Four Tips to Start Rewriting a Novel

Rewriting a novel: Writer's Block

 I’ve begun rewriting a novel.

It’s an intimidating process to pick up a manuscript you’ve slaved over for, in my case, fifteen months and realize it needs to be redone.

How do you even start?

This is where I am today, with

Four tips on how to start rewriting a novel:

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1. Accept the manuscript needs work.

For many of us writers operating on just a margin of ego that frequently slips away as easily as the sun, it’s hard to admit your project isn’t perfect. People use a variety of ways to write a novel: the meticulous plotter (essential for thriller and mystery writers), the general planner who waves her hands and says “something will happen here,” and the seat-of-the-pants writers who miraculous find their story as they write.

All the methods have advantages and probably are linked to the author’s personality, but one thing remains–

We all need help at some point and our manuscript often will show it. Click to Tweet

So, don’t be embarrassed, accept the fact and move forward.

You can’t fix a problem if you refuse to recognize it.

Rewriting a novel: Writer's Block 1


2. Step away from the manuscript for awhile and then read it quickly

I had another project with a deadline intervene, and so I was able to leave the manuscript for a month. I’m not sure a month is even long enough, but since I’m about to sit down and start reading the whole thing this morning for the first time in 34 days, that’s what I’m going with.

Time gives us distance–we forget what’s in the story, both the good and the bad. Click to Tweet

It enables us to read “fresher,” more like a “real” reader. Zipping through the manuscript–reading it for pleasure not to find problems–enables us to get a better feel for what works and what doesn’t work.

I’ve got my pencil sharpened and as I read, I plan to make Xs in the margin of areas that don’t work in the following ways:




*out of character

* rabbit trail



and so forth.


3. Find a reader/ pay someone who understands technique to critique for you.

Several long-suffering friends, not to mention my saintly husband, have read my manuscript. They’ve been kind but have not screamed with delight–which was a warning to me something wasn’t working.

None are professional writers, however, and while they love to read (and love me!), I’m not sure they knew what the problem, technically, was. That left me very uneasy.

Lacking a critique group, I took the proposal to a professional writer who was able to give me some excellent points and steer me in a better direction.

Because I”m dealing with some personal time issues, the immediate advice was more important than the fee I’m paying.

If you are fortunate enough to have a reader/writer friend or a critique group, use them.


4. Beg your readers for their negative reactions and listen to them.

My father-in-law used to famously say an articulate enemy can be better than a loving friend.

As an aerospace engineer, he needed someone to criticize his WORK who was not afraid of jeopardizing the relationship.

I need to know where the problems are in my baby, er, manuscript, so I can improve. Click to Tweet

Of course it’s going to hurt, but I can’t fix it her, er, it, if I don’t know where it is.

Having watched me work through the research and writing of this manuscript through an extremely stressful period in my life, my agent knew her criticisms were going to be difficult for me to swallow.

They were.

I cried.

BUT, I knew it was for the benefit of my manuscript that I hear the problems and take them in.

I wrote notes. I was too emotional really to listen.

When I talked with Cindy Coloma, I took notes. She took notes. I’ve reviewed them several times.

I needed the feedback.

So do you.

Everyone needs an editor.

Rewriting a novel: Ernest Hemingway in Milan, 1918

5. Bonus! Realize all the great writers write more than one draft. Here are a few suggestions:

Ernest Hemingway–who rewrote The Old Man and the Sea umpteen times, in long-hand!

Anne Lamott–everyone knows how she describes first drafts!  🙂

Madeleine L’Engle–who famously said, “I can only write so far and then I need an editor to help me.”

Join me in the rewriting a novel stage! If you’ve got any tips, I’m open to hearing them.

In the meantime: I’m rewriting a novel. Back to the book!

How do you begin to rewrite work you’ve already written? Click to Tweet


Leave a comment


  1. Oh, Michelle! How I can relate!

    I’ve since picked up other projects while laying my main “baby” aside. I’ve edited and re-edited dozens (I’m not kidding!) of times. It’s been through critique peeps and I’ve made adjustments. It’s been professionally edited and I’ve made more adjustments. Now, I’m almost ready to pick the thing up again with a fresh pair of eyes and a clearer head. (Although for awhile, I was really just ready to kill the MCs and be done with it! Lol The only thing that stopped me? If I did, then there would be no story!) *sigh*

    I function better in a small critique circle as well. Too many hands stirring the pot is confusing for me. I’m looking at adding another writing/critique friend to add fresh perspective.

    Praying for you as you delve in again! (And please pray for me, too!) 🙂

    • Michelle Ule

       /  May 6, 2014

      Thanks, Cynthia–it’s always sobering to spend an inordinate amount of time and money on a project and then realize . . . more time and money! 🙂 Fortunately, I’ve got a great hook and a glorious God leading the charge! 🙂

      But the point is to write the best story and sometimes some of us need a little help! Whether we like to admit it or not! 🙂

  2. Michelle, I found a book at the library that could be helpful to you. Have you looked at The Artful Edit by Susan Bell? Maybe you could get it on Kindle, speedread through it, and use it as another set of eyes on your work.

    • Michelle Ule

       /  May 6, 2014

      Thanks for the suggestions, Janice. I’ve got it on reserve at the library! 🙂

  3. Michelle, I appreciate the vulnerability of this post, and your willingness to do the hard work again.
    Your tips are timely because I’ll soon be sending my MS for a developmental edit. Although I know the process will provide me with tools I’ll need for future projects, I admit to being a wee bit terrified.

    • Michelle Ule

       /  May 6, 2014

      We can’t know everything, that’s why an editor is invaluable. Sometimes, particularly when we’ve been working on a project a long time, we lose sight of the forest for all the trees in our way. I’ve loved every editing experience I’ve had–because it was done to make the project stronger. It would be an unusual to have produced a fine work the first time through, I intellectually knew that, but as I am still recovering from a very busy year–I also would LOVE to be done with WWI! 🙂

      It’s all work and it’s good. Sometimes, though, we need someone with more experience or who is not emotionally involved, to help us see the things that need to be repaired. Best wishes.

  4. Thanks for sharing our post on Hemingway’s rewriting advice, Michelle. Best of luck with your rewrite!

    Assistant Editor
    The Write Life

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