Editing, Revisions, Oh My!

One thing I tell my English college students is: “Great writing comes through revisions and editing. Revisions are key and necessary.”

A first draft is never great quality. It’s shouldn’t be. The work needs trimmed, polished, and revised—this is where writing becomes work.

“You write your first draft with your heart. You rewrite with your head. The first key to writing is to write, not to think.”—Quote from Finding Forrester. Sound advice.

The first draft should compel us to write. We should be excited to get the words written down. I’m certain most every writer has those WIPs that he/she cannot wait to get back to writing. The zeal to write, to create, thrills us. Seeing the story birthed onto the page is wonderful but when the first draft is finished, it’s not over. Your draft is still an infant, far from maturity, and not ready for you to send it out into the world for others to see. Shelter the draft and nurture the story with necessary revisions and edits.

One revision through doesn’t mean you’ve caught every mistake or that your WIP has reached maturation. Sometimes writers need to do multiple revisions/edits to polish the work. Advice I’ve read for years by publishing editors and literary agents is to “set the story (book) aside for a month and work on something else.” What? A month? No! I need to revise now. <——This was my attitude early on, too. I’ve mellowed a lot over the years and no longer kick and scream at the notion of setting a work aside, so I can approach it later with fresh eyes.

Why should you put it away for a month (or longer)? After finishing the first draft, a writer is too close to the work to catch mistakes. For me, I know I’m blind and can’t see mistakes right away. My second novel, Beyond the Darkness, had a glaring error on the first page that I never noticed even after reading it 100 times (not an exaggeration). I handed the completed manuscript to my wife for her to read. She immediately caught the error. I had written, “Recycling chair” but meant “Reclining chair”. I was stunned that I hadn’t seen the mistake. Why did she see it when I hadn’t after 100 readings? In my mind, I knew what I had meant to write, and my brain automatically corrected the word as I skimmed past it. This leads to my next point: Have someone else read your manuscript.

Beta readers are wonderful. Have a second (or 3rd or 4th) set of eyes read your work helps you discover errors. I have a select few who have been fantastic! Thanks, KC!

The hard part of handing a manuscript to others to read is seeing mistakes they find and we missed. The most difficult part is when suggestions are made that are contrary to what the writer’s vision might be. Constructive criticism is a good thing. But for young writers, criticism of any sort is seen or taken as a hostile insult, a brutal attack, even when it’s well intended advice. Ever wonder why novice writers get angered by such comments? Despite obvious defects, this manuscript spilled from the writer’s heart and soul; and was ‘birthed’ by the writer, and perfect, flawless, in the writer’s eyes. How dare you say this isn’t good enough!

Again, constructive criticism is beneficial, not to be taken personal. It’s not an attack on the writer. Take it with a grain of salt and take the time to fully consider the possibility from a different perspective. You don’t ever have to make such changes, but you’re receiving an outside view of your story from someone that has no stake vested in the manuscript, other than giving his/her opinion. However, if a character in your story has done something out of character or a glaring plot hole catches the reader’s attention (things not noticed by the writer); these are things writers need to study closer and make necessary adjustments.

I’m amazed at how many errors slip past, even when I carefully analyze each sentence. You must change hats. Instead of being a writer, you are now an editor, and for a lot of writers, this is the dreaded process. This is work. The joyous part of discovery in the creative process has ended.

Dean Koontz is known for his tedious editing scheme. “I don’t write a quick draft and then revise; instead, I work slowly page by page, revising and polishing.”—Dean Koontz.

While most writers are not this obsessive with editing, the editing process cannot be ignored. It’s necessary. Each writer is different and our writing processes are also different. For me, if the story’s flowing rapidly, I’ve no choice but to write it down without editing, whether it’s one page or twenty. The next day, before I add to the story, I go back and reread the previous 3-4 pages. Sometimes new ideas, description, or dialogue gets added and those 3-4 pages might become 6-7 pages. This is my habitual process and one I’ve developed over the past twenty-five years. When I’ve written several chapters into a novel, I go back to the beginning, rereading/editing as I go, which reminds me of what the characters have done and how the world is unfolding. This might occur multiple times over the course of writing the novel.

Last year, I finished Books 3 & 4 of the Aetheaon Series, both epic fantasy novels. I finally had enough time to revise the longer of the two novels in December (~six months after the first draft had been completed). The total number of words before revisions was 123,000. After edits, ~114,000 words. I trimmed off 9,000 words or roughly, 36 pages. Why so much? Excessive wordiness, redundancy, and characters explaining too much were the culprits. Some of the problems were simply syntax (poorly organized sentence structure) or needful prose tightening. I didn’t cringe to lose 36 pages. I cringed for not noticing the errors while I wrote. Honestly, I couldn’t believe how messy the writing was. But after the revisions, I’m happier with the novel and thankful I had yet to send the book to Beta readers.

Keep writing!

Until next time ….

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