I received this question the other day from someone whom others had already advised. I had a bit to add to their comments.
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First, rewriting and editing are not "close cousins," as someone advised you. The two are totally different concepts. And, no, the only reason you rewrite a novel is not because "you couldn't complete the idea," as some other brain said. These are absolutely ridiculous, shameful, amateurish responses. No wonder these people aren't full-time freelance writers. I'm surprised some of them are full-time freelance people.
Of course, editing and rewriting and reworking and refining and adjusting and readjusting and tweaking and everything else that goes into making a revision better than an earlier draft are all on the table. Are you kidding me? When you've written something and then go back to read it later, and you find problem areas, do you think you're going to tell yourself, "Well, that needs rewriting, but I'm only editing now, so I'll pass on that."
Sure. And, while you're at it, also pass on the opportunity to find a publisher willing to sign you up!
There is no such luxury as editing vs. rewriting when it's your book, and your future is on the line. If you read your manuscript after you're finished with it, and you find problem areas--are your ready for this?--do you say, "Oh, well, what the heck!" Or do you do whatever it takes to turn a sub-par manuscript into a saleable, marketable book that every publisher on earth is going to want a shot at signing up?
Sorry to sound so dogmatic here, but the goofball suggestions I've read saying that you should limit your approach to "editing" and not worry about rewriting are guaranteed to crank out a loser. If that's what you want …
By the way, I never re-read a copy of anything I've written without asking myself how—without any restrictive labeling—I can improve it. Never. Not novels, not e-mails, not social-media responses. If I read it thirty times, I have thirty revisions to make. A hundred times? You guessed it.
So, it all boils down to what you want from life. Listen to a bunch of wanna-be's and take their advice, or do what you know instinctively is right. Fix it. Improve it. Refine it. Finalize it. And keep doing that until the day you receive a conventional advance-paying publishing contract for your book. And then do it all again when the book comes back from that initial editing pass, and you find still more places where you can refine it.
And that, just FYI, will be the last chance you get to "perfect" what's never going to be the "perfect" manuscript. But, hopefully, it will be close enough for history's sake.
Just my experience on the matter, and I've felt this way for each of the ninety conventionally published books I've written, as well as the hundreds of thousands of articles, columns, plays, radio scripts, and shorter material I've cranked out over the years.
Wow. Am I adamant about this or what?
Take the advice of someone who's walked the walk, or take the advice of some hopefuls who obviously haven't a clue--and never will have. It's your choice. I hope you make the right one.
Smoke if you've got 'em.
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D. J. Herda is author of the new eBook series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere.