Anatomy of a Rewrite: Behind the Scenes

Posted: May 27, 2012 in Novels

Authorial Essentials

Earlier today I finished the most recent pass through Ink Calls to Ink. This was not entirely self-directed.

The afternoon of Thursday, the 10th, I received my most comprehensive feedback/notes on the book yet. There were a few things that could stand a bit of adjustment. It was a big rewrite in some respects. There were no fundamental changes required, but certain things needed to be brought out, and the pacing tweaked a bit. All things that would make the book better no matter what. It’s just that it wasn’t anything that could be fixed with a simple scene added here to explain something and move on.

No, to implement these fixes, I was going to have to crack the hood, pull all the parts out, spread them on the floor, then put it back together. This was a front-to-back rewrite requiring a few big bits and a ton of little things here and there to add flavor. Very few of the 31 chapters was going to get out unchanged at least a little bit. At the time, I figured it would take a month, maybe two.

No one was more surprised than me to find it only ended up taking seventeen days.

I know what you’re thinking. How?

Worse still, you might be judging yourself thinking “If this schlub can do it, why can’t I?”

Don’t do that.

Instead, crack a cold one, turn up the stereo, and let me show you how it was done.

First off, I printed up the email detailing the changes I needed to look at. That’s important, because having that at hand to look at and reference helps keep you on track.

Then I printed up the outline and Dramatic Personae, after shrinking the font to 10 pt and making it double-spaced. This turned it into a 13 page document.

All this went into a folder with five highlighters, a couple of index cards on which I had written down the two overlying things I needed to work in. The morning of day one, I got up early, and before going to work, I stopped at a Starbucks. For about an hour, I color coded the key characters, then went to town marking up the outline, showing where the things I needed were, and where I needed to show it more. I then went and pulled a full 8 hours of work, got burgers and drinks with two friends, then watched the last three episodes of Community on HULU. Otherwise, I let the book sit for a day.

I’m part of a regular writing group that meets on Saturdays at a coffeehouse that opens at 7. On the last three Saturdays I got up at 6:30, grabbed breakfast, and was at the coffeehouse before 8 where I generally wrote until 1. Two Saturdays ago, I picked up groceries after group, had lunch, and was on the way home when one of my writing group friends pinged me to see if I was up for more writing. I took a two hour power nap and met her for coffee and about 3 more hours of knocking around the document that evening. I abused coffee like a pro and did little other than write/edit for about 15 hours on that day.

Days four-eight were work days. I did my time at the day job, turning in some slightly longer, slightly more insane hours than usual. Most nights I tried to get a little work in on the book. I might have knocked back a chapter or two here and there. Thursday night, just like all Thursday nights, was writing group, so I was able go, stay a bit late, and make some significant headway. By the time Friday hit, I was probably 1/3 of the way through. I celebrated with Karaoke, killing it on the mic to “Hell Bent for Leather” by Judas Priest and “In the Meantime” by Spacehog. That Sunday, I didn’t write at all and instead I took a bus downtown, saw a play, and had dinner with a friend.

In the first week, I did ten chapters. I even did a few more over the weekend.

And then I took a vacation from the day job, and things kind of went to hell for a few days.

You’d think having all the time in the world makes things easier, but it doesn’t. That first Monday off, I picked up a car from the garage for a friend, then proceeded to piss away most of the rest of my day. Tuesday, I had an eye appointment so my vision was screwed for hours. Two days and I got nothing done.

When Wednesday hit, I got my act together and started turning up the heat. My goal was to hit the halfway point by Friday. That would be about 44k, or at that point 15 chapters. Along the way, I realized that I had overlooked something critical and had to go back and fix it. But I hit my goal, and by Friday afternoon I let myself slack again and went to see a movie with a friend.

The past three mornings were spent getting up early, going straight to coffee, and writing for 4-5 hours, and then writing again in the evening when possible. I added about 5,000 words to the document, addressed all the problem spots, gave it a good look over, and was done with it this afternoon.

Now, here is an important note, and part of why I was able to maintain this pace.

Between actively starting on the rewrite on Saturday, Day Two, I had precisely two social engagements that weren’t writing. Sunday the 20th, and Friday the 25th. Two. Dos. Zwei. Deux. Not a lot.

With the exception of my cat, Shiva, I live alone. No roommate, no partner, no family I see on anything like a regular basis. Many of my friends are online, people I see largely at work, other writers, or were out of town that week. My schedule was entirely my own, for better or worse. If I didn’t get the work done, there was no one else to blame. And with the importance of these rewrites looming, I could focus on the book without having to maintain much more than the barest attempt at a healthy, human relationship.

I consider myself fortunate that I have friends who understand how important my writing is to me. And I make time in my schedule to poke my head out of my ass every now and again to check in with them. Because otherwise, I can turn into a self-obsessed back of dicks and lose touch with what’s going on with their lives–especially when I’m behind the eight-ball on a deadline. My writing friends, they sort of understand. They might not like it, but I think they get it. The non-writer friends…well, it’s a mixed bag. So I made the effort to touch base with several of them last week. Theater, dinner, movie, coffee before my eye appointment during the week, and occasional texts. If I were trying to sustain a marriage or somesuch like that it wouldn’t work–not unless she was a similarly obsessed creative type. I know this from experience. (And if you know anyone fitting that description, you know where to reach me!)

So back to the question: “How?”

The easy answer is that, for better or worse, I’ve made writing my highest priority. Not my highest free-time priority. Not my highest, “When I have a minute” priority. My absolute highest priority. Sacrifices have been made. I still have time for distractions, but they’re just that. I watched the last 5 episodes of Glee last week, for instance. But between that and Dark Shadows, I watched maybe 6 hours of pre-packaged media all week. Because everyone needs a break. And, so it would appear, snappy outfits and choreography. But once refreshed, the work in progress is calling.

It’s always calling.

And I answer it.

That’s how the sausage gets made, kids.

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Comments
  1. this is a fantastic post :D. i’m glad you were able to punch the ever living out of those rewrites! hope for all and all that!!

    random asides: In the Meantime is one of my favourite songs, like, ever. And you’re right about the friend/partner issue – I have little to no friends (haha) and my girlfriend is as creatively obsessed as i am. (it’s just the entirely lazy aspect i need to get around, muaha).

    here’s the your next adventure!

  2. That’s a pretty solid timetable. I had to rewrite my novel and it took me a lot longer. What kind of stuff does your writing group do? That sounds like a helpful group.

    • I had already done a pretty solid rewrite that was mostly mechanical, so this pass was just to address specific things. Having an outline to use in laying out the plan of attack saved me a lot of work. That said, I had to put in the time, too, so it wasn’t all hugs and puppies. 🙂

      My regular writing group is more of a Type & Gripe. We don’t do organized, formal critiques, but there’s usually someone there who is willing to look at a story or a section where you’re having problems and offer advice. We almost all write speculative fiction. And of the seven or so regular attendees, I’d say most of them are in the class of “emerging authors,” with publications in a mix of anthologies, pro, and semi-pro markets, so they’re a reliable source for feedback. I honestly don’t know how I would stay sane without each and every one of them.

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