Facing Down Major Re-Writes: How I Survived the Ouch
I have a current work-in-progress (WIP) that I can quite honestly say might not have a single sentence left from its original version. And, yes, I exaggerate on occasion—what writer doesn’t?—but, no, I’m not in this instance.
So, how the heck is that even possible, you ask? Quite easy: it’s seen four—count ‘em, four—major re-writes. I’m not talking simple edits where a scene is removed here, another added over there. I’m talking axing over half the content and starting from the ground up. Over and over and over again.
You see, if you read my previous post on beta readers, you’ll remember what I told you about my horrific writing pre-discovery of my beta goddesses. So, this particular manuscript (MS) was among that steaming pile of save-me-from-my-own-terrible that existed before I knew any better. But, I loved it. The characters had thoroughly burrowed into my soul and wouldn’t let go, even if their words were utter crap.
So, after being whipped into some semblance of writerly shape—and trust me, I’m aware even now I’m nowhere near perfection, but I was at least better than I had been—I decided to take on a major re-write of one of my beloved dung piles. Rather than diving into the current document and attempting to fix the endless disasters I’d created for myself with my utter lack of knowledge, I opened a new Word doc and began the painstaking process of transferring each and every chapter I’d already written, one re-written or deleted paragraph at a time.
Talk about painful. And time consuming. And did I mention painful? Youch.
So, after I’d thrown all my shiny new knowledge about the mechanics and craft of writing at my pathetic little turd of an MS, I shipped it out for first round beta readers. (This was the time I previously mentioned where my resident beta bestie had to hold my hand and whisper endless words of encouragement as I awaited the feedback I knew I undoubtedly wouldn’t like, yet needed to hear.)
As expected, my betas pulled through in smashing fashion. I received some stinging words of advice nuzzled comfortably between lots and lots of encouragement. Because, again, I have the best betas ever and they know simply attacking my little turd would have set me off writing—likely forever—rather than giving me the push I needed to make my words the best they could be.
And that advice? Basically, it told me to shape up or ship out, because while I’d fixed some of the glaring craft errors, I still had zero clue what I was doing when it came to plot arcs, character development, and over-all storytelling. Ack. Being a writer is hard, isn’t it? Thankfully, they were super kind about it, and fully open to discussion so I had a firm grip on just what needed done.
Thus began round two of my little steaming crap pile’s bigtime re-writes. Only this time, rather than focusing on each sentence and the yikes it had been, I had to do one of the most painful things for a writer to face and accept: I had to cut. And I mean lots. Over half the current MS went bye-bye. (Okay, not totally bye-bye. I keep a Graveyard doc for all my WIPs that holds the big chunks I remove during editing, and a Cutting Room Floor doc for those little snippets I can’t use but might die if I deleted forever—you know the ones, those sentences you think are just oh-so-effin’-amazing yet don’t fit anywhere anymore? Yeah. Those.)
I write this now as if, sure, it hurt, but I survived. Which, ultimately, is the truth. However, can we discuss how many tears and temper tantrums preceded that final decision to do what needed done? Lots. An embarrassingly large amount.
But you know what? That’s okay. Edits—especially major cuts—are hard. It feels like you’re being asked to slice off a vital part of your own body. It gets a little easier every time you do it, but it still hurts. I won’t lie to you and say it doesn’t, because it does. Ahh, the joys of being a writer. People don’t know how deep our pain goes, and just how much truth there is to the phrase “blood, sweat, and tears” because, yep, a little bit—or a lotta bit—of all three of those go into the creation of a book baby.
Anyway, I digress. Let’s return to my ouchy little journey. After I tackled that second huge round of edits, I sent my slightly-less-stinky-but-still-steaming turd into the beta-verse for a round two read through. This time, I used a couple of new betas, plus one of the original so she could tell me whether I achieved the task I’d set out to accomplish. To my surprise, aside from some expected edits and suggestions to improve the overall quality of the MS, my beta readers were mostly positive in their feedback.
Could it be, were my major re-writes over? Ha. Not hardly.
It was after making the suggested edits status post my round two betas that my book baby found itself in a professional editor’s gifted little hands for a developmental edit. I was fortunate enough to get hooked up with one of the most fantastic, knowledgeable, and utterly brilliant editors this side of every feasible line you could imagine, and on New Year’s Eve, about thirty minutes before midnight, Sione Aeschliman sent me my first six-page, single-spaced professional edit letter.
I won’t lie… it was brutal. For about three weeks, I avoided writing and instead spent the time I would normally be chained (happily) to my writing desk reading instead. It was a much-needed break to get my writerly head screwed on straight. When I sat back down to look over the letter again, I did so with rejuvenation and a fresh helping of motivation.
With this new mindset, I could clearly see that every single thing Sione said was complete and total truth. I had somehow managed to write a novel that was one half literary fiction, and one half romantic suspense. There would be zero market for such an atrocity, so I needed to make a decision: axe the first half of the book and turn it into a true romantic suspense or cut the last half and delve deeper into the literary fiction I’d started. I quickly realized that my true intent had been the romantic suspense portion, and I’d just gone a little—okay, a lot—overboard in my lead up to my characters’ discovery of love.
And… round three, here we go! I decimated the entire first half—actually, it was closer to two-thirds if we’re being honest, but it’s just easier on my heart to say half. That’s a lot of words to—yet again—just throw into the bin. But when I was done? Folks, let me tell you, I’ve never been more proud. My shiny, steamy little turd was finally starting to feel like a real book.
Looking back, I can’t imagine what I was thinking with the first version(s), but that new version? It was what I’d meant to write from the beginning, I just needed someone to help me realize that.
Okay, so, this is the happy ending, right? Re-writes done and over. Shiny, sparkly turd ready to be shipped out to the world for consumption.
Ha! Not even close. Sione and I decided, since my story had morphed not only in genre, but in scope, that it made sense to do a second round of developmental edits. And all I can say is: thank goodness. Do you have any idea how many plot holes, plot bunnies, and utter ridiculousness can result from that many humongous re-writes? So. Very. Many. I had, in essence, created a monster.
Thankfully, Sione is beyond amazing, and she found each and every one of those horrendous snafus, then suggested ways I might both fix them and strengthen the new direction I’d decided to go.
Wee!!! Guess what that meant? That’s right, major re-write number four. Only this time, it was my decision to cut about a third of what I had and restructure it to fit better with the new direction. I had held onto some words and, in fact, entire scenes from previous versions that no longer fit simply because I loved them so much I couldn’t bear to let them go. Which was making my crap pile smell really, really bad. And once I cut that final cord and let those go, relying instead on what the story needed, rather than what I needed, things took a significant turn for the much, much better.
This final round of bigtime edits has been rough, but you know what? It’s way easier than the third time had been, just like the third had been easier than the second, and so on. Editing is brutal, and for some of us, just isn’t something we enjoy. But it’s a necessary evil in the world of writing, and the sooner you realize that, the better.
So. Here I am… yep, I’m still working on this final round. Is it guaranteed there won’t be a fifth? Nope. But for the first time, I have confidence in the words I’m putting on the page. The direction feels right, the character arcs feel real, and my lovely boys are finally finding the romantic suspense I’d meant for them to have.
Until next time,