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12 Amazing Authors Share Their Rewriting Secrets

All About Rewriting

Rewriting – you either love it, or you don’t! Whatever the case, it needs doing … So with Nanowrimo over in a couple of weeks, I decided to ask my author friends for their number 1 rewriting tip! As you can see, there are some similar responses here again, which I always find interesting. Enjoy:

1) ‘Change your mindset’ – Sophie Hannah

Don’t try to think ‘How can I make this as short and painless as possible?’ – that will only make it feel longer and more painful. Instead, set aside loads of time and plunge right in, thinking, ‘Bring on the hard work!’ – that approach is more likely to end up with you thinking, ‘Actually, that was quicker and easier than I thought.’

BIO: Sophie Hannah is an internationally bestselling author of psychological crime fiction and poetry. Her most recent books are the Hercule Poirot continuation novel The Mystery of Three Quarters and a quirky self-help book, How to Hold a Grudge.

2) ‘Work out what you REALLY have’ – Sanjida Kay

Create a scene-by-scene chronology of what you’ve actually written, not what you think/believe/hope/wish you’d written. Ask yourself some hard questions. Does your novel work structurally? Are there plot holes? Who is telling the story? Is the right person telling the story in the right place? Is there enough ension/mystery/suspense/romance or whatever you need in the genre you’re writing? Do things happen? Does your draft go saggy anywhere? Create a new chronology to fix any of the above problems. Once you’ve got the structure right, then you can start thinking about the details. And remember: all good writing involves rewriting.

BIO: Sanjida Kay is the author of three psychological thrillers, Bone by Bone (longlisted for a CWA Steel Dagger Award, nominated as one of the best crime and thriller books of the year by the Guardian and the Sunday Express and named as an Amazon Rising Star); The Stolen Child (optioned for film and TV rights by the company that made Homeland) and latest, My Mother’s Secret. Sanjida lives in Bristol, with her husband and daughter.

3) ‘Read it on your Kindle first’ – Paula Daly

I transfer the Word document onto my Kindle. Then I can read sections of the novel anywhere: waiting rooms, the bath. There’s something about reading the manuscript in ‘real book’ form that allows me to identify the issues that need to be fixed.

BIO: Paula Daly is the acclaimed author of five novels. She has been shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger Crime Novel of the Year award, and her books have been developed for the new ITV television series, Deep Water, starring Anna Friel.

4) ‘Cut 10% For Draft 2’ – James Carol

Draft 2 = Draft 1 – 10%. This simple little equation was in Stephen King’s On Writing and it works every time. Everything gets more streamlined and reads so much more smoothly. A variation on this theme goes like this: your second draft is your first draft with all the crap bits taken out. Not sure who said that one, but it’s definitely worth bearing in mind.

BIO: James Carol is the creator of the Jefferson Winter series, which includes the bestselling Broken Dolls. He also writes standalones under the name JS Carol. These include The Killing Game, which was shortlisted for a CWA steel dagger. His latest novel is Kiss Me Kill Me.

5) ‘Leave it a good while’ – Zoe Lea

Leave it a good while before you even look at your work again, the longer you leave it, the less attached you’ll be and the delete key will be your friend.

BIO: Zoe Lea is a author living in the Lake District, her first book, If He Wakes became an international kindle bestseller and her next book The Secretary is due out summer 2019.

6) ‘Listen to your editor’ – Matt Johnson

Be brave and listen to the advice of your editor. They are on your team and have your best interests at heart. They want your baby to do well just as much as you do. Trust them.

BIO: Matt Johnson, ex-cop ex soldier. Voted at No.22 in the 2018 WH Smith best-ever crime writer poll. Author of the CWA John Creasey Dagger nominated Wicked Game trilogy. Final part – End Game – out now.

7) ‘Leave it’ – Anna Mazzola

Leave a good amount of time – ideally a few weeks – between finishing the first draft and going back in. It gives you perspective and allows you to kill your darlings without remorse.

BIO: Anna Mazzola writes historical crime and Gothic fiction. Her debut novel, The Unseeing, which won an Edgar Allan Poe award, is based on the life of a real woman convicted of aiding a murder in London in 1836. Her critically acclaimed second novel, The Story Keeper, follows a folklorist’s assistant as she searches out dark fairytales and stolen girls on the Isle of Skye in 1857.

8) ‘Change the format’ – Rebecca Bradley

Read it in a different format to what you wrote it. It gives it a completely different feel. It feels like a different book. I read on my Kindle.

BIO: Rebecca Bradley is a retired police detective author of Dead Blind as well as the DI Hannah Robbins series. She lives in the UK with her family and her two cockapoos Alfie and Lola, who keep her company while she writes. Rebecca needs to drink copious amounts of tea to function throughout the day and if she could, she would survive on a diet of tea and cake while committing murder on a regular basis.

9) ‘Go back to your one line pitch’ – Claire McGowan

I find the editing stage by far the hardest, as it’s when I do the real work. One tip is to go back to your one-line pitch, or even try writing the blurb that might go on the back of the book. It helps you remember what you wanted to write about, and know what bits aren’t relevant and need to be cut. You can also try cutting around 50 words from each page, if you’re sure you can’t lose any whole scenes and still need to trim.

BIO: Claire McGowan is the author of the Paula Maguire crime series, and an upcoming standalone thriller (publishing July 2019). As Eva Woods she has also written several women’s fiction novels, and the latest, The Lives We Touch is out now.

10) ‘Don’t be afraid to delete’ – Ruth Dugdall

Don’t be afraid to delete things that don’t work: your goal is not to save words, it’s to find the right ones.

BIO: Ruth Dugdall is a British crime novelist whose award-winning novels delve into dark topics. Her latest novel THE THINGS YOU DIDN’T SEE has a protagonist with synaesthesia, who is investigating a crime, apparently committed whilst the suspect was sleepwalking.

11) ‘Go bite-size’ – Lucy Van Smit

Go bite-size. Break down rewriting into voice, plot, turning points etc and do one at a time. Always remember to read it aloud to check flow. I love editing!

BIO: Hailed by The Irish Times as ‘a writer to watch’, former documentary maker Lucy Van Smit is the author of the award-winning novel The Hurting, ‘a Nordic Noir Wuthering Heights’.

12) ‘Be ruthless’ – Peter James

Be ruthless and hard on yourself, if you feel something is slowing the action then it almost certainly is.

BIO: Peter James’ books have sold 19 million copies with 13 number ones. His standalone Absolute Proof has recently been published and the paperback of his new Roy Grace, Dead If You Don’t.

What Writers Can Learn

These writers have a wealth of experience, acclaim AND sales behind them. It’s true writing AND rewriting is a personal journey, yet these authors also echo one another too. So, thinking of their tips as a ‘best practices’ guide, here’s what we can learn:

  • Let your draft – and brain! – ‘breathe’. Don’t start editing right away.
  • Reading your draft through in a different way to how you wrote it is a good idea, ie. on your Kindle, rather than your laptop. (I like to print mine out on paper – always remember to recycle if you do the same!).
  • Find out what you REALLY have, not what you hope you have. Also work out if you have lost sight of what it was *supposed* to be, or whether it has EVOLVED. Sometimes it is a fine line.
  • Trust your editor. It’s not ‘you versus them’. Rewriting should not be a battle.
  • Don’t be afraid of the work. It has to be done.

Don’t forget to thank our authors by checking out their books.

Good luck with your own rewriting!

PREVIOUSLY: Read these authors’ tips on getting the first draft done, HERE.

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