Editing vs. Revising vs. Rewriting
I’ve been taking a workshop on Editing Yourself. It’s not the first workshop I’ve had like this; I had another one called Keys to Editing, which covered the topic if you wanted to go in business as an editor. The Editing Yourself is very different from that one.
The editing class is on essentially taking care of the story while you’re creating it. Like when I plopped a description of a character in the story early on and then he evolved into something different so I had to create a new description that reflected that evolution.
But one of the things that strikes me is that the writing community generally refers to editing and revision and rewriting all as the same thing when they are very clearly not.
Except in one place.
And that’s when they’re creating the story and they go back and do what I described above for the class. They called it “revising as you go along.” And with using that terminology comes actual revision, and often endless revision. I used to call it that myself and had to learn what I could change and what I couldn’t.
It’s what got me into trouble working with a cowriter who was suffering from fear of finishing and me not knowing that he had this fear.
After a disastrous book where I kept getting stuck so I’d go back and “revise as I went along” until I solved the problem, I decided on the following guidelines:
- If I was stuck, I had to work that out. I could go back a few scenes to see if I’d bounced off the tracks, but I couldn’t go all the way to the beginning to tweak words and sentences.
- I could go back and change things like adding more foreshadowing for a later scene, correcting a name I’d just changed, or a gender of a character.
- No fixing! No tweaking of sentences or words to make them perfect. If I didn’t have a good reason to change something (i.e., I don’t understand what I was trying to write), it stands as is.
My writer friend would have happily revised the first chapter for years. And this is so easy to do because you think you’re making progress and suddenly the novel takes 25 years (that’s from a writing board I’m on) and never gets done.
The only progress you make is when you can type “The End” and move onto the next one. Sometimes the tools provided to us by “experts” get in the way of that.