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.
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.