Edit, or Rewrite?



I’m working on my second draft of Father’s Creed and, so far, it’s going well. I’ve already cut 2,000 words (slimming this thing down is one of my main goals) and I feel pretty confident in the scenes I’m cutting and the enhancements I’m adding.

Then I got onto Twitter.

A long thread ensued about approaches to second drafts, with the majority of authors claiming that rewriting 90% of their first draft was not an exaggeration. Several people said, not only did they rewrite their book entirely, they did so many times. This was shocking to me, causing me to question just how wrong I may be in making my minor edits. I’m not afraid to throw things out; several scenes have already been omitted, but should I be starting from scratch? Is this an edit, or a rewrite?

I like my story. Other branches, (what if scenarios), could be explored. Characters need some reworking, and dialogue requires a re-tuned ear, but I’m concerned now that what remains of my first draft is a rotting dog carcass that I’m obliviously still taking for walks. I was hoping this second draft was a pruning exercise, not a clearcutting.

There are a few possible scenarios here: 1. I wrote a great first draft and the edits needed are few, 2. I’m a great editor and am able to turn garbage into art, 3. I’m delusional about my ability as a writer and an editor.

My beta readers will ultimately clue me into which scenario is accurate. I have no choice but to move forward with the edits and eventually put my work in their hands. They too have options in leading me to conclusions about my manuscript. They can: 1. Pretend they lost it, even though I see it on their desk under a pile of used tissues and coffee cups, 2. Give vague feedback, like, “It sure was a lot of words!”, 3. Buy me a book entitled, “Other Hobbies Besides Writing,” 4. Give constructive feedback, 5. Run away when they see me, 6. Program the suicide hotline number into my phone.

I’d love to hear from you writers on this. How much of your first draft is left after revision? Was the first draft of your novel really just a means to understand the story you wanted to tell, while the second draft was actually writing it?

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