Edit Wars: Rewrites Strike Back

star wars meme editingWelcome to the fifth post in the How to Edit Your Novel series. Let’s see… At this point you’ve had beta readers, you’ve edited, and then the realization hits. This thing needs improvement. Not just typo fixes and quick word re-arranging. I mean substantial restructuring!


Seriously, that’s how it can feel sometimes. What about all that work I’ve already done? I’ve already spent months/years on this thing! Ugh, I want to be published yesterday. Etc. Etc.

But the thing is, how dedicated are you to your story? Are you willing to do whatever it takes to make it the best it can be? Really?

I remember coming back from a conference totally deflated. I’d been through a Donald Maass workshop, and I knew my novel needed work—a lot of work. Could I really go through all that? Did I really want to? It took me a few weeks of mulling things over, but I decided it had to be done. So I spent the summer rewriting.

And you know what? I had a much better story. Much better.


Little did I know, the Emperor had already begun work on rebuilding the Death Star. The war wasn’t over yet.

I entered a contest last November called Pitch Wars, as many of you know, and scored myself a mentor. I knew she’d probably have something to say. There’s no such thing as a perfect draft.

That’s when the rewrites struck again. You see, Marieke’s a pretty darn good editor, and her advice was spot on. She pointed out the weaknesses, made her suggestions, and the more I thought on them the more I realized this was going from an editing session to another big rewrite. Not as major as the summer’s, but significant nonetheless.


I haven’t been keeping an exact count of drafts, but I think saying I’m on draft #10 is fairly accurate. How many drafts is it going to take for my novel? I don’t know. Probably several more.

The thing is even if you get your story into a proper enough state to score an agent, they’re probably going to want another draft of it, whether major or minor. And they’re doing this to help you. They want your book to be just as wildly successful as you do. But the fortitude you have to reach success is up to you.

Whatever you do, realize this: it’s going to take several drafts to get you to querying stage. You don’t write a book, edit it and call it good. You write a book, edit it, let family read it, edit and/or rewrite it, send it to beta readers, edit and/or rewrite it, send it to betas again, edit and/or rewrite it, maybe enter it in contests where you can get some feedback, edit and/or rewrite it—you catching the drift?

The fun part is creating. The fulfilling part is sculpting it into something fabulous. It’s like finding a diamond. It’s somewhat valuable in it’s unpolished state, but far more valuable once it’s been removed from the coal, polished and cut to sparkle. We must get our stories sparkling, friends.


While you fight the rewrite wars, there are several books that can help you along the way. Of course, you can read these books before you even get started on the first draft, but I think they are equally helpful after a first draft.

Story. Robert McKee actually wrote this for screenwriting, so some of the advice won’t be directly applicable, but his story structuring certainly is. It gives you a breakdown of plots and why things work the way they do. Plus it’s chocked full of golden nuggets of information on everything—story, plot, characters, you name it.

Writing the Breakout Novel. I bought this book after listening to Donald Maass in a workshop for 4 hours. This guy knows his stuff. Probably because he’s seen one too many bad manuscripts that are usually bad for the same reasons. He uses examples from literature so you can see what he thinks is done well. It’s a lot like Story, but more like an additional perspective to understanding the same thing. Sometimes I like the way Mr. McKee put it, something I prefer the way Mr. Maass put it.

The Fire in Fiction. This is another of Mr. Maass’ books. In this he goes more in-depth on how to create tension on every page so, if applied well, your readers will be hard-pressed to put your book down.

On Writing. This is Stephen King’s book. To be honest, I haven’t read it yet, but everyone I’ve mentioned it to who has says I must read this book! Might as well learn from the masters, right?

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. A local friend of mine first recommended this book to me. But let me put up a disclaimer right now. Some of what they say I don’t agree with. They almost forbid the use of gerunds, but if that solution leads you to replacing gerunds with “and” all the time, it’s equally sucky. I say watch carefully so that your gerunds aren’t communicating the wrong thing. I do think, however, that their exercises are helpful and there’s still plenty of good tips to be had. Like any advice, take it with a grain of salt.

There are other good books out there. These are just the ones I like and have found most helpful.

