Wednesday, November 28, 2012

How to keep your rewrite organized

by Stephanie Morrill

I have a deep love for all things that involve organization. I use my label maker frequently, I like my spices lined up alphabetically, and Container Store catalogs make me swoon.

So it's somewhat maddening to me that rewrites always feel like chaos.

In the Go Teen Writers Facebook group, a writer confessed she was feeling overwhelmed by her rewrite, and asked how we keep ourselves organized. Here's what I've done:

First I made a reluctant peace with the facts that rewrites are inherently messy. I still fume over it from time to time, or feel a wave of despair (This is such a mess right now. Is it ever going to come together?) but most of the time I'm able to remind myself that it's a normal part of the process, that I just need to press on.

The first thing I do is save my first draft as its own file. The book I'm working on now is called The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet. So I would save my first draft as something like "Ellie Sweet First Draft" Doing that makes me feel freer to hack into the regular Ellie Sweet document, because I know I can always go back.

If I'm doing a big rewrite, it's helpful to me to track the current story in two ways. 

One is on a blank calendar: 



It helps me to catch errors in my timeline, but it also helps me get a feel of how fast my story is unfolding. You could of course do this digitally too, but I find I need the paper.

And then something both Jill and I do is make a list of scenes in our story. You could do this in a spreadsheet or word document, but I really like using index cards and Post-its.

I've talked about this before, but this time I'll walk through a bit more of my process.



The index cards are the scenes as is. If it's a scene I think I'll be deleting, I put an X on it:





If it's a scene that will need tweaks to fit in with the rewrites, I stick a Post-it on there with what I think the edits will involve:



If a scene needs to be added, then I do only a Post-it note, and if I get to a section where I have big rewrites, I just don't know what yet, then I leave gaps when I tack them all up:


And when I'm all done, I begin rewrites and refer to my board often.

There are a couple ways you could go about the actual rewriting. If you have a bunch of scenes you know you want to add, you might begin by writing those and inserting them, then going back through the entire book and doing a line edit and adding those other little things to your other scenes.

What I've found I prefer is to just start editing the whole book. Which sometimes means I'm line editing for a day or two, and then writing and editing a 1,500 word scene that I want to add. I really like this for two reasons:

  • I'm able to keep a pretty clear idea of what has happened and what hasn't yet as far as big scenes that I intend to add. That means I don't accidentally foreshadow a scene that I inserted 25 pages ago.
  • It breaks up the line editing and the writing, which makes both feel fun. The days where I'm just changing words here and there feel restful, and it's fun to watch the page numbers flip by. But the days when I get to write are a fun change of pace.
Also, sometimes I find scenes or chunks of dialogue that I like, but don't fit now because of the rewrites. I copy and paste them into a file called "Ellie Sweet Outtakes." Occasionally they get a new home in the story, but most of the time they're permanently cut. It takes some of the sting away to know they're saved somewhere, though.

After I'm done with the whole book, I'll save it as "Ellie Sweet Second Draft." I usually take a week off before I start on draft number three, which is more of a tweaking and smoothing draft than it is a rewrite.

Anyone have questions? Or tips they'd like to share?

24 comments:

  1. Thank you so much! Very helpful. I'm still in my first draft, but I've been wondering how the second draft works (I've never gotten that far before).

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    1. I feel your pain! ;) haha, it's pretty much the story of my life (well, my writing life). ;)

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  2. This is really helpful, thanks! I have a question, though: What if you're working on a 2nd draft, but you're not changing that much? When I first started revising, I was ready to really dive into the manuscript and add/delete/overhaul scenes and characters. But instead, I'm mainly just rearranging sentences and minor things. I know there are certainly ways I could make the story stronger, I just don't know what those ways are...it's a frustrating predicament. Is it okay if not a lot is changing, or does it show I'm really not that great at picking out problem spots?

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    1. Sorry if that was a little wordy...it's too early in the morning for me to revise anything ;)

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    2. Anna, it's pretty rare that I do major rewrites in my second draft, unless I've decided to totally change the course of a book. I've done it in those cases, but in a normal case, my "rewrite" is just a line edit. I'll strengthen threads and lines, maybe add in something here or there, take out something else, but no huge overhaul. There's no reason to think that EVERY book needs this much change.

