Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Rewards of Rewriting by Keli Gwyn

Rewrite. The word can put fear into a writer, evoking images of taking an axe to one’s story—or maybe even a chainsaw.

In December 2009, I got an amazing Christmas present: an offer of representation from Rachelle Gardner. She’d seen my story when serving as a final-round contest judge and requested the full. I was soaring in the ionosphere, which my science teacher hubby tells me is even higher than the stratosphere.

When Rachelle called to make her offer, she mentioned that the story needed work but didn’t tell me what I would have to fix. At my critique partner’s suggestion, I made a worst-case scenario list, noting everything I thought she might say.

I didn’t think big enough. When I got the feedback six weeks later, I learned that I’d released the tension one-quarter of the way into the story and needed to rewrite the final three-quarters. Yup. I had to delete 75,000 words and start over.

Two weeks later, after I’d come to grips with the news—and shed a few tears—I tore into my story chainsaw-style. I literally cut the hard copy to pieces, saving any scenes or snippets I thought I might be able to use in the new version. Then I set to work writing an ending to match the beginning, one that had earned me a number of contest wins.

I was no stranger to rewriting. I’d already rewritten this story two times. I could do this. I would do this.

I did, completing the revised version of the story six months later. I sent it to my critique partners, who told me it had a sagging middle. Oops!

Two months later I sent the finished product to Rachelle, who said it was ready to submit. She did, and six weeks later we had two offers. I got a contract for Christmas that year.

These days I don’t call myself a writer. I prefer to say I’m a re-writer. It’s not easy to rip a story to shreds and rewrite it, but the rewards can be great.

What would you think if you were told you had to rewrite a major portion of your story?

If you have performed a rewrite, what did you learn from going through the process?

Award-winning novelist Keli Gwyn writes inspirational historical romance. She’s a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers and Romance Writers of America® and is represented by Rachelle Gardner of Books & Such Literary. Keli earned her bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication/Print Journalism from California State University East Bay and worked as a copyeditor for a small textbook publisher. Her debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, was released by Barbour Publishing in July 2012.

An ever-resourceful widow, Elenora Watkins arrives in El Dorado ready to go into partnership with Miles Rutledge. When he refuses, Elenora becomes the competition across the street. Is this town big enough for the two of them?

17 comments:

  1. Love this! Since switching from non-fiction to fiction writing, editing (which I used to adore) has become the bane of my existence! It's an entirely different cat, and I'm still getting a feel for it...this was really encouraging--thank you!

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    1. MK, I'm glad you found the post encouraging. Going through the process, although painful at times, helped me grow as a writer. I learned a great deal about what it takes to make a story work. The best reward was watching the story get better before my eyes. I wish you well as you tackle the task of self-editing and hope it grows easier--and even enjoyable--in time.

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  2. Keli, you're not alone, although you may win the prize for having to tear down and discard the greater portion of a novel. In my current work-in-progress, I came to the conclusion, after writing 40,000 words, that I needed to start the tension sooner, reveal some of the things I was trying to be cute and keep hidden, and keep the stakes higher as the story progressed. That meant essentially rewriting half a book. But it worked.
    I'm proud that we are represented by the same agent, and know that great things lie ahead for you. Thanks for sharing.

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  3. Im in the process of my 4th re-write on a non-fiction book that I started eight years ago. I will admit I'm a little weary of it. I have laid it down to give me a rest, but it's still difficult. I had the original manuscript rejected many times so I know it needed to be re-written. It's just hard to know when it's ready. All my critique partners and editors have different opinions so I will be interested to see what someone thinks now.

    Im also in the 3rd edit of a fiction work. I have a feeling I'll be re-writing a big chunk of it too - possible sagging middle!

    Your story is amazing. What fortitude. As a writer you do what you must do. It's certainly not easy doing what we do!
    Blessings!

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    1. Jan, I admire your tenacity as well as your teachable spirit. Both are qualities that will serve you well in this business. I wish you all the best as you work on the rewrites of both your fiction and non-fiction manuscripts. My hope is that as you prune, polish, and even plump-up your pieces in places you will get flashes of insight that will help you see exciting possibilities for both of them.

