A sense of relief fills writers after they finished polishing their first draft and hand it over to beta readers. Both excited and fearful of feedback, most writers hope that the reader will make minor yet genius suggestions that are easy for us to fix and will make our manuscript that much better.
But what do you do if that is not the case. What if the feedback is pertinent to a deeper issue? Perhaps your main character’s goals are not clear or meaningful enough? Or your first five chapters have nothing to do with the main story and are a boring set-up? What if your middle is dragging?
Sure, you could perform a quick fix, inserting a line here and there, changing a few scenes. This approach might work for certain manuscripts, but in many cases it won’t. It is not an appropriate response when multiple beta readers agree that there’s a significant problem with a chunk of your manuscript or all of it. If this happens, you as the writer will most likely enter the dreadful re-write territory.
Re-writing the whole novel or large chunks of it is daunting. It will require lots of energy, time, and patience. But fear not, you can come out the other side with your sanity intact, increased confidence in your writing’s skill and most importantly with a stronger manuscript.
In order to do so, I would like to propose a few do’s and don’ts.
Let’s start with the don’ts:
- Do NOT delete your original manuscript. You might think it’s useless today, but will you be of the same opinion a month from now?
- Do NOT make changes in the only copy you have. Save your previous manuscript, renaming it something like ‘first draft’ to psychologically commit yourself to a re-write.
- Do NOT jump straight into writing. This applies even if you outlined the original manuscript. Before you write create a new chapter-by-chapter outline.
- Do NOT discard everything about your novel. Re-read your feedback. Your beta readers might’ve disliked the middle of the novel, but that doesn’t mean you have to scrap all characters and create new ones or invent a different resolution.
Now that we’ve covered the don’ts, it’s time to cover the do’s:
- Do ask your critique partners why they didn’t like certain aspect. You might assume they disliked the middle because it dragged, while they actually disliked it because it was too action packed, not allowing them to connect with your protagonist. Or they could’ve disliked it because it was confusing; the main plot became a subplot, etc.
- Ask your critique partners for suggestions. What do you think should I do instead of XYZ and why? You don’t have to follow their advise to a T, but this will give you a good understanding of what direction you could take your novel to make it stronger.
- Do create a new chapter-by-chapter outline. Compare it with the old one, to ensure you kept the good bits and got rid of all the problem areas. When you’re done, send your outline to your critique partners and get their feedback on it. Keep this as brief and clear as possible. Always be respectful of other people’s time.
- Start writing. Keep your outline close. This way you’ll remember all the points you need to include for new scenes and what old scenes you can recycle.
- Don’t give up when things get though. The first draft wasn’t a piece a cake, right? So why should this one be? Frustration is good; it makes us want to do better, it spurns our creativity and influences the end results in a positive manner.
- Don’t set unrealistic deadlines. It might be tempting to assume that your re-write will be that much quicker than a first draft. After all you already know your characters and some of the plot stays the same, right? Wrong. Not only will you be writing new scenes, you will also have to locate old scenes and recycle them appropriately. In addition, incorporating feedback and being more conscious of your audience will demand time. Finally, while a first draft is all about telling a story, a re-write is about taking this story to the next level and making it better—meaning your expectations toward yourself as a writer will be that much higher.
- Keep a positive attitude. I have found that the saying ‘it’s always the darkest before dawn’ is especially true when it comes to writing.
I hope you’ll find my do’s and don’ts helpful in your re-write process and wish you all the best with creating a stronger manuscript.