Writing is Hard 4: Rewriting Hell


Made by the incredible Rey Noble (@reylikescats)

Thieves Project is the work in which, I think, I saw myself for the first time in my own writing. And parts of the plot simply didn’t work in the way I wanted them to, so I took it upon myself to do a rewrite. Because I’m always at a lack of resources, this is a post for pre-revisions me. Here is the action plan I took which brought a book down from 112,000 words to 89,000 words.

Phase 1: Finishing the Book

Holy wowza, you did that. You just put in time and effort and produced words strung together to tell us something.

Put it away and get some feedback.

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Phase 2: Beta Readers

Where to find beta readers? For me, the internet worked quite well. By internet, I mostly mean having the smallest world ever where some Chicago friends knew my online friends (hi Lauren, Layne, and Elliott!). Wendy Heard runs CP Matchmaking which could also be a resource. But most of my time online is spent interacting with people whose work I am hype about.

And yelling about whales and early 2010s techno (#branding).

Anyway, I recruited a few people who I know will give me great feedback. I crafted a letter which did the following:

  1. Thank them for their time
  2. Provide a small pitch
    • Give enough context to the genre, age group, and characters your beta readers will be journeying with
  3. Questions to consider
    • Everyone beta reads a bit differently. I like to give a combination of running commentary on a Word doc plus a 2×2 box of Things That Inspire and Things To Consider.
    • The questions provided were pointed types of feedback I needed to strengthen my work. But then I got so much other feedback I hadn’t even considered. Mostly what I mean, this guide should be flexible as everyone beta reads different. Plus, you don’t know what you don’t know.
  4. The book in some document form
    • I like sending in .docx you can easily transfer that onto a Kindle
  5. Thank them for their time
    • Beta reading isn’t easy and takes time. If you want good feedback, be courteous. A little kindness and empathy can go a long way

And then you wait. Until feedback comes in.

Read the feedback. Don’t react to it immediately. Let it sit for a while. Since I had several friends who beta read, I contacted them later to get clarification on some comments. If they respect your time and craft, the feedback should be constructive.

Then sit on it.

Phase 3: Reading

Oh, you thought you’d jump into rewriting as soon as you’ve mulled over your beta reader feedback? Not a good move. At least, it wasn’t for me. Even with the brief hiatus, I was still the same writer I was when I started the initial draft. In my “off season,” I need to find ways to improve.

I got a bunch of book recommendations that I will share with you:

  • The Art of Fiction by John Gardner
    • I have pages and pages on notes from this one. It provides a high level overview on the craft of writing and what stories are supposed to do. Really great for grounding before diving into reviewing your craft
  • Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and David King
    • Such a comprehensive guide on common craft problems. The one that stuck with me most is the idea of proportion: How much time are you spending describing things versus things actually happening
  • The Word Loss Diet by Rayne Hall
    • I haven’t leaned on this one yet because I find it more of a revisions or copy editing step. That being said, it provides each chapter has a word to consider removing from your manuscript and ways to work around it to make the writing stronger. I cannot recommend it enough, especially if word count is a problem.

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Phase 4: Rewriting

Where do you even start? For me, it’s a blank word document on one half of my screen and the beta reading draft on the other half. In an ideal version of myself, I would be working off a blank draft and some notes from what I feel needs to be in the story.

But that beta reader feedback? Some things I thought were necessary, actually weren’t. I wish there was a science to knowing what stays, what goes, what works for the story, and what doesn’t. As I got into the thick of it, I kept having to ask:

Does it advance the story?

What is this moment doing for your characters?

Are we learning anything?

My initial goal was to finish the book in 80 days, but found myself having to take so many breaks. I kept getting stuck, which felt awful because I wrote the damn thing. I should be in control of what’s going on, but sometimes you needed to just step away for a while.

Sometimes you’re going to want to delete your draft and then yourself.

Those feelings are fine and valid.

I had to remind myself of an important fact: I had already sent a draft to a bunch of wonderful people. It exists outside of my laptop. There was no going back. Plus, if your beta readers are great, they will want to help you succeed, regardless the trashfire sitting in their inboxes.

Believe in them if you can’t believe in yourself.

And then spend 90 days and 9 liters of Nałęczowianka Polish mineral water writing a book and then taking a nice, long break before diving into my current home: Revisions Purgatory.

Until next time,



One thought on “Writing is Hard 4: Rewriting Hell

  1. I loved this post, Jo. And I totally believe in you! No matter how hard these rewrites feel, no matter how difficult it proves to be and no matter how hard those voices try to convince you that you totally don’t got this, I KNOW that you got this, you can do this and your story will be better for it.

    And your future readers and fans will be thanking you for it for years to come. ❤


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