      As for knowing a change needs made but not being sure where, that's pretty common in our own work too! I've found that the best help is talking through it with my critique partner. Stephanie can see things more objectively than I can, and when I say "I'm still unsure about how this aspect is working..." she can offer advice to fuel my editing creativity. Or if I'm just totally at a loss, then it's helpful for her to say things like "I'm still not buying this character--she's flat" or "I thought for sure you'd follow up on this line..." A second brain to consider it is invaluable when you're stuck on how to make a change.

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    3. That's really encouraging! I'll keep working through this draft, then send it to a writing friend of mine to see if she can pick up on anything I should change. Thank you so much for your help, I really appreciate it!

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    4. Anna, I'll add that Roseanna edits her books as she writes whereas I don't. So if she's 2/3 of the way through the book and comes up with a plot twist, she'll go back and add the foreshadowing before moving on. I just make a note of it and handle it in the second draft. Neither way is right or wrong, it's just what works for us. But that's one of the reasons I spend lots of time fixing holes in the second draft and why Roseanna can do more of a line edit.

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    5. That makes sense. I tend to edit a little as I go (like adding the foreshadowing), because I like to know I've taken care of something before moving on to something else. Thank you for the advice!

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  3. I'll definitely have to use these things when I get to the editing part of my story. :D Thanks, Stephanie!

    -Abby

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  4. I find that I have two major rewrites in the future, but they both look really different. One is forgetting the first draft and starting new, the other is keeping the first draft, just adding lots of scenes to it and such.

    Thanks Stephanie, it's cool to see how your process works! (and random, but I love your MC's last name!)

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  5. Ah, the sweet sound of organization. It pleases my ears to no end. ;) Thanks so much for these tips! I'll definitely be referring to them when the time comes! :D

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  6. I'm obsessed with organization too.. I made one of these boards for Seaspear a while ago and it helped SO much. Though the story has changed a lot since then, there was no way I could have moved forward without having the whole plot laid out in front of me like that.
    (Pssst, can't wait for your next book, Stephanie!)

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    1. Thank you, Ellyn :)

      I feel the same way about The Board. It's become a must have. When I don't take the time to make one, I have a tough time remembering the nuances of how it all progresses.

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  7. I smiled when I saw this, thank you!! I love the post it & things with scenes. I will be trying it. First rewrites are messy, too? Ugh! I'm still coming to grips with a and first draft. It's hard for me to accept because I want it to just be write. I guess that because I like you like organization and messy drafts and rewrites don't jive with organization, huh?!

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    1. Well, maybe instead of just seeing it as messy, you can attack it with the mindset of it being a project in need of organization. Making the index cards is kinda like pulling all your clothes out of your closet, deciding what will stay and what will be given away. And then the rewrite is like building the new shelves so everything fits perfectly.

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  8. Ack!! I'm on the brink of starting my rewrite of my 2nd book. It's not a major overhaul and I know most of the places that need a scissors inserted, but it's still daunting. I get overwhelmed very easily. I love your board with sticky notes and index cards. That's something I'd love to do with my messy monster novels. Christmas wishlist? :) Doing fantasy, it's hard keeping everything for a whole world in my head.

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  9. This was a great post, Stephanie. I do love to be organized, and the chaos of rewrites can really bug me. I'll have to try putting all my scenes into index cards and tackling one thing at a time. Thanks!

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  10. Thanks for the great post!
    After Christmas I'll be starting a rewrite/edit, so this is good timing as usual :)

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  11. How do I know how big my rewrite should be or what to change? This weekend I'll be doing a primary edit and sending it over to a writer friend for feedback (just finished my first draft through NaNo), but how do I know what to change or not to change? Do you cut major scenes, or add lots, or what? I'm a bit confused. Thanks for the post though!

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  12. Thank you for these tips, Stephanie!

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  13. I need some help with Writers Block! I'm sure you get asked this a LOT but how do you get over it?? I always want to write but when I sit down to write I draw a complete blank. I could REALLY use some help!

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