It’s been said that the main part of writing is actually rewriting.

Many amateur writers read back their work and despair. What sounded brilliant in their heads, when read back from the page, can come across as stilted, hackneyed, dull. Or worse, melodramatic or corny. This is to say nothing about all the spelling, grammar and typing errors that can slip in while our attention was focused inward.

With practice and experience (and a heck of a lot of reading) you’ll get a lot better. With an outline and a rough idea of the theme and style, you can fix a lot of potential problems before you even start writing. But what really makes the difference between the amateur and the professional is a simple shift in mindset.

The first draft is allowed to be bad.

Writing is hard work. You’re creating an entire world out of words, pulling them out of your brain one at a time. Simultaneously making those words sparkle, making them rhyme and sing and express everything perfectly… that’s absurdly difficult. Perhaps there are some writers out there that can do that for a sustained period. When I get into the right zone, I can sometimes do that for a few hundred words. But not for a novel.

The first draft is just the scaffolding. You’re putting together a rough version of the final vision that you can shape and refine later. That’s where the rewrites come in.

Step 1 – Forget It All

The first and most vital step. Put your work away. Don’t think about it again for a good long time (a few weeks at minimum; a few months would be better). When you write something, the version on the page is supplemented by the version still in your head. You remember more than is actually there.

Before you can rewrite, you need to be able to read what you’ve actually written.

Step 2 – Read It Through

You should approach your work on two levels – as a reader, and as a writer.

The reader is all about the story. Is it entertaining? Does it hit all the right emotional notes? Do you like the characters, the settings, the description? Basically, is it enjoyable to read? Any parts that don’t sit right with your reader-self need to be revisited – perhaps slower scenes need to be spiced up, cut down, or cut altogether. Perhaps a busy scene needs breaking up. Perhaps there’s something missing that needs to be added. Maybe a character doesn’t feel quite right.

The writer is all about the mechanics. Do the words flow properly? Are you overusing certain words? Is the structure right? Are you using too many adverbs? Are characters and settings consistent?

Don’t change anything just yet. Just make notes. You may find that notes from later in the story mean further changes to parts from earlier.

Step 3 – Back Up Your Work

Take a copy of your story. File it away. You never know when you might want to refer back to something you’ve since cut or changed.

Step 4 – One Step At A Time

Go through your list of rewrite notes. Make your changes, one at a time. Some will be little things – a word here, a sentence there. Others will be bigger – new scenes, for instance. Take your time. You can only write so many words a day; likewise, you can only make so many edits at a time.

Step 5 – Repeat from Step 1.

Put your new story away. Leave it for a while. Work on something else. And then you can read it through again. You may find you rewrite multiple times. When are you finished? When you can’t find any significant changes – or when your deadline arrives, if you have one.

Good luck!

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