Tips For Rewriting A Finished Manuscript

If you’ve been reading my blog posts since last year, you’ll know I spent most of it rewriting my work in progress.

Helpful advice from beta readers pointed out that I hadn’t gotten it completely right and that I needed to make major changes to get everything to work. This took me six months, and it was for the better, although it didn’t feel like it at certain times.

As a writer, I’d gone through a huge learning curve and it gave me the confidence to tackle anything. That anything was my next WIP, the manuscript for the fourth and final book in my Blackbirch series, which I’d completed in 2017.

This MS didn’t need major changes to the story. It had already been through one round of alpha reading, so I knew it did work and that all it needed was a different ending, which I’d already plotted. I also knew it needed some tweaking to the events and characters to make sure it would fit with the already published first two books and the soon-to-be-released third.

Again, this was fine because I knew what changes it needed. I was confident in them, so I planned them out and came up with a new outline.

What I wasn’t prepared for as I sat down with that 5-year-old MS was how basic the writing was. Not only did it not have any of the deep POV or internal thoughts I’d learned in the last two years to add to my work, but it was missing setting descriptions and the other finer details we layer into our work to add depth to our fictional world and characters.

On one hand, it was nice to know I can now spot these missing elements in my own work. On the other hand, it meant that the 70,000 words of my completed MS needed a complete rewrite.

After quietly freaking out and putting everything off for a few days because I was so paralyzed by the workload ahead, I came up with these tips to get me through.

Tips For Rewriting A Finished Manuscript

Remember That You Have A Guide/Plan

You aren’t going into this blind, writing scenes you might never use, or wasting time on ideas that lead nowhere. You have the chapters and a plan for what needs to be added to improve what’s there.

Take those things, which are already a leg up from a first draft, and use them to your advantage. Having them means a good chunk of the work is already done, which frees you up for working on everything else.

Take It One Scene At A Time

Knowing what you have to rewrite is a double-edged sword. While you know what you’re doing and can get stuck straight into the work, it’s also so overwhelming. After all, it’s an entire book that needs to be rewritten. An. Entire. Book.

The tip that helped me get started was taking things one scene at a time. Sure, I currently have fifty-three scenes that need to be rewritten, but I only need to worry about and work on one right now.

Focus on getting just one scene done before moving to another. It’s the best you can do and all you can ask of yourself when dealing with such a mammoth task.

Don’t Be Discouraged

Rewriting can be discouraging and it’s hard to ignore the inner voice that questions if you’re actually making things better.

For the record, the answer to that question is yes. If you’ve been writing regularly, you’re already a better writer than you were last week, let alone years ago when you first penned what you’re working on now.

Everything you’ve written before your current work, and the writing you’ll do as you try to improve things, will help you become better. Keep that in mind when it feels like an uphill battle.

It’s Not Set In Stone

One thing I learned during the six months of rewriting my last manuscript was to remember that what I was typing wasn’t set in stone.

You can change both the words and the ideas. The perfectionist in me often gets upset when I type out a sentence and it’s not as good or powerful as I want to it be. I forget that it doesn’t need to be perfect on the first go or even the seventh.

You can change, delete, and improve, and you have more than one shot at putting any sentence into your manuscript. Keep that notion in mind until what you’ve written meets your expectations.

Jump Around

When writing, I usually go linearly because that’s how my writer-brain works. I can’t get to the end of a story until I’ve written my way there.

When you already have the start to finish done, you have the option to jump around.

If you’re finding that rewriting linearly just feels like wading through mud, skip to the scenes you are excited to rewrite instead. Or you could jump to the new chapters you need to add to see what creativity they spark.

Work on the most inspiring parts of your MS until you’re back in love with it and then you’ll be ready to slog through the scenes that need more work.

Set Deadlines And Word Counts

Finally, set yourself a deadline. It could be six weeks, six months, or a year, just set an end date for the rewrite.

You may finish early or overshoot it, but having a deadline gives you something to aim for and will keep you on track.

It’s also a good idea to set a small session word count. Even just adding 200-500 words every time you work on the WIP is progress that adds up. I find I don’t get so overwhelmed or feel guilty for not doing more if I hit a small word count most days, while also dealing with everything else in life.

And those are my tips for rewriting a finished manuscript! I’ll let you know how well they’ve worked for me in six to twelve months 😂.

— K.M. Allan

Have you ever had to rewrite a completed manuscript before? If so, what tips helped you through the process? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

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39 thoughts on “Tips For Rewriting A Finished Manuscript

  1. Interesting post, Kate. I’ve never rewritten a finished MS, but I have tackled chapters or even an entire story thread – daunting, to say the least. I DO have a book that I published and then removed from sale when I finally realized how bad it was! I would love to do something with it, but not sure it’s worth the effort at this point. I’m more likely to skim off the best ideas and create something new out of it. Maybe someday.

    “It’s not set in stone” is so true, and thanks to the ease of updating electronic files, an eBook is never locked in. Already published? Do all the tweaking you want and republish as the next edition! Lots of authors freshen up an older work when they re-release it with a new cover.

