -- necessarily -- but I strongly believe you need a gap long enough to sever a lot of your emotional ties to the work. Because rewriting means total chainsaw massacre. (Kirsten)

You can just see things you couldn't before, and you aren't as precious about it. (Kaitlin)

Kate's comment at the beginning of this post made me laugh, but like all of the hilarious and/or snarky comments she makes daily, it is also wise. You've got the characters, you've got the voice...but one change in theme, one change in character motivation, one change in world-building or plot or anything – and it's a different book.

And when you're so close to the story itself, rewriting it has got to be like flying from Georgia to Alabama via Buenos Aires. Get your head in a different place. Get some distance. Drink something fruity with rum. Then come back and write the story you want.



Inspiration for the pic goes to Lee Bross.
Michelle Schusterman

Michelle writes books for kids, screenplays for a tv/film production company, and music for anyone who'd buy a "groove matters" bumper sticker. She lives in New York City with her husband (and band mate) and their chocolate lab (who is more of a vocalist). She is the author of middle grade series I Heart Band - 2014, and The Kat Sinclair Files - 2015 (both from Grosset).

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24 comments:

  1. I... I feel so... *sob*

    I am going to copy that "wise" comment about me and hang it on my wall, and then bust it out unannounced during arguments. BADOW. Your argument is invalid. I AM WISE.

    and also up too late, apparently.

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  2. Really, all you need to do is bust out BADOW during arguments and you win by default.

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  3. Damn, I taught my oldest to say it the other day, and now he's going to have the nuclear option during every argument. Bedtime? BADOW. Eat your vegetables? BADOW.

    This could go badly.

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  4. Tell them anytime a kid says badow, a reindeer bites the dust.

    That's the worst comment I've ever left on this blog.

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  5. "That's the greatest comment I've ever left on this blog."

    FIFY

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  6. am I hallucinating this conversation?

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  7. Do your hallucinations usually talk back to you? If yes, then yes.

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  8. I love the comic you made! I must print and frame that! hehe

    And it's obvious you two were up way too late last night! LOLOL

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  9. Really funny cartoon, and good advice from the U of North Carolina. Outlines are a good guide as you proceed, but inevitably, when you're done the draft you'll need to go back in (after that break) and address at least one of the elements the article pointed out.

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  10. Revision -- getting a cavity filled to plug the hole.

    Rewrite -- getting a root canal to pull the source of the whole dang problem out from the root.

    Either way, it hurts, leaves you a little bit numb, and you won't want to talk to anyone or eat for a while afterward.

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  11. This post made me feel good enough to start revisions, and the comments made me fall over laughing.

    EPIC YAH WIN / BADOW

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  12. Now y'all know what happens in our planning email threads pretty much 24/7.

    Josin, that comment made me crack up.

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  13. In the immortal words of Kate Hart, "it's like writing fanfiction with your own characters."

    Oh my god, this is awesome. As is every comment in this thread. <3 you guys.

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  14. For me revisions have meant looking back over my novel and realizing that the character I've created probably would never do any of the things that I'm making her choose to do. Whoops! And... yeah. Another revision.

    Mini Badow.

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  15. Just to clarify my comment in the post -- I wrote both of my books LIKE MANDARIN & WANDERLOVE, twice. I call the first versions the 1.0s. Both books, I extensively overhauled after a year+ gap because I couldn't get them out of my head. Both version 2.0s (well, post agent + editor revisions!) will be published by Random House. I could have stuck with the earlier versions, but I'm SO glad I shelved them when they needed to be shelved, because the rewritten versions are a trillion times better. I suppose this is something I should blog about myself!

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  16. I have nothing to add except y'all are criminally awesome. And SCRAP?!? What is this word?!? I've been working on the same book for 2948 years and god damn if I wouldn't work on it for another 2948* (with distance-breaks in between each year of course). :D

    *I swear it's only because I love it so much and seeing it improve is my brand of heroin and not because I'm obsessive. i swear. iswarz

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  17. You people are amazing. Not only was this a brilliant post, but the comments are hysterical! Can I be all of you when I grow up?

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  18. Great advice. It also helps a writer to know the difference between rewriting and editing, so that one can do what is best for a WIP.

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  19. As a recent root canal survivor, I agree that rewriting inflicts just as much pain! Kirsten, while I'm sorry you also had to deal with novel versions 1.0, I'm glad to hear that those complete overhauls were worth it for you!

    I've linked to this great post in mine for today: Rewriting: The Five Stages of Grief (http://YAknow.livejournal.com).

    Lisa Ritter Cannon

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  20. I sooo agree on the break part. I like to let my works simmer for a while before I go back and hack at them. Love the 'chainsaw massacre' comment! :)
    Lisa ~ YA Literature Lover

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Item Reviewed: Revisions vs Rewrites Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Michelle Schusterman