Do you ever feel when you’ve been working on a novel for a long time that you don’t know when it’s finished? You edit and rewrite and rewrite and keep changing scenes or adding to the story you’ve written.
This happens to me sometimes and it’s not a perfectionist thing. I used to think that. I wanted the story to be perfect, so I kept rewriting it — so I thought. But in reality, I think it has to do with something else. I believe sometimes, we love our characters and the story so much, we don’t want it to end.
As I’m finishing rewrites on my novel, I had that thought today. The story will go through one more reading, then I’m finished. And it’s a little sad. It’s great to be done, don’t get me wrong, but it can also feel like a real end. These people in my book are going away now. Their story is finished.
It’s like when you’re watching your favorite show and you know it’s the last season, but you don’t want it to be true because it’s so good and you will miss it.
With writing our own stories, we can sometimes experience the same feeling of loss. We don’t want to leave this world that we’ve created so we try to hang out as long as possible, tweaking and changing things that may not need to be changed or adding scenes that really don’t add to the story.
Worse, we might have a fear of finishing because once the book is done, we have to share it with others. We have to let our baby go and allow it to be judged by the public. Readers and reviewers can be ruthless, so it’s a little scary. This fear keeps writers rewriting endlessly, envisioning where the book will be criticized and fixing it, putting a band aid here and there, hoping to fix an imagined assault. Most of the time, if the story is solid, we are wasting our time because we can’t really predict what people will like and dislike. And someone always dislikes something. Trying to please everyone will cause us to stay in an endless loop of rewrites.
Finishing the novel also means that we enter the next stage of the writing process which is the marketing and promotion phase. Most authors hate this part, so delaying the inevitable as long as possible seems like a good idea. Not that any writer does this purposely. Unconsciously, though, if we can stay with our story longer, if it’s not finished, we can delay the business of publishing a little longer. In a way it’s a type or procrastination, avoiding what is difficult or distasteful by creating urgent problems within our novel that need to be fixed.
Our fear may also be that after the story is finished and we no longer have a place to go and visit with the characters we’ve created; we will need to think of a new story. We will need to begin again. Writers typically have more story ideas than they have time write, but it’s just like when you’re changing jobs or moving from one home to a new one. Even though you’re excited to move on and you’re looking forward to the change, you still long to hold on to what is safe and comfortable. You won’t know anyone at your new job or your new neighborhood, but in with the old, you have friends. With our old story we have our characters whom we’ve learned to love. When we move on to the new story, we begin again. We all resist change, even change we want.
When To Rewrite
You only need to rewrite for five reasons. And once you covered these reasons you’re done.
- The first is that there are gaps in the story. During our first or second draft, we leave things out. Sometimes entire scenes are missing because we’ve made a jump from one part of the story to the next without realizing that the reader needed to know how the character got from point A to point B physically or mentally.
- The second reason we need to rewrite is that the story is not right. You have a feeling that something isn’t working. The conflict is weak. The character seems to be behaving childishly. The romance feels contrived. Something is just wrong. So, this involves rebuilding. Going back to the beginning and building the character up, providing proper motivation, or making the conflict more complex, showing the development of the romance. This is a deep rewrite to make the story believable.
- A third reason to rewrite is to correct inconsistencies. Reread the story and fix errors with dates and the timeline, character cars, homes, pets or anything we’ve given the character must be consistent, minor character names, and so on.
- The fourth reason or need for rewrites are to add details or descriptions that were missed the first time or two.
- The fifth reason is to fix any issues with spelling or grammar or even vocabulary. I’ve gone back and changed words to make them sharper or more specific.
Once there are no gaps in the flow of the story, nothing is glaringly wrong with the plot, characters, or setting, there are no inconsistencies, the details and descriptions are sharp, and you can’t find spelling or grammatical errors, you are finished with revisions.
Don’t get trapped in going through it again. Send the manuscript to your editor or agent and see what feedback you get. At that point, you are offered editing suggestions, you can work on the story again.
Have a story to tell? Want to learn how to record personal experiences before they’re lost or write a novel? Let started by downloading for free Julia Amante’s “Free Your Story” framework.