Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Prairie Chicks Welcome Guest Blogger Barbara Edwards

Please join me in greeting today's guest blogger, Barbara Edwards, who is blogging on a topic near and dear to all writers.

Re-writes Suck

With four published books under my belt, I should know everything. I was going to write a book in a month, get published and reap my laurels within a year. That was my first belief. I quickly learned that writing becomes more difficult as you learn. The excitement I found as a beginning writer faded quickly when The Great American Novel failed to appear.

It took a year to finish that first book. Then I realized it wasn’t perfect.

The second, third, fourth, fifth rewrite sapped my imagination and interest turned to boredom, frustration and discouragement.

Yep, it sucks.

That was balanced by the beautiful moment when my editor called. She did email and say she was interested, but the follow-up call had me dancing. She said my paranormal romance had her so scared she couldn’t read it at night. What praise! Then we did edits.

Re-writes take up to eighty percent of writing time. They are hard work. As you rewrite you become more critical of the work.

My first piece of advice: Don’t show your book to everyone. Your mother and sister will love it, your best friend will hesitate before she says she likes it, another writer might think it needs her style of writing. If you can find a dependable critique group, fine. Even so the final edit is in your hands.

I’m a hard-case about self-editing. A successful writer needs a basic grasp of the English language. I’ve judged in too many contests where the entry was so badly written it was embarrassing to read. Be honest if you want to be published. This short column is not the place to explain the difference between a noun, verb, pronoun or adverb.

I’m assuming you’re reading this because you have a finished draft. Maybe you’ve done the first couple rewrites. Or not.

With all the advice available it can be difficult to find the gold nuggets among the piles of sand.

When I’m rewriting I concentrate on one item at a time. You can start with whatever item you think needs the most work. I’ve found it’s important to have a checklist. Mine is by no means a definitive list, but it is a place to start.

1. First proof-read for grammar, spelling, punctuation or typographical errors. Spell-check doesn’t catch everything and can change the right word. E.g. There or their.

2. Replace passive verbs with action. Eliminate use of was, had, been.

3. Delete unnecessary words. E.g. I overuse ‘that’ and ‘just’. Use search to find each and delete or rewrite.

4. Vary the length and structure of sentences.
This is tricky. I tend to start sentences with a clause and need to rewrite them. Read aloud to find the rhythm. If it hums rather than sings, it’s boring to read.

5. Use all five senses to include the reader.

6. Emotion drives a romance: Use powerful words to describe hatred, passion, obsession, or love.

7. Make sure your character behaves consistently with his/her motivation. For example, the virginal girl won’t know how to seduce an experienced man. Oops, an error I made in my first book.

8. Do I show or tell?
If you don’t know, take advantage of classes or lectures provided by writing groups.

9. Use dialogue to convey information instead of inner thought or paragraphs of description.
This improves the pacing of your work.

10. Make your own checklist.

Despite writing for years, I learn more every day. I make a note and add it to my scan.

At this point take a deep breath. Rewrites use different skills. Writing is creating; editing is methodical, logical. They occur on opposite sides of the brain. I’ve found it impossible to do both in the same day. My brain doesn’t switch that quickly.

If you have any questions, I’ll be happy to answer them.

And here's the result of Barbara's rewrites:

In Ancient Awakening, Police Officer ‘Mel’ Petersen investigates a death only she believes is murder. By disobeying direct orders from the Rhodes End Chief, she risks her career to follow clues that twist in circles to her backyard and lead the killer to her.

Her neighbor Stephen Zoriak is a prime suspect. Steve worked for a major pharmaceutical company where he discovered a weapon so dangerous he destroys the research. He is exposed to the dangerous organism. He suspects he is the killer and agrees to help her find the truth.
In the course of their investigation Mel and Steve find the real killer and a love that defies death.


“Don’t touch me, Mel, not unless you’re willing to do a lot more,” he warned as her hazel eyes flared golden.

“Don’t threaten me, Steve. You’re…”

He pulled her into his arms despite the alarm bells clanging in his head.

Danger! Danger! Danger!

Her widened eyes met his. Mel’s hands were trapped against his chest, but she didn’t push him away. Instead, her fingers curled into his shirt.

Her mistake. His mistake was to crush her mouth under his.

Mel’s soft lips parted. Need exploded. The taste of black coffee didn’t hide her sweet flavor. As her tongue tangled with his, her arms slid around his neck and her fingers burrowed through his hair.

Steve hungered to peel the starched shirt off her soft shoulders, lay her on the thick turf and ease his desire. He tasted her brows, her cheek, along her throat, seeking the source of her call. Her pulse whipped under his mouth, awakening another need.

His teeth gently closed on the vulnerable vein.

He wanted, wanted, wanted…

Cold alarm chilled his pounding blood.

Steve gasped for air. He’d forgotten his own ironclad rule. Mel’s eyelids flittered open to reveal the molten glow of desire but he forced himself free.

He had no right to touch any woman. Not until he knew he hadn’t become what he had set out to destroy.
You can reach Barbara at the following locations:

Ancient Awakenings is available from


Anita Mae Draper said...

Welcome, Barbara. I'm in a massive rewrite right now so this is great. I'm going to print and tape it close for referral. Thank you.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Barbara,
Welcome to the Prairies! I used to think rewrites suck (well, I still kinda think that) but then I realized how much better the process of revision and editing made my work. It also freed my first draft. It no longer had to be perfect the first time up, an almost impossible task. Now I concentrate on finishing the first draft. I know I can usually clean up the mess later.

