Rewrites aren’t high on my list of favorite work-related activities. The fact is, I hate them. Especially when an editor sits on something for a couple weeks then ships it back with questions. It makes me want to fire off an email saying “That was so five stories ago!”
But rewrites are a fact of the writing life. So it’s a good idea to come to grips with the fact that if you freelance, you’ll have to do rewrites occasionally, if not on a regular basis.
The best way to ward off rewrites it to turn in your best effort the first go around. That means understanding exactly what the editor is looking for – even if it means asking what seems like an insane number of questions ahead of time. Then do all the research the story requires, hit all the marks in your writing, check your story for spelling, grammar, typos, cliches, transitions and flow. I always tack on a headline and deck, and if the format calls for it, subheads, charts and graphs. The more you can do on the front end to avoid working on a story after the fact the better.
But sometimes rewrites happen despite your best efforts. Here are some other techniques I use to handle them:
Plunge in. Don’t think about it, don’t get mad, don’t delay, just get it over with as fast as possible. It’s like ripping off a bandage – it’s got to be done, so might as well do it fast.
Focus on one question at a time. if an editor sends something back with five questions that need to be answered or facts to be added, mentally break them down into discrete tasks and attack them one by one. I’m a huge to-do list person, anyway, so by breaking the job into bite-size elements I feel good about knocking them off one after the other.
Pick up the phone. As much as I don’t want to, sometimes I have to pick up the phone and re-interview a source to confirm something or answer a question from an editor that I just didn’t have an answer for from my original interview. This situation happened to me recently, and if I hadn’t called to follow up on an editor’s question I would never have talked to the company executive who told me about some pending contracts, which may turn into a news story I could pitch to a magazine I’ve just started writing for. That’d definitely make me look good to my new editor.
Turn it into a opportunity. If you’ve got to do a rewrite anyway, take the chance to re-read your story and tweak an awkward phrase here or a bad transition there that you might not have noticed before.
Sleep on it. Sometimes the repair work isn’t as bad as you thought. If you’re not on a deadline, leave a rewrite until the next day, then attack it with fresh eyes.