    I hope your tips successfully guide your rewrite into something truly awesome!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Alexander! I hope so too. Love your advice about the tweaking. I’ve heard other writers do that with new cover launches too. One of the perks of being in control of your work and a self-publisher 😊. I think if you can repurpose old work for the better, it’s a good idea.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m finishing up the final (hopefully) revisions of my MG historical novel and have begun the agent search. I found that outlining the whole book, scene by scene, with a short description plus the WHY of that scene (what’s the point?) really helps identify holes, fluff, and structural problems. You really have to step back from the book for a while then return by looking at the BIG picture: how do these scenes stack up? Does one lead to the other? Are there any out of order or, gulp, that need to be cut? You can use this scene summary to trace the character arc, emotional tone, and subplots.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Excellent tips, Evelyn! Thank you so much for sharing your advice about the why behind the scene. I usually look at the outline to get an idea of the story flow, but haven’t really dug down to the level of why the scene is there and how it stacks up against everything else. Your tip really makes a good point of thinking more deeply and I will apply that as I work through my rewrites. Thank you 😊.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. My very first book is not as good as I know I could make it if I wrote it now. What are your thoughts on rewriting an already published book? It’s book 1 of a series, and is published by an independent publisher.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think most writers will always feel they could have written an earlier book better if they were writing it now. I certainly know I could make improvements to the first book in my series if I was to edit it again. Where does that stop, though? Would you want to improve the book every few years as you get more experienced and better as a writer? If you have the ability and control to change an already published book, that choice is up to you. I personally think it’s a bit of an editing slippery-slope.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Grant at Tame Your Book!

    Fantastic tips, Kate. I ran into the same problem of updating a prior manuscript and discovered how Scrivener could help me perform that scene-by-scene update without losing my mind.

    In Scrivener’s Custom Metadata settings, I created prompts for everything I wanted to include in each scene (e.g., SENSES – Smell/Taste/Hear/Touch/See/Gut; FORESHADOW; TRY/FAIL CYCLE, etc.). In case I forgot my intentions for these prompts, I include brief definitions in the scene’s Notes column.

    This process helps me edit to include all the tips picked up since creating the original draft. Still, it’s a pain in the kazoo but I know the extra effort is worth it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Grant 😊. I love the Scrivener notes section so much! I use it to add the details I want to include too so I remember which scenes need what as I’m editing. I’ve never used the metadata to add prompts. Will definitely take a look at that feature after your excellent tips here. Thank you so much for mentioning them 😊.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Grant at Tame Your Book!

        One tip I failed to mention was the creation of the scene template.

        I preload all my must-have details into the Notes section of the template. As I write my scene, the notes refresh my mind of the must-have content (i.e., synopsis, scene goal, setting, time, emotions, etc.). This allows me to free-write with abandon (fun!). Later, while editing, I methodically complete the prompts in the Custom Metadata.

        Bottom line, after loading a fresh scene template, I have at my fingertips the expertise of respected teachers in Notes and the Custom Metadata prompts remind me to heed their advice.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I know rewriting only from my work on some scientific and also journalistic papers, and its always a very horrible thing. I am a little bit an egoist, and so i think the first draft always is the best. Lol Best wishes, Michael

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Excellent advice, Kate. Though I am opposite in one point, I jump around when writing (can’t write linearly to save my life) but when I edit and rewrite, I have to go linearly! lol

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great post! Your tip for working on one scene at a time also works when editing drafts! Currently for my 2nd draft of my WIP I’m still rewriting for plot holes. Putting the work into smaller bits helps and feels like you accomplish more in the long run.

    I also set goals. At least 6 chapters a month has been working so far.

    I wish you good luck with your edits. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Jade! Love your tip about working on a set amount of chapters each month. That’s a great goal to aim for 😊. Totally agree with you that taking things a scene at a time helps with any part of writing, editing, or rewriting. It’s helped me so many times at every writing stage.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. petespringerauthor

    I would take comfort in knowing that you can spot the areas that need work, Kate. Much better than not making growth or recognizing the problem areas.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’ve just reread this post after reading your newsletter roundup for June 2022. It got me rethinking about the manuscript I’ve finished and have sent query letters out about it to hopeful agents. I haven’t gotten any bites from the letters, and that might be just as well after rereading this post. Perhaps I need to do more editing and try jumping around on the scenes so that my manuscript is more “done” and, therefore, more appealing to agents.

    One question though. How do you combat the feeling of being overwhelmed with all the rewrite and editing?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m still working on not feeling overwhelmed, Glynis. Rewriting and editing an MS you thought was complete is a big job, and I’m also struggling with the task. The best advice I can offer is do little bits at a time and don’t be so hard on yourself. That’s what I’m currently trying to do.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Thanks for this post! I’m currently working on rewriting my own manuscript, and I’ve found it beneficial to jump around and work on specific parts out of order rather than dwell on something I may be stuck on. My question is how will you know, as you go through the rewriting process, if you’re rewriting or just being a perfectionist? I’m trying my best not to stray into that territory, but I can never tell if the reason I’m dwelling on something I don’t feel confident about is because I’m trying to make it perfect or just going through the rewriting struggle. Thanks again!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a tough one and it’s not something I think I’ve worked out either. I am also a perfectionist who will go over a scene again and again. Even as perfectionists, though, I think we do get to a point where it does get to “good enough” for us, and you just have to try to get to there and move on.


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