Friday, 7 October 2011

To write or re-write

In the role of a publisher (and while I dream of also being a published fiction author) I often talk to people about and wonder myself - "what next?". "I have a manuscript that needs work. It has had its share of rejection letters and so on. What next? Do I start a new one or re-write this one."
The answer is never particularly clear (and I often have to remind myself as well), but I follow this sort of thinking.

First what am I writing this for?
What do you want? Do you have passion for that book? Do you feel inspired, it could help people etc? What is your vision for the book?

Secondly what is wrong with my current book? Is it
• Show don’t tell
• Point of view
• Characterisation

Thirdly - would I made the same mistakes if I did a new book?

To answer these questions here is some "advice" I wrote and I am applying to myself. I wonder if it resonates with anyone else?

Each of these things can be worked on. If you start a new book without first learning to develop those areas of concern you may very well make the same mistakes. Very often the first writing project one writes is never published, but sometimes it is. Either way when you get an appraisal or a rejection letter it is an opportunity to learn from it and develop your writing further anyway. Whether or not it means that first book ever gets published in some ways doesn’t matter at the outset. I know it may feel like it is your baby, but it is your skill you are learning. Each appraisal or edit you get may look like it is destroying your style or voice, but generally editors, appraisers and publishers do know a little bit about what they are talking about. You may find that there are some things you don’t agree with – that is fine! But I find most authors accept 80% approx. of their suggested edits; they are designed to help you improve.

So rewriting a book or starting a new one is always going to be up to you. BUT the issues you are learning don’t matter what book you write. There is often nothing wrong with your concept or plot, just knowing how to write doesn’t happen overnight. Even established authors find they are still learning!

So when we get a no on a writing project or we are told our first book could have been better we can keep on keeping on. By learning, practicing and realising our motivation we can continue on the projects that matter AND make them outstanding writing.
No matter what, meeting other authors and connecting on places like blogs facebook and other social networks may be a good way to learn too. Either way to make it as an author find the right people to support and learn from. Today I am off to The Word Writers Fair in Adelaide. I look forward to learning something new too. ;)


  1. Hi Rochelle, great post! I've definitely learned that the art of writing is rewriting, and our goal should be to produce an outstanding book. Have a great time in Adelaide :)

  2. Hi Rochelle. Love your post. I always aim to better myself, using new things I have learned all the time. Even if it means re-writing a number of times. Thanks for the encouraging words. :)

  3. Yes, Rochelle, there's nothing like constant learning and practice to make us (more) perfect as writers. I'm so glad others go through the same experience, and it's not just me. I'm a bit of a perfectionist, so I redo my pieces over and over. What helps me most is to leave them alone for a while until they're out of my immediate head space, and then I can look at them with fresh eyes... and make more changes. Thanks for the encouragement!

  4. I can certainly attest to the growth I've achieved from re-writing and also from the help I've received from other writers and editors. It's a great learning experience, and very satisfying when I look back at my earliest writing. Never giving up is the key!

  5. Thanks for that excellent advice, Rochelle! I'm constantly in that mode. You can always find a better word...better phrasing...stronger characters. Margaret's advice about leaving your work then returning with fresh eyes really works, too. I wrote two contemporaries before I realised my heart wasn't in it and I deleted them. Silly me. I should have saved them somewhere and simply worked over them until I pleased myself. Still, just writing those stories taught me a lot about how to actually WRITE.

  6. Thanks everyone. Sorry I didn't reply yesterday... having fun in Adelaide and meeting lots of authors. I am currently attempting to motivate myself in order to rewrite a novel. I hope I can have the patience as you all have in working on it! I never cease to be amazed at writers' dedication.

  7. Hi Rochelle,
    I'm glad you mentioned this. I can think of several examples when somebody's first novel became a sort of 'sacrifice' or stepping stone along the learning curve. Mine was "The Risky Way Home" which I spent more time on than any of them as I put it aside for several years and then totally re-wrote the jolly thing.
    I get sad because so many people don't realize this characteristic of the first attempt. They decide, "I obviously can't write novels" and then throw in the towel.
    Great to see you down in Adelaide these past few days :)

  8. I think that the re-writing is where I learn the most. Not just about my writing style, but also about the characters and the storyline. Definitely a necessity for me. Thanks Rochelle, I hope the Adelaide event is going well.

  9. To write or re-write ?? I choose both! I'm re-writing (motivated passion) and I'm joining with NaNoWriMo again this November for the 3rd time - 50000 words in 30 days... yippeee

  10. At a recent writers' conference, I met a published writer who more-or-less cheerfully set aside his rejected works as 'practices'.

    I'm wondering if there's any such thing as 'over-rewriting'. I tend to edit my work so many times that I get utterly sick of it! And when I edit in that mode, I suspect I do more harm than good.

  11. Hi Rochelle, Great post. I agree with all you have said, and it's not only the first work that is deserving of several rewrites, it's every book we write has to have the same revising process to make it the best work possible.

    I agree with you, too, Peter. My earlier works I tended to over-write/over-edit until the life was sucked out of it. I'm still in that learning curve of knowing when to stop.

  12. Sorry am so late in commenting here but I am only now having time to indulge myself reading blogs.
    This is a really great post. Thank you, Rochelle, and although have thought I'd finished preparing my notes for the workshop for beginner novelists in November, you have added another few thoughts! It depends a lot on our own natures about how much rewriting we are prepared to do - or should do. I have to confess that I rewrote my first ever published book so many, many times it triggered off having to tell the stories of minor characters in it in other books. I call that first book my apprentice novel. It had 13 rejections, including one from a publisher after a rewrite from that wonderful editor's comments. Unfortunately after she finally accepted it, the publisher had ceased the line of books it would have "fitted." So, I do just want to add that I do hope we all remember not all rejections are necessarily because something is wrong with the writing. There are many reasons publishers reject manuscripts - including simply having too many submissions to choose from for their limited number they can publish.