Rewriting: How Long Should It Take?

How quickly do you make all recommended changes when you rewrite?  Stop. Consider.
How quickly do you make all recommended changes when you rewrite? Stop. Consider.

When you get a critique from an editor, do you immediately go home and pop off a rewrite?  Many writers do that, working their tails off to get the manuscript into the mail that week or at the very least in under a month.

My word of advice?  Don’t.

Take some time.  Think about what you were told.  Think about how the changes will impact the manuscript as a whole, because they should.

When we rush into a rewrite, the changes that we make are mechanical.  I’ve had to do this kind of rewrite and generally I just go through the editors comments and make changes.  I don’t take the time to think things through because I don’t have the time.  Fortunately, most of the changes that I have to make with this kind of rewrite aren’t all that deep.  I change one word for another, clarify a foggy point and add examples.

But sometimes even with a rapid rewrite, I’m asked to make a change that raises my hackles.  “No.  Not going to do it.  That is absolutely the right word.”

At times like this, I need to take a step back.  I clean a sink.  Pull a handful of weeds.  Dust in the dining room.

Then I come back.  Sometimes given even a few moments away, the change now seems perfectly reasonable.  Other times, it still isn’t right but I can see why a change of some kind is necessary because I now see what isn’t working.  Then I can cook up a change we can both live with.

And that’s what’s wrong with most rushed rewrites.  We don’t take the time to think about why I change has been requested.  We don’t look beyond comments on dialogue to see that the character’s voice isn’t fully developed.  We add details to our setting without understanding that we need to use it to more completely reflect the tone of the story.

When you can, take some serious time with a rewrite.  One editor I hears speak said that she didn’t want to see anything from anyone at the retreat in less than 4 months.  She didn’t care if we were work-shopping a picture book or a novel she wanted us to take the time to make the changes our own and let them ripple throughout the manuscript as a whole.

And that really is the best way to do it when you can.




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