Surviving the Rewrite Process

When you hand your writing off to an editor, publisher, or developer, she’s likely to want some changes. It’s inevitable really. For one, it’s her job to figure out where your writing could be a little better, or where it doesn’t quite suit her audience. For another, people have trouble seeing the flaws in their own work, so an outside party is likely to find problems in your writing that you didn’t see.

The manuscript you get back from the publisher, replete with lots of red-pen markings, is called, at least in the roleplaying business, getting your “redlines.” Depending on the business, the editor may well not take the time to sugar-coat her opinions. She has a busy job, and is probably pretty tired of seeing writers make the same mistakes over and over. If you’re lucky, she’ll at least take the time to mark things she liked as well as the things she didn’t.

Personally I believe that editors who take the time to mark the good things too (and who aren’t unnecessarily vicious) end up with writers who do a much better job. If you know that your good work is being appreciated then you’re much more likely to do good work. Unfortunately, not all editors realize this.

Redlines Are Difficult

This is one of the more difficult pieces of the process of writing for a roleplaying company. Come to think of it, it’s one of the more difficult pieces of almost any professional writing process.

It’s difficult not to have emotion invested in your manuscript, if not nigh-impossible. Everyone gets a bit caught up in whether or not they’re doing a good job. If you’re doing creative writing of one type or another, then a lot of you has probably gone into that piece of writing. It can be difficult to see the difference between an editor saying that your writing needs work and an editor saying that you’re a bad writer. Thus, many writers react pretty badly to receiving redlines.

Getting Through It

It’s important to realize that the editor isn’t saying that you suck, and that any editor worth her pay knows that there’s a difference between a bad writer and a good writer who’s having a bad day or who needs to polish his skills a bit. Even great writers produce material that needs to be rewritten; they just usually have good editors to point it out to them. Besides, one of the best ways to convince an editor that you’re worth her time is to do a good rewrite.

So here’s my first and most important suggestion: Read through any summary or intro notes that your developer sent along with your redlines as soon as they arrive. If there weren’t any, then read or at least skim through your redlines themselves. Yes, it’s painful. Do it anyway. Get a sense for what needs improvement.

Then, go do something fun and relaxing, totally distracting. Go watch your favorite movie with some friends. Go to a convention for the weekend. Convince your game master (GM) to do an impromptu night of roleplaying. Steal your significant other off to a romantic candlelight dinner. Put the redlines in a drawer where you won’t even be able to see them, preferably at least overnight. Maybe for two or three days if you have the time to spare.


Here’s why: Your first reaction to looking through your redlines is likely to be one of several things. You could be incredulous: “I thought that was good! What’s she talking about?” You could be angry: “But I thought that’s what she wanted! This is her fault for not communicating better!” You could be hurt or depressed: “She hates my writing. She thinks I suck. She’ll never hire me again. Why should I even bother?”

Any of these reactions are going to make your rewrite difficult. If you refuse to consider that your editor may have a point then you might decide not to do things her way, and she’s likely to be very unhappy with the result. This is particularly bad when you’re doing freelance work — a freelancer’s job is to give her employer the piece of writing the employer wants. If you’re angry, you’ll probably develop an antagonistic relationship with your editor. This isn’t good for either of you and could easily end up with you not getting any more work from her. Not to mention that it’s a quick trip to developing ulcers. If you feel hurt and depressed then you aren’t going to want to face the rewrite, you’ll probably keep putting it off, and then you’ll find yourself with two days left before your deadline and not a single word of work to show for it. That’ll only make everything worse.

Getting Over It

So you need to get past that first, gut-level reaction, to a place where you can professionally approach your rewrite. Over time you will find your own ways to cope and to get to this point. In the meantime, my best suggestion is to take that break, to relax, and to completely distract yourself.

This has an added advantage. While you’re off having fun, your subconscious mind will percolate over those notes you read. It’ll be thinking about your editor’s comments. Hopefully, by the time you get back to your rewrite, it’ll have come to the conclusion that, you know what?, your editor may have had a point or two. Usually the break makes it much easier to see where your editor is right, and to accept that there are things you could fix in your work.

I’m not saying that this break will fix everything, or make the rewrite easy. But it will help. It’ll probably still feel a little icky when you pick up the redlines and get to work. You’ll still have the urge to go do something else and not think about it. But with any luck these feelings will be a bit muted, a little lessened. You’ll have started to internalize the idea that your editor doesn’t hate you, she probably knows what she’s doing, and that hey, if you do a great job on the rewrite, this time you can really blow her away!

A Few Little Things

Not all of these things will work for you, so take them or leave them as you please.

Try not to get too hyped up about your own first drafts

If you’re convinced that your latest manuscript is your best work ever, then it’ll just hurt all the more when you get the redlines back and there are still lots of things your editor wants you to change. Remember that all writing could use improvement.

Develop and maintain a professional attitude

If you keep in mind that you’re doing a job, that the editor (or her company) is paying you for that job, and that like any other job, the customer should get what she’s paying for, then it’s much easier to accept that you may need to change your work to reflect what the editor wants. I’m not saying that editors are perfect, but by and large most of them know what they’re doing, and regardless–they’re the ones with the purse-strings.

Cultivate the ability to work when and where you want

Try to work without the need to be in a particular “mood.” Doing freelance work is often helpful in developing such habits.

Visit with a friend

Visit with a friend, spouse, or significant other who’s willing to be available on short notice when you say, “hey, I’m supposed to get my redlines this week. When I do, can we go out to dinner?” If possible this should be someone who’s willing to listen if you need to gripe about your editor, but who won’t feed your anger with lots of “yeah, she sucks and your writing doesn’t need changing!” commentary. Under some circumstances that might be nice, but it’s probably the last thing you need right now.

Collect things that get you in the mood to write

Develop a collection of “mood” things (like music) that get you all hyped up or excited about the prospect of sitting down and writing. If you can get yourself psyched to sit down and do your rewrite, it’ll be a lot easier.

Hopefully these suggestions will help!

Posted in Writing

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