Sep 12 2018
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Writers, revise or edit? How and when to do both

You’ve written something that really excites you. After the initial adrenaline rush of creative energy subsides, you can see the writing has, well, issues. You were rushing, so there are misspellings. You know in your head that this character is good and that one is villainous, but you aren’t sure it’s coming across that way. And this flashback, does it make sense at the beginning or near the middle of your story or chapter?

And before you tackle any of that, there is most pressing question of all: which issue should you address first?

The question really is, are you ready to revise or edit—because while you might hear these words used interchangeably, they are quite different and refer to two distinct stages of the creative process. Here’s some insight into how and when to do both of them, so you can stay focused on improving a piece of writing that energizes you without succumbing to that critical inner voice that would sabotage your momentum:

Revise

Harder than editing, revising is what you do when you need to make changes to the structure and organization of your narrative. As soon as you return to a first draft, you’re revising. You’re going to try to distance yourself from what you’ve written and come at it from an objective reader’s perspective. Ask yourself if you’re making assumptions about what the reader will understand. Ask yourself if your characters are believable, what the main tension is, and whether every action, image, plot progression, and literary device is serving that tension in some way. Do these things when your plot or arc is muddled, when a character doesn’t seem authentic, when you feel stuck but aren’t sure why, before you ask another writer’s opinion of what you’ve written, and long before you worry about editing.

Edit

Editing is what you do when all of the above issues are worked out during the revision process and you’re ready to clean up your piece of writing. Sweep over your narrative for errors of spelling, grammar, and syntax. Read out loud—can’t stress this one enough! You will hear sentences that run on too long and need to be broken up so the reader can take a breath. You’ll hear redundancies of phrasing and sentence structure, like five simple declarative sentences in a row that are making your narrative sound choppy, or when you use the same distinctive word three times in one paragraph when a synonym would do. You might have to do all of this more than once, because sometimes we are too close to the work to see even the most glaring of missteps. Now is when you might ask a trusted friend for a read and an honest opinion. That friend might point out structural or clarity issues that warrant another round of revision—don’t be discouraged! At least you’ve already identified and resolved some issues.

What is your greatest revision or editing challenge? Share with us in the comments!

Related reading: 5 tips for sharing your writing for the first time

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