The Difference Between Revision and Editing

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It’s funny that only after finishing the eighth draft (depending on how you count drafts) of my novel, I’ve really start to think about the differences between revision and editing. I knew writing a good story was more than just having a good idea, but still the two processes seemed jumbled in my mind. I think if I’d remembered the writing process flow charts from my middle school days, the drafting process of the last three years would have gone a bit smoother for me. 

In many of those flow charts revision is defined as making your writing sound better and editing is defined as making it look better. But I think the concepts go beyond that.

For me, revision is about content. It is about the organization of chapters, changes in plot, character development, foreshadowing, pacing, enhancing the setting, and correcting and POV issues. It’s about looking at a draft and saying what works, what doesn’t work, and what could work better, then actively rewriting scenes.

Editing is about more than just making the writing sound good and look good. It’s about making it believable. For me editing means, better explaining anything confusing, cutting any unnecessary words, sentences, scenes, etc., amping up the voice, word choice, looking for repetition, and making sentences as active as possible. The next part of editing, is proofreading. But checking for spelling errors, grammar issues, and typos is not the whole process.

In my drafts, I think I was doing too much of both processes at the same time. For example, I did a lot of editing and proofreading on my very first draft only to go on to decide that there were huge substantive problems that needed changing. I guess it isn’t only a writing process, but a learning process.

This post probably needs both revision and editing, but I’m starving for breakfast so it’s going to have to suffice. Writers and bloggers, how do you think of editing and revision? Are they the same for you or different? Do you have any tips for me?

9 thoughts on “The Difference Between Revision and Editing

  1. I agree with the distinction you’ve made between revision and editing. I am currently going through my revision stage because the first draft is just getting the ideas out of my head and on the page. Then I go through to make sure the story as a whole makes sense. Ideas that I came up with later in the writing may need to have a note or reference of some kind earlier. Then with the help of others (because grammar is kriptonite) I get to the nitty gritty of sentences and proof reading.

    Anyway, great post!

  2. I think of editing and revision akin to redecorating. You probably know where you want to go, you may change your mind several times, but it’s going to look pretty awful halfway through and great at the end. Basically, just keep the faith (and the red pen) handy!

  3. I also agree with your distinction between the two phases. Editing is different from revising, just as proofreading is different from editing. Many people try to cram everything in one phase. But editing or revising while drafting doesn’t allow you the freedom to get the story down. Drafts don’t have to be “perfect.” But our perfectionism often tells us they have to be.

    To keep the stages separate, after I draft, I begin a new file. I am allowed to do as much damage as I like to the new file. I look at the big picture first: characterization issues; scene revisions, etc. Those take a ton of time. I find I have to go over the manuscript more than a few times until I’m satisfied that I’ve hit the big picture issues. I add notes to myself to address later. Once I have the scenes I need and character stuff has been addressed, I take another pass at it before starting another file.

    When I’m ready to edit, I print the story and look at the hard copy. That way I can see what needs to be changed.

    • Thanks for sharing your process. I totally agree with you about not falling into the perfectionist trap and editing while writing the first draft. I think keeping drafting, revising, and editing separate is probably the most efficient way to write a novel and it sounds like you have a good system for that.

    • I think just deciding to finish it. I know that sounds annoying, but when I think about how long I clung to editting and re-editing and in the first draft revising before I got all the way through, I think a lot of it was that I was just unwilling to go on to the next step of the process. I didn’t want to give it up.

      Not having enough time could also play a factor. Also if you are spending too much time on the Internet then maybe limiting social media time could be a good first step.

      Good luck with your novel! I know it isn’t easy.

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