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?