Rewriting: The Phoenix Effect

Guest Post by Frank Morin.

Frank Morin loves good stories in every form.  When not writing or trying to keep up with his active family, he’s often found hiking, camping, Scuba diving, or traveling to research new books.  Frank lives in Oregon with his lovely wife and four kids, who are all brutal critics, but die-hard fans. For updates on his sci-fi time-travel thrillers, his popular Petralist YA fantasy novels, or other upcoming book releases, check his website:

Rewriting. Some see it as a dirty word.

Often, this is one of those topics whispered about in shadowed conversations late at night when we hope no one will hear. It’s right up there with graciously accepting negative feedback and smiling through those lonely book signings when even the bookstore staff seems to have found something better to do than come over and ask a question.

Of course, we dread rewriting. We just finished that novel, didn’t we? The last thing we want to do is chop it up and rebuild it again.

Then again, rewriting is the one way to save that story and make it shine. The only way for the legendary phoenix to rise in fiery new life is from the ashes of its previous one. Sometimes, a novel needs to die so it can be reborn even better.

The process hurts, but it’s worth it.

I know what I’m talking about. I may be the king of massive rewrites. Like many new writers, I had to throw away my very first opus after years of writing and rewriting. I had to face the hard fact that those early hundreds of thousands of words served best as practice.

Then I had to rewrite about 80% of my first YA fantasy novel, Set in Stone – after completing two solid drafts which I had meticulously planned and outlined. That was over 100,000 words and months of work trashed and rebuilt. Not to be outdone by myself, I also rewrote massive amounts of the next two books in that same series.

Why put myself through such pain?

Because the story is what matters, and sometimes the early drafts, no matter how good, serve as vehicles to discover the true story that needs to be told.

Set in Stone kicked off my YA fantasy series, which has done quite well. But it wasn’t until that painful third draft that I realized that I needed to add the humor and really dive deep into the magic system instead of holding back until book two. Just releasing the earlier draft would have been so much easier.

And that would have killed the story.

With the sequel, I wrote a solid draft, but in reviewing it with my editor, I realized there was so much more I needed to do with the plotline that I had to split the book in half and completely rewrite that part of the series as two separate novels. Huge amounts of extra work, but those books turned out amazing and have set up the rest of the series for awesome success.

So, how do we know when we need a rewrite? We also don’t want to fall into the trap of endlessly rewriting a story in circles and never actually releasing anything.

As writers, we need to leave our pride at the door and honestly view the story by its true strengths and weaknesses. If we’re too close to the story to view it objectively (which is likely) we need to pull in objective experts. Some beta readers can play an important role in offering reader feedback, but the most important player is a professional editor.

Don’t just rely on the word of your inlaws’ cousin who took some English classes in college. Get a good editor, one with real experience doing content and developmental edits, one who can point out those blind spots you didn’t even know you had. Such an editor is worth every penny.

With every revision you consider, ask yourself, “Will this change improve the story and help it reach its full potential?”

If the answer is yes, then do it, regardless of the amount of work it’ll take. You’ve spent so long working on the story already, why would you risk releasing it before it’s ready? What a waste of your time and energy. What a waste of a good story.

The story is what matters. Your story is worth it, so don’t shortchange it.

And here’s hoping in my next novel, I can forego that onerous pleasure and nail the story in the first draft.

If not, I’ll rewrite until I get it right.



Jennifer Bennett

About Jennifer Bennett

Jennifer J. Bennett was born in Southern California as the youngest of six children. Her imagination began to develop as a child creating worlds in her backyard. Books have always played a big role in her life; favorites growing up were “The Country Bunny” by Dubose Heyward, “The Light in the Attic”by Shel Silverstein, and “Island of the Blue Dolphins” by Scott O’ Dell among many, many others. She also enjoys music, theater, travel, and cooking.

Jennifer moved from Southern California in 1989 and finished high school in Southern Utah where she met her husband Matthew Bennett who currently works in educational administration. They reside in St. George, Utah with four amazing kids: Haylee, Chase, Conner, and Libby. After her father was diagnosed with cancer, she began writing her first novel, “The Path”. Her father encouraged her to move forward with her writing and she has continued since. He passed away in 2009.

Jen, as her friends call her; can be found buzzing around California from time to time in search of magical elements from the past. She tries to balance fun, being a mom, and trying to be a grownup (which she really isn’t sure she ever wants to be).

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