Revising and editing are two terms often greatly misunderstood and improperly performed as a result. The good news is that, until your first draft is finished, neither of these comes into play.
So, how do you think about revising and editing? Does it excite you and make you want to celebrate the fact that you actually have a first draft ready to be revised and edited? Do thoughts of having to do it make you want to run away and hide? Are you trying to do it at the same time you write your first draft?
It’s time to talk truth about this stage of the writing process. It’s time to bring to light the misunderstandings and misuses of these two distinctive refining tools, and put them away for good. Come on; let’s take a quick look!
Revising and Editing – Their Place in the Writing Process
The writing process is just that, a process. You must work through its stages in their set order. Otherwise, the quality of your results fail your intentions and expectations. Disappointment and discouragement usually follow.
But, since you are reading each post in this series, you are way ahead of the game. Your planning and organizing are in place for your writing project. And your first draft is finished! You learned and applied the first three stages of the writing process.
Revising and Editing make up the next level. With your finished first draft in hand, you are now ready to enter the world beyond that huge initial writing push. For many, writing and finishing that first draft is the most tedious, difficult, and stressful challenge–ever.
However, as I said earlier, this next stage in the process is often not fully understood. Because of that, revising and editing are poorly done, if done at all. Final results, therefore, fail to hit the bull’s-eye. This is one of the areas that make people decide that writing is just too hard.
Revising and Editing – The Difference
I have worked for many years with writers who are either already published authors or are working on publishing that first book. No matter the type of content involved in your project, no matter whether its final destination is online or conventional, the writing process is basically the same.
The real world of writing books differs some from textbook explanations. Texts will tell you that revising and editing are two distinct and very different processes that are properly handled independently from each other. In a sense that is absolutely true. But there are exceptions to the rule. Let’s take a look at both processes separately first.
As I write this post today, I have a revised copy of a manuscript waiting on the corner of my desk. It requires my attention before the end of the day. I need to check over the revision work already in place to see if we missed anything. It brings up an interesting and helpful insight.
Look at that word revision. Take it apart and it becomes re-vision. That is such a practical explanation of this process. Revising is about taking a fresh look at your first draft–a fresh look through fresh eyes.
The main goal of revising your first draft is two-fold:
- Find places where the content strays away from supporting the main concept or purpose of the project.
- Make corrections (revisions) to strengthen the quality and flow of the content.
While it is essential to shut down the inner editor, inner critic, sometimes-almost-uncontrollable desire to revise and edit while you’re trying to create your first draft, it is equally essential to allow judgment to come into play while revising and editing.
How to Revise
You must approach revising from an honest and objective perspective. It is quite valuable to take a step back from your work once the first draft is finished. Let a couple of days or more go by without looking at your draft. Don’t even think about it. Go do something totally unrelated for awhile. Then come back to it.
When you are ready to begin the revision process, work from a double-spaced, paper copy of your draft if at all possible. While many softwares have functions designed to help in this process, the printed page is still much easier to work with when revising. The ability to go back and forth between specific places or to see them side by side is so helpful.
It is a great idea to work with someone else during the revising (and editing) process. Let others read your first draft. Ask them questions about their reading experience.
- Did the material make logical sense (flow)?
- Were there places that confused or misled?
- What was the main takeaway from reading the draft? (Hopefully, the answer will be something very close to your main purpose or core point.)
- Were the background and characters (if applicable) developed richly enough to seem real?
There are other questions that you know to ask based on your topic and purpose. Don’t be afraid to ask those questions, and don’t be afraid to welcome the feedback you receive.
Resist the temptation to take offense if someone tells you something you don’t want to hear. Sometimes a “pet” piece of writing that you think is awesome actually detracts from the read for others. Don’t let it upset you. Their input is helpful in refining the depth, flow, message, and readability of your work. Embrace it!
The actual mechanics of revising your first draft fall into a unique combination of these four actions or tools. Get the right mix of these, and it will take on a whole new look and feel.
- Add new information to fill in shallow places or missing elements to your material. It may be just a word, a sentence, or a paragraph. Or it may require an additional section or chapter.
- Delete any writing that goes away from the flow of your topic or is overly repetitive.
- Replace, if needed, new words, sentences, or paragraphs in substitution for material you deleted.
- Move things around when needed. Re-sequencing sentences, paragraphs or even chapters sometimes adds greater clarity and impact.
Even though revising and editing do sometimes tend to run together, they are clearly two different processes. Each of them requires its own set of virtues: patience, honesty, positive mindset, and a dab of humor thrown in for good measure!
Once the revision work is finished to your satisfaction, the time has finally come to move into the realm of editing. As we are discussing the topic here, editing deals with a laundry list of “exciting” issues, including, but not limited to these:
- Proper capitalization
- Correct use of numbers
- And more!
A mistake that some writers make is to think that revising and editing never apply to them. This is a hugely bad idea! Every writer needs to revise and edit, at some level, everything they write. It’s the nature of the beast. A lack of good revision work and editing turns into annoyance for the reader. In short, it shows.
How to Edit
Right off the bat, editing is a topic that can be thought, taught, and fought over a long period of time because of its wide range of elements. Therefore, let’s keep it simple in this discussion here of its function as part of the writing process.
Take your time and don’t rush through it. Systematically go through your writing paragraph at a time. Being methodical helps keep you consistent with fewer errors slipping through to the proofreading stage.
Here again, work from a paper copy if at all possible because it is easier to catch mistakes in this format than on a computer screen. (Remember to not depend on your software’s spell check, style check, etc. They will trip you up every time!)
Since I do revising and editing professionally, I have used The Chicago Manual of Style as the final authority on questions pertaining to editing. Although I have always used the hard-cover book, the Manual is now available online through an annual subscription.
Once is not enough! It takes time to edit properly. Some errors are harder for the eye to catch than others. It is helpful to make a little list of common mistakes that you know you are prone to make. Check your writing against that list. This is particularly helpful in the misuse of certain words such as its versus it’s; and then there’s your versus you’re and to, too, and two. (These are some of the places where spell check falls flat!)
The writing process would be nothing without the revising and editing stage. Can you see the importance and value of finishing that first draft? That step opens the door for these final actions that complete the process and bring your writing project to a successful close.
It can be quite challenging to do your own revising and editing. There is “safety in numbers,” so to speak. Another mind and fresh eyes bring deeper clarity and a new perspective to the refining process. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Bringing on an outside editor is not a negative statement about your writing skills at all. If you’ve produced a complete rough draft you have already demonstrated that you are a writer.
Whether you bring on help from someone else or choose to do your own revising and editing, give it the time and attention each step deserves. After all the effort a rough draft represents, do the due diligence required to make your writing the very best it can be!
If you do want to get some help on your project, email me. I am happy to discuss your project with you and see how I can help this, or any other, phase of your writing.
Thank you & God Bless!