Editing and revising are two words habitually used as synonyms. Though they are related, they are not the same.
In the last year, as I’ve published fiction, non-fiction, even academic pieces, I’ve been guilty of blending these distinct stages. I assumed I could revise and edit as I went along. The system worked, more or less, until the last two projects sat languishing on my laptop. If like me, you want to take your writing to the next level, then you’ll want to understand the critical differences between these important stages of the writing process.
Over the next few weeks we’ll look at how to tell editing and revising apart as well as when you’ll know which your project needs. No matter how many books you’ve written (and I’ve written over ten), every writer serious about his/her craft has a plan to tackle these two stages. The more experience you have does not necessarily mean the process moves more quickly or easily as I discovered when the final two novels of my 9 book foray into epublishing stalled.
Editing is the final stage of polishing a manuscript. Most writers cannot and should not edit their own work. Would you want to pour the foundation of a building and install the windows as well? Usually a specialist is called in to do the wiring and other fine points of a building. The same applies to writing.
Revising, however, is something writers can do on our own, aided and improved with the help of a team of helpers: early readers of the manuscript, other writers, and indeed, editors. When revising you may notice the grammar error here or there as you re-read a part of the manuscript. But your real focus is the content. Are the characters believable? Do we need more details in the setting? What can make the plot more dramatic? How can you strengthen the narrative arc?
Revising allows you to go section by section – not always chronologically – and take the nitty gritty view of your story. You find out where you’re on firm footing and where your foundation is on shaky ground. Names, nationalities, motivations of characters can all change at this stage as the primary question you ask yourself is: does this serve my story?
Here’s an example of how I revised the opening of my current novel in progress THE OPPOSITE OF HATE, a historical novel set in the Southeast Asian country of Laos in 1969. This project has taken over a year to create the first draft and will need many months to revise before we head into the editing stage.
Notice the changes from the original and the revision which were written about a month apart. Point of view, character, setting, and even the novel’s title, all transformed the more I thought about the story.
Questions for you as you consider revising:
- Beginnings are important. Consider the beginning of your story. Does it start at a moment of drama? Is there another character who would be more compelling?
- Consider your setting: Does the reader receive the important details that will carry him/her further into the world you are setting?
- Consider your conflict: is it big enough to hook and maintain interest into the first chapter?
Based on your answers to any/all of the above, revise. Yes, go on, rewrite this small section. And share with us your results!
Original: October 2011
Nelee slid from the backseat of the car as the driver continued toward the garage she pulled off the sweater, the worst and most unflattering part of her school uniform. She then shook free her elbow length hair from the regulation braid, massaging the back of her neck. She marched up the concrete steps of the house, the most of any on their street, expecting to see her mother reading the latest ladies magazine in the formal living room, waiting for Nelee’s stories of another day spent at the Sisters of Mercy School for Girls.
Revised: November 2011
Than climbed the steps to the two bedroom house his job afforded him; the small government cottage a mansion to his wife, a country girl from the Philippines. He was tired after hours of pouring over diagrams for a new aqueduct system planned for a Northern territory. As the only academically trained engineer in the office, he bore the brunt of the technical work as the others drank, sometimes coffee, as the day wore on something stronger, Than ran from one meeting with the westerners to another, trying to take advantage of their interest while it was hot. He came onto the porch. Next door, at his neighbor’s, most of the street was crowded around Uncle Ong, the best Lao folk story teller in the district. Some said all of the capital. Than scanned the crowd, hoping to find Rutchil amongst the women. Failing to see her rounded bulk, he nodded to John, the CIA agent most people thought was a grass smoking hippie, whose green eyes glimmered in the waning light.