How We Write: Day 2 of Rewriting Is my B**ch. Simple, right?

Yeah, I said it. Because part of what I teach is that at this point of the process–the rewriting of a full draft that rarely wants to be rewritten–your job isn’t easy. Either the overwhelming work to be done is going to win, or you’re going to win because you’re a professional writer. And the only way for you to win, is to take control and show the rewrites or the new draft or whatever stage you’re in, that you’re the boss.

The way to do that?


No, the process isn’t simple. You have to keep it simple.


When you’re drafting with a plan (and you have a plan, right?) or rewriting with plan (because you revamp your plan for your story before you rewrite, right?), you stop the overwhelming, sinking feeling that you can’t succeed at something as complex as creating a novel–by focusing on one piece of the story at a time, until the whole manuscript finally begins to take shape.

I encourage students to do what I do…focus on the beginning, middle, and end of your characters’ journeys, as you plot or deconstruct or draft write a novel. I also teach students to pinpoint the emotional focus of a character at the inciting incident of a story, then at the black moment, and only then at the middle of the book. If you can define for yourself or me or a critique partner what your character’s internal journey will be at these three story points , you’ll never be writing or rewriting into a void.

An example?

My protagonist/heroine in my Mimosa Lane WIP (Book 3 of my Seasons of the Heart series) grew up in a dysfunctional family. That could have made her angry at the world and rebellious (as it does our hero, but that’s another blog post). Instead, while she’s wary of ever making family work for her, it’s made her a champion of other families and of the kids she teaches and cares for in her job (she’s an amazing assistant elementary school principal, whom you get to know in Seasons of the Heart Book 2, Three Days on Mimosa Lane). Sound interesting? I hope so.

But that’s only the beginning. It’s nowhere close to a full story arc. Not yet. And if I’m going to rewrite my muddled and wandering draft into the best story it can be, I need to understand my protagonist’s emotional/internal journey as I weave her in and out of the external story points I’ve already created–I need to motivate her carefully and throw the right conflict at her for the right reasons (using my hero and key secondary characters), so that she’ll change and grow and achieve a goal by the end of the book that she/we wouldn’t have thought possible at the beginning–claiming the happy family she’s always wanted, even if that family can never be the perfect thing she dreamed of as a little girl.

The simple part
(that’s taken me a long time to arrive at, longer than most other stories I’ve written, because of the complexity of the characters and community I’m writing about)

Heroine at the story Inciting Incident: She’s surround herself with love and family (other peoples’), focusing on her job and helping the ideal community she’s grateful to be a part of. Her success at her job helps other families and the children she’s responsible for thrive, and that makes her happy, or so she’s convinced herself.

Heroine at the story Midpoint: She can’t help two special children without working with and growing closer to the man and the family she’s secretly longed to know better. But inviting them into her life exposes her to the kind of chaos (and the chance of risking her heart) she’s refused to allow into her life since she left her own damaged family behind. She realizes that all this time she’s been “hiding in plane sight” and running from her past and fear of giving her heart to anyone again. She’s not equipped to handle the choices and risk that loving the hero and his daughter challenge her with–even though she can’t stop herself from fighting for them.

Heroine at the end of the story: The hero’s own damaged past and his secrets blow up in the most public, challenging, personal way–he is absolutely not the right man for an emotionally risk-averse person like our heroine.  But neither is anyone else, she’ s learned. All this time, she’s believed she’ll never find love, because loving someone will never be safe enough for her to handle. Only now she’s in love with the one person who should be the antithesis of safe to her–but she hasn’t been able to do anything all along but fight beside him and for him and his daughter. Has she learned enough to accept that this perfect family that has come to her will always be flawed and challenging and scary to her (because she loves them so much and can’t imagine losing them)–and that she can handle all of that, she can handle anything, as long as she has their love in her life?

As I rewrite, if I have these emotional turning points in mind as I work on every scene (and, you know, a thousand other details that I need to work out as well, because this series is so rich in setting and theme and secondary character arcs and community and so forth), I’ll keep my heroine on track and ever evolving and growing and changing from the amazing person she is at Page 1 to the even more amazing woman she becomes at the end of the story.

Simple, right?

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One Response to “How We Write: Day 2 of Rewriting Is my B**ch. Simple, right?”

  1. Thank you Anna for sharing these very important points since I too am in the middle of a re-write. :)

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