Roll up your sleeves, and get those rewrites on. And tomorrow join me for Going Pro: Creds & Eds. Or else!

16 thoughts on “Edit Wars: Rewrites Strike Back

  1. Hahahahaha. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at the “Noooooooo” bit. I say that every night it seems. It took me 4 weeks to edit a 10k piece with around 4 revisions. I don’t even what to think about doing those kind of in-depth edits on a novel. One thing is for certain. It takes grit and passion to keep it going until it’s polished.

    • We owe a lot to Mark Hamill for that reaction. Fits so perfectly, doesn’t it? It keeps me laughing too, only because it’s so true.

      And you’re 100% right about grit and passion.

  2. The horror! And it only gets worse as you go on. I don’t mind a rewrite after the first draft- I expect it, it’s even fun to change everything. But when you’ve finished your fifth draft and someone points out some flaw that can’t be fixed without changing a big chunk of the story… that’s heartbreaking. (Or if you’re me, you finish your third draft and then decide that the story should really be told by two characters, not just one. This nearly made me cry, but it works so much better now)

    Sometimes it’s hard not to read these books and then try to fit what I already have into the structure they suggest. “Well, this is kind of a turning point… yes, it takes a long time to get to the first [whatever], but there’s a reason for that, I don’t need to change it… please?”

    Of course, I’ve realized that that kind of thinking doesn’t do anyone any good. I’ve already ripped my book apart and stitched it back together (with new parts added, others that didn’t work removed, characters’ motivations strengthened, etc) more times than I care to remember. Even after all of that, I know that it will need more (ie professional) editing before it’s the best it can be.

    • Sounds like you’ve already progressed a lot further than many I’ve met at conferences. For some reason we’re all at a point where we just want the novel to be “good enough.” But then, hopefully we come to the realization that “good enough” is junk and we need to be striving for stellar.

      I especially smiled when you mentioned trying to “fit” things to advice. I’m still guilty of that sometimes. It’s a constant struggle against my laziness, but I think I’m getting better at winning against it.

  3. Great advice, as always. I think Heidi and I have done what feels like 50 drafts, and we’re still finding things to change. But if our story turns out to be more awsome for it, it will be totally worth while.

    By they way, The Empire Strikes Back is my favorite Starwars movie. Heck, it’s probably one of my all time favorite movies. 🙂

    • Ding! Ding! You win the awesome gold star! Empire is my favorite too. So much good stuff in there. So many perfect lines and perfect moments. You can tell George barely had anything to do with it. 😉

  4. This is a truly intriguing conversation… I haven’t come close to finishing my first draft but I had no idea it could possibly need several to make it as right as it needs to be. I feel better for knowing and discouraged all at once.

    A New Hope is my favorite from the Star Wars series but that has been tarnished by the prequels, I wonder how many rewrites those went through? Clearly not enough.

    • I think he just went with the first draft of everything. Don’t be discouraged though. Editing is a lot of fun. And it’s really cool to see how your story evolves. I save older copies and sometimes glance back at them to see my progress as a writer. Honestly, it’s one of the coolest feelings you can experience while writing. But now that you know you’ll make progress faster than those of us who were clueless in the beginning. 😉 Thanks for stopping by!

      • Thanks for the encouragement!

        Do you write by hand, pencil to paper, or on a computer? How do you keep from rewriting as you’re writing?

        As for Star Wars… it is a favorite but someone on those writing teams needs to figure out another way to advance the story without the heroes being taken prisoner. I can understand once, but just about every mission these guys attempt they are captured…, and that goes for Dr. Jones and 007 as well. Anyone captured that many times would be considered compromised and placed on permanent administrative leave. Hey!? That sounds like a fun story.

      • I used to write by hand, but it’s double the effort in the end. I still outline or brainstorm by hand though. I’d recommend getting digital if you haven’t already. When you’re a published author you’ll need all the time you can spare to crank those novels out (so I’m told).

        It’s okay to rewrite a little bit. It’s different for everyone. But if rewriting is keeping you from making any progress, you may just have to tell yourself to go for it despite the quality, then go back and fix it later.

        Well, SW7 is in JJ Abrams hands. Hopefully he’ll treat it well. But I know what you mean.

What are your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s