Lessons in Rewriting

· resources,revising,drafting

In 2018, I got into this writing contest known as Pitch Wars

Pitch Wars, for those who don’t know, is a volunteer program where established authors help mentor unpublished writers. There are a little over a hundred mentors or mentor teams. Each year, they go through thousands of submissions to look for a writer and a story that they feel they can help improve 

I’d written three books at that point (well, two and three-quarters, but we’ll round up). My method of writing was to first review and edit the previous day’s chapters and then move on to a new one. This was my process: review, revise, then write.

So, when my mentors told me that Pitch Wars would change my writing process, I ignored them. I already had a process that worked, why would I need to change it? But Pitch Wars is hard and I had to revise and rewrite two-thirds of my entire book with only three months to do it

Suddenly, my method wouldn’t work—I’d never be done in time. I had to let go of that first review step and just get the words on the page. 

After the first round of rewrites, my mentors read the story again. And they had LOTS of line-level edits where my writing was clunky or confusing. Which hurt, at first. 

Over time, I learned that having clunky writing was a result of writing quickly. And, while it might seem embarrassing or like I wasn’t a good writer, it’s pretty common for writers to have a messy first draft with not-so-great prose. 

Because that’s what revisions are for. To make things better. 

Humans are not perfect. It takes many tries to get something right. (I rewrote this newsletter at least 3 times!) Don’t be afraid to have clunky or messy writing—it’s more important to figure out the story first and THEN edit it. 

I learned this lesson the hard way but my mentors were right; my writing process totally changed over those three months. And I am a better writer for it now.

Stephen King was the (probably) one who said “kill your darlings” and sure, he meant “don’t be afraid to edit your words.” But I like to think he also meant “don’t be afraid to edit your writing process either.” Your writing changes, why shouldn’t you? 

Do you have a revision process? Tell me about it on Twitter or Instagram. I’m always happy to learn new methods of self-torture, I mean, writing. 😉


 A version of this story appeared in Wolves and Wonder, my monthly newsletter that includes no-nonsense writing advice along with book updates and sci-fi inspiration. Get it in your inbox; you'll love it.