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  4. 75k words? Ow! That had to hurt.

    I killed a character in one book. My editor asked me to rewrite because she wanted him to live...for his own story.

    I usually moan and groan initially, but by the time I'm finished editing, I agree with my editor's recommendations.

    Great post, Keli. Thanks for sharing. :-)

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    1. Dora, aren't editors the best? The one who worked with me on my debut novel was awesome. She made some great catches that helped me fix some small problems and polish some dull places in my story.

      How fun it must have been to have your editor like your character so much that you were asked to bring him back to life so he could be the star of his own book. That's quite a compliment to your characterization skills, I'd say. Congratulations!

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  5. Writing the initial draft is the hardest for me--I enjoy the editing and rewriting process. But 75,000 words! Wow...that would be TOUGH. But what happened to you is a great example of sticking in there and getting the desired results.

    Thanks for sharing your story. It's wonderful encouragement to not give up.

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    1. Dawn, I'm with you. Editing and rewriting can be quite enjoyable, but writing first drafts can take a lot out of me. Being a recovering perfectionist with an Internal Editor that is a workaholic and control freak doesn't help. Couple that with his friend the Doubt Dragon who pays me frequent visits, and I've got a battle on my hands. I play classical music while I write, in part to transport me to the 1800s where my stories are set but also to drown out the voices of my resident pains-in-the-creative-process.

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  6. Angie, thanks so much for inviting me to Seriously Write. I really appreciate the opportunity to spend time with you, your blogging partners, and your blog's visitors.

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    1. Oh, Keli, the pleasure is all ours. Like I told you when I first read it, that is such an encouraging story. The writing process is so long and can be so un-rewarding in ways that everyone else measures success.

      But this post shows us that if we continue on and bend our stubborn will, then perhaps God can use our writing to bless others. And He has sure blessed us with your writing today. Thank you so much, Keli!

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  7. I'm glad to hear of your experience, Keli. I haven't had an agent's or editor's input yet, but did a complete rewrite on one of my earlier novels because I felt it needed a changed POV and tense. Major work! It and other pieces have gone through multiple revisions, too. You do whatever needs to be done to make the story the best it can be. I think I've gone as far as I can without more knowledgeable advice, and I'll welcome the input of a professional if that time ever comes.

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    1. Carol, I admire you for looking at your story objectively, seeing areas where you could make it even better, and doing the work. That isn't easy, but it shows you have what it takes to make it in this business. Your willingness to revise will serve you well, my friend.

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  8. Keli,

    Great timing for me to hear your story again.

    I've had a nibble of interest for one of my stories but it needs a lot of work. So I have the daunting challenge of a major re-write ahead - not sure if it will be 75K! LOL. But daunting non-the-less!

    Where did you start?

    Thanks for the encouragement!

    Sue

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  9. Sue, how exciting to have interest in your story. I hope, hope, hope it leads to your First Sale.

    You asked where I started on my rewrite. I began by accepting the reality that I had a lot of work ahead of me and setting to work prepared to do my utmost to fix the problems so the story would be marketable. I took a good, hard look at the story, determining what, if anything, I could salvage. I'd been a pantster before, but going through a major rewrite taught me the value of planning ahead. I addressed the major issues before I began writing: plot, major turning points, black moment, resolution, characterization, character arcs, faith element, spiritual arcs, pacing, etc. Once I had those figured out, I outlined the new version of the story. Doing so helped me greatly. Each time I sat down to write, I knew where I was heading, so that helped offset the doubts I often battle and enabled me to silence my Internal Editor more effectively.

    That's what I did, but each writer has to find what works. I trust you will.

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  10. Keli, This is a pain we can share. My debut novel releases next month. it saw no fewer than 6 rewrites. I knew it was the story God had given me, I just had to learn how to get it on paper correctly. three years and many tears and prayers later it's done. It's a long journey, but a great feeling.

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    1. Sharon, congratulations on your upcoming release! How very exciting! Given how many times you had to rewrite it, I'm sure the joy you feel is off the charts. You persevered, and it paid off! Kudos to you on not giving up on your story and doing what it took to get it ready for publication.

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