Writing is easy. Editing, that’s the hard part. Well, hard isn’t quite the proper word. It’s… more involved. See, when people discuss editing and revisions, I’ve found that they seem to utilize that as a blanket, catch-all phrase. Professors and teachers often ask us to edit our work, just as often not giving useful guidelines beyond stale grammar rules. I’ve found, over time and compiling useful tidbits of information from different teachers, that revisions are often dictated by feel.
That feel is a composite of grammar and rules and personal sense of pacing. Yet, despite this seemingly nebulous approach, I have discovered that the basics haven’t changed. The process follows the same approach each time.
- Writing: Okay, that seems straight forward enough. Put the words on the page.
- Leave it alone. Give it a rest. Read a book, go write something else. When I finish the first draft of a piece, I’m too close to it. I can’t properly see the flaws.
- Plot corrections: Here, I try and discern what the major holes in the story are. Do the elements of the story make sense? Does the conclusion make sense? Does anything need to change, from major story points to even whole rewrites. This part takes time, as much of the time I only have a vague sense that something isn’t working.
- Details: This tends to happen simultaneously with plot corrections, though often takes longer. This is where I work out the precise details of a story or chapter. This often involves deciding the pace, where do breaks for details need to happen, where does dialogue need more room to breath. Here, word choice matters a great deal more than in any other draft, but I don’t have to rush it. I still give myself leeway to push past a scene even if I feel the wording doesn’t quite work.
- To Be Hunting: Now, the words matter. I go back and highlight every “to be” verb I’ve written. It doesn’t matter if I intend to keep the “to be” verbs or not. Since these components represent some of the weakest possible choices for words, I can safely go back and change my wording to remove their existence. The process is complicated and, many times, I find that I have to keep “to be” verbs or I can’t say what I want. That’s how it goes, but trying to get rid of them does make a substantial difference.
- Read Aloud: This is the final phase of my editing process. Here, I read the words aloud, to catch all the fine details. Sentences that aren’t quite complete, missing words. This part can be a huge help, especially after staring at a page for so long that I think I know for sure what I’ve written. The main drawback is that I find that often I begin to mumble to myself. This also happens to be a good litmus test as to whether I think the work I’ve written is in good shape. If I’m too embarrassed to read the piece, it means either the piece needs work or my public speaking skills do. (Mostly, it’s my public speaking skills.)
What steps do you take when you’re revising your work? Does thinking about the process help at all?