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.