Writing: Three Ways to Rewrite Your Work

Ah, rewriting. You know, that process we writers love the most. Not! Since writing is rewriting, we must simply roll up our sleeves and plunge into revision.

Writing Tip for Today: Here are three ways to rewrite your drafts:

Start Tall, Not Small

I advise writers to start by thinking about the structure or bones of what you’ve drafted. When new writers think of rewrites, they often picture switching out a word here and there. But for most pro writers, smoothing out word choices often comes much later in the revision process.

Yes, process. Good self-editing involves more than one round of work. What I thought was brilliant when I drafted can seem pretty lame after I let it rest. Unless I’m on deadline, I generally don’t say a piece is finished unless I’ve let it cool off for at least a day.

The way your ideas are presented (and in which order) can often mean the difference between an effective work or one that doesn’t communicate well. Draft, then allow your work to rest. Then, read it aloud. See if the point builds logically, if you’ve said what you meant to say and if you’ve buried the lede or gone off on a tangent.

Use Your Daydreams

If you write fiction, you can prime yourself for the rewrite by imagining the scene from start to finish. As it’s written, does your draft match your imagined scene?  I like to do mindless tasks such as gardening, vacuuming or washing dishes while I work on a scene.

Make some notes about changes you may make in the body of the scene. Don’t forget to start the scene as close to the action as possible. Be willing to cut most of your set-up or backstory to get to the action and purpose of your scene.

For nonfiction, while you read aloud, listen for the place that jumps out at you as possible lede material. Remember, readers are willing to forego a lot of background to get to more interesting bits. Wherever possible, “humanize” your work with anecdotes or examples of people experiencing your topic.

Replace general verbs with specific, active verbs. 

Save the Nits

What about those word choices? Most pro writers leave this and other copyediting chores to the last part of revision. Why do small word changes if you end up changing the order of your scene or cutting out back story and set-up or dry exposition?

When you do come to these smaller tasks, start with your verb choices. If you use active specific verbs in place of to be verbs or gerund (ing) constructions, your work will be tighter and livelier. For instance, there are many ways to walk: stride, stroll, amble, edge, inch, etc. She was walking might become “She sashayed across the room.”

When you replace weak verbs with active forms, you won’t need as many modifiers. She was walking slowly and provocatively would become “She sashayed.” (Don’t you love that word?) Axe your modifiers in favor of particular words. Your readers will not only get a sharper picture of your description, they’ll gain a feel for the attitudes and perspectives you’re trying to communicate.

What’s your favorite rewriting tip?

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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