Writing Advice of the Week: Editing is Out (Revision is In)

Reading Time: 11 minutes

What comes to mind when you hear the word “editing?”

After working with books for more than a decade, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I rather hate the word “editing.” To me, editing implies cutting and pasting, moving around what’s already there in front of you, which — in the world of book development — is tragically limited.

Book development is not about working with the story that’s already there. Not really. It’s about figuring out the story that should be there and then putting that story onto the page.  It’s about calling forth the story you didn’t write because you weren’t brave or trusting enough to write it the first time.

If you love the craft of writing, you likely don’t need red pens and markups. (You can get eco-friendly red pens at Amazon or — even better — your local stationery supply shop.)

When you love your craft, you may benefit more from collaborative professional help, someone who can push you to dig out the gritty, emotional story just waiting to be unearthed.

When you love your craft, you don’t edit; you revise. And revising a story means assessing what the story is and re-envisioning what it can become.

Prompted by Fallon Clark via Adobe Firefly

After you’ve completed your story draft, you have the enormous task of revising it, which often takes twice as long as the initial writing. For novel-sized works, this means you’ll be spending an inordinate amount of time getting up close and personal with all of the characters, settings, and events in your story.

Before you go hog-wild with that backspace button, take a step back and a gigantic breath. Because the best thing you can do to revise your story is to forget about the draft. At least, for a little while.

Tuck that manuscript into a desk drawer or encrypt the file with a ridiculously long password that only your spouse or a trusted friend has access to. While you’re not touching the manuscript itself, it’s important that you’re thinking about certain aspects of your manuscript.

  • What is the purpose of your story? Why did you write it? What one message do you want to share with the reader? How will you share that message? To what audience is your message appropriate or important? How will the audience know the story is written for them?
  • Who are your characters? What do they want? What holds them back? Why do those things hold them back? How will they overcome those things? What does their overcoming mean in relation to the plot events? Why are certain places important to them? What lessons do they need to learn to grow?
  • What are the major plot events and conflicts in your story? How do those events and conflicts arise? How do the characters affect or change them? How will the events or conflicts be resolved? Who will resolve them? Can they be resolved?
  • What are the major settings in the story? How do the settings relate to the characters and the plot events? Why are they important to the story? How will the characters affect or be affected by the settings?
  • What point of view have you chosen to write in? Why did you choose that point of view? Who is the perspective character? Why does the point of view work best for the chosen perspective? What message does that perspective character want to share with the reader? Does the perspective character use a specific dialect or style?
  • What is the major theme of the story? What motifs do you use to communicate that theme? How do your characters show theme or motifs in action? Does any single character embody the major theme? How will the reader know?

And you’ll think about all these questions and more without writing a single thing down. Okay, okay — record a voice note if you have to. But the point is to allow the story to simmer, to pull out and enhance all those flavors, and to understand the story you’re cooking so you (and your readers) know what to expect from the moment you take that first bite to the last, scraped-off-the-bowl taste.

Thinking about all these questions allows you to re-envision the story before you sit down to revise. By the time you crack open that manuscript or access that file your spouse or friend definitely did not lose the encryption key for, you should have a solid understanding of the breadth and depth of your story. And you’ll be that much more equipped to see where in your story you need to go deeper to show readers that depth, or expand to deliver that breadth.

Here are some articles from this week’s advice feed that may help you think about your revisions:

So, what’s your favorite revision method? Are you a tuck-it-in-the-drawer type? An encrypted-file sort? A chuck-it-in-the-bin-and-start-afresh chaos agent? Let me know in the comments and share your methods with others who may need that support.

Happy writing!

<3 Fal

Want More?

Of course you do, you go-getter, you. Here are all the other pieces of advice Maria collected this week. Peruse, choose, and use at will.

Productivity Advice
More Craft Advice
Business Advice

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Fallon Clark is a Vermont-based manuscript development coach and editor serving fiction and creative non-fiction authors. Her writing has been published in Flash Fiction Magazine. Check out her website, FallonEdits.com, or connect with her on LinkedIn or Substack.

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