Should You Rewrite Your Novel?

Is your novel worth a rewrite?

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Last year, I finally finished writing a novel I had been working on for almost three years. During that process, I scrapped everything I had already written and started over. That first completed rough draft has been sitting in a folder on my computer ever since. Since the day I finished writing it, I have not looked at it once.

I’ve asked myself a few times if it would be worth a rewrite. Some days, I really do wish I could go back to it and do it right. Other days, I’m glad it’s behind me.

Perhaps you are in a similar situation. You have a finished draft of a novel you’re not sure what to do with. You know simple editing isn’t going to be enough: you’re going to have to rewrite about 80 percent of it, if not more. And you’re questioning whether or not it’s worth the time and effort – hours and energy you could be spending on other writing projects.

Here are a few questions you can ask yourself as you try to decide which option is best for you and your story and characters.

Are you planning on publishing it – for real?

As much as I love my first real attempt at a sci-fi novel, I pretty much knew by the time I was finishing up that I didn’t have much interest in getting it published. At least not right away. If I was more passionate about it and more attached to the story, I might have chosen to try a rewrite. But I was ready to put it to bed, at least for awhile. However, if you’re seriously considering seeking out a literary agent, or even want to try self-publishing it, your best bet is probably to do at least one full rewrite before you take the next steps toward publishing.

Do you have time?

Time was one of the reasons I have not chosen to return to my sci-fi novel. At that point I was trying to balance school and finding a job and writing a lot for “exposure” (aka, for free). I’m a writer who struggles with time management, still even now. I can only balance so many activities and spend so many hours per day working. Sometimes, things have to go, and in my case, that was spending more time on a novel I had at that point grown tired of looking at. If you really don’t have time to rewrite an entire novel, don’t stress yourself out more than you have to. But if you can fit in even a few hundred words every day, while you work on other projects, go for it.

Do you WANT to?

Well, do you? Distinguishing between want and need as a writer isn’t always easy. Technically, rewriting at least large portions of a novel, if not the entire thing, is necessary at some point in the publishing process. Not every novel we write, however, gets that far. And it doesn’t have to. If no one is forcing you to do a rewrite, if your paycheck isn’t dependent on whether or not you do so, but you really WANT to rewrite your story, that’s all the motivation you need – do it! But if you really don’t want to, now or ever, it’s not worth it. If you’re already dreading it, your story is much better off staying as-is. Don’t taint your relationship with it just because you tried forcing yourself to do something you had no desire to do.

Do you have more to learn from your story and characters?

I wrote my sci-fi novel for a very specific purpose: to see if I could do it. It really stretched and challenged me. I practiced world-building and character development and characters’ interactions with their environment and relationships with each other. I learned a lot, especially about decent plot twists and a little bit of mystery. Another reason I haven’t gone back to it is because, in the process of writing it, I grew as a writer – so much so that, in many ways, I grew out of it. Beyond it. I immediately wanted to take what I had learned from that experience and apply it to new writing projects – and I did. If you feel like you got out of the experience of writing that novel what you needed to get out of it, it’s okay to leave it be. It’s part of your journey as a writer: it will always be there. You don’t have to keep working on it if you don’t think it’s going to help you grow any more than you already have.

Do you have another story you would rather write instead?

Another major struggle I have often, and had during the final days of finishing my book: having another idea I wanted to start developing. I’m guessing you have probably experienced this, too. Coming back to the idea of outgrowing a story, if you really feel like it’s time to move on, then it’s probably time to move on. If you want to start writing something new, take advantage of that motivation and excitement while it’s still around. This isn’t to say you won’t someday go back to your old story. Sometimes, finishing a story gives us momentum to start something new. It’s okay to embrace that, and leave your finished work in a folder for awhile until you decide if you want to open it again.

The process of rewriting a novel is different for everyone. Some start completely over from scratch: others focus on rewriting dialogue or taking things one chapter at a time. Some add scenes or take scenes away. But the hardest part, from my experience, is deciding whether or not it’s worth it. Hopefully these questions will help you think more logically about the next steps you want to take with your novel.

As always, if you have anything to add or any questions you want me to answer in a comment or another post, leave them below and I’ll check them out ASAP.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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