But having said that, rewrites are hard work and like you said they can become frustrating and discouraging. You just have to keep in mind the how much better the end product will be.


Vince said...

Hi Barbara:

I’d sure like to know which of your books had your editor so scared she couldn’t read it at night. I want to read that one.

I’ve had five Civil War re-enactors in my real estate classes over the years and every one of them has been in several movies. (Some for only one second but they were in it!) Directors love them because they have their own authentic clothing and equipment. Have you been in any movies?

Have you written a Civil War period romance?

There are two types of re-writes. One you do on your own initiative. The other you do because an editor wants changes. I found that it is the editor re-writes that really suck – especially when what you originally wrote was better. : )

Which type of re-writes were you referring to in your post?


Helena said...

This is so timely for me, Barabara. Thank you so much for outlining the process of rewriting in such detail.

I have the first draft of one novel almost finished, and am resisting the editing impulse until it's done. I am sharing this one with a writers' group and have received useful feedback. But I know the final edit is my own baby.

I have another novel in progress which poured out of me during NaNoWriMo in November. Didn't quite get to the end, but I have taken a recess on revision to do some necessary research. But I'm chomping on the bit to get to the rewriting. This one will not be shared with anyone for some time yet.

My question is: if you need to do research, how do you handle switching back and forth? I agree that writing and rewriting should be kept separate, but does research bring you to a halt, or does it feed your motivation to keep going?

So glad you could be here with us today!

Cate Masters said...

Great post, Barbara! I'm in the thick of it myself now, so I feel your pain. But it's excellent advice - only by polishing up in rewrites can the story really shine through.

eleanor sullo said...

Hi Barbara,
Your little summation of self-editing really perks. Excellent descriptions--and so relatable. Once you get the confidence that what you're doing in editing or self-editing is polishing a gemstone to its highest brilliance, I guess that takes the bite out of it.
Your books sound very enticing.

Barbara Edwards said...

You're welcome, Anita. I'm glad you found it helpful

Barbara Edwards said...

Hi Vince,
the sacry one is Ancient Awakening from I
probably know the same reenactors since I've been doing this for years and no I'm not in any movies. I'm in the middle of a book about reenacting.
I'm referring to self-edits. I'm sending in my latest tomorrow, so th editor will have her input.

Barbara Edwards said...

Hi Helena,
I do research, but try to keep it to a minimum while I'm doing the story. I make notes on things I need to check and do it during the editing process.
thanks for visiting.

Barbara Edwards said...

Thanks Cate and Ellie for stopping by. Rewrites do change a lump of coal into a diamond.

Celia Yeary said...

BARBARA--who said "Writing is re-writing." ?? Someone famous, but I do not remember the name. Yes, it sucks, and I tend to want the ms kept just as I wrote it. But then I begin to look more closely, and the warts show up. I'm a great believer in Grammar/Spell check OPTIONS in WORD. I check every one of them--especially the "Find passive phrasing." The over-used word "that" I learned the hard way from my editor on my first book. Yikes! But you see--I thought they were required for proper writing, and about a thousand. Thanks for the wonderful list of reminders. I'll just remember I'm not alone when I must tackle rewrites. Celia

Mary Ricksen said...

I hate rewrites!!

Barbara Edwards said...

Hi Celia,
Now I have to google 'writing is rewrites' so I can sleep tonight.
thanks for visiting.

Debra St. John said...

Hi Barbara!

Great post. Great advice to look ofr one main thing at a time as you revise/edit. Otherwise it's really overwhelming.

Awesome excerpt.

Morgan Mandel said...

Great advice and great excerpt.

Is he or is he not?

Morgan Mandel

Julia Smith said...

I stumbled upon this as I slog my way through revisions. Thanks for the snap-out-of-it.

Joanne Brothwell said...

Hi Barbara, I'm in the middle of re-writes right now as well and I think this is probably re-write #15! The novelty has definitely worn off.

Thanks for the checklist, I'll definitely be referring back to it over the next few months (or years!).

I loved the excerpt. Now I have to get your book to see what happens.


Caroline Clemmons said...

Barbara, I laughed when you mentioned your first impression of writing. Haven't we all had a learning curve about what's involved? One other thing I learned and have warned new writers is: Don't tell anyone but other writers you're writing a book until it's finished and under contract. Most people have no idea how long it takes from concept to release date and they can't imagine what's holding up your book. :)

Barbara Edwards said...

Hi Debra,
thanks for the comment.

Barbara Edwards said...

Thanks, Morgan, I'm glad you like it.

Barbara Edwards said...

Thank you Julia, Joanne and Caroline for your comments. I'm glad you stopped by,

Margaret Tanner said...

Terric blog Barbara. Very informative.



Monya Clayton said...

Thanks for the wise words, Barbara. They recall to me a quote from Kurt Vonnegut Jr.: "Talent is common. What is uncommon is the willingness to live the life of a writer." I expect re-writes were one of the things he knows we need the willingness for!

(There, I ended a sentence with a preposition. But I once caught Somerset Maugham doing the same thing.) However one can't break the rules too often.

My overused word is 'but'.

Thanks again. Sigh. No escape from the hard work, it seems.

Monya (aka Mary)

Barbara Edwards said...

Hi Margaret,
Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment.

Barbara Edwards said...

Hi Monya,
Being a writer takes persistence and patience, two virtues i never thought I'd learn.