Am I Editing, Revising, or Rewriting?

August 17, 2010 at 5:25 am (Editing, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Sometimes it is difficult to know.

What starts out as a simple search and destroy for typos can suddenly become a revision of a clumsy scene which can soon morph into an entire rewrite of an act of a novel. I think the problem here comes from not being able to focus on only one aspect of the writing at a time.

For me, I like to start with the big stuff and work my way down to the small. While I’ll correct typing errors as I see them and move punctuation that is truly being offensive, editing the nitty-gritty is kind of the last ditch run through, mostly because if I revise or rewrite I know I’m just going to put more errors into the text.

So I begin with the rewrites. I may stay in the rewriting stage for the rest of forever with some manuscripts. Rewrites, for me, are the massive changes. The adding characters, taking them out, changing direction entirely, cutting scenes, adding scenes, moving scenes. All of the things that give you a huge headache when it comes to checking for continuity errors and will usually have you rewriting chapter after chapter to accommodate the change you made way back in the beginning.

Then I revise. These are the more surgical changes. Adding an emphasis here, changing the wording of that exchange of dialogue there, altering a description in that chapter. Sometimes these have carry on effects but normally it is just tightening up the overall story that has already been rewritten (many times) and checked for continuity.

Then, should I have made it this far and not put the project aside, comes the editing.

Still, despite wanting to work from one layer down to the next, down to the next, I end up jumping back and forth between the three.

How does your process for revisions work?



  1. Agatha82 said,

    God, I get bored of only doing one at a time, something about my short attention span, so I have the bad habit of rewriting/revising/editing one page as I go along and then that takes FOREVER so I’ve been trying to do one thing first, then the next as you suggest and it’s working better. Right now, I’m just rewriting, by only concentrating on that, I’ve almost managed to put my entire manuscript in the right “order” as I had scenes happening too soon or too late and plot holes etc.

  2. Barb said,

    mmm, good question! I handwrite the first draft, so typing it in the computer already brings some “adjustments”. Then I have to re-read it for typos. Then I let it be for a few days or weeks (according to my personal deadline), or maybe send it out to a beta-reader. Then I go back to it with “fresh” eyes, and I don’t know if it’s editing, rewriting or what! Things move around, scenes are added… did I mention I write the bones first and then add the meat? At some point I get sick of it and move to the next piece! ๐Ÿ˜‰
    BTW, I gave you an award, so hop by my blog to pick it up when you can… oh, and I printed Death’s Daughter, now I have reading for my upcoming vacation! ๐Ÿ˜€

  3. Alex Willging said,

    Mine sounds like the reverse of your process. I’ll start looking for typos, missing words, and so on. Then I’ll examine it scene by scene, and then all in one read. Of course, a lot of my revision happens just when I’m writing notes before I even begin to write the story out, since I want a cohesive concept to emerge before I get into anything.

  4. Carol Ann Hoel said,

    I start on the first page, read, revise, move on. The earlier revisions were more radical, changing scenes, moving chapters, looking for continuity, structure, etc. At the end I refine the writing. I always start at the beginning and work through.

  5. Sevvy said,

    The same stuff usually happens to me. More often than not it’s because I’m running behind of when I need to send the story out to someone, so I end up doing all three in one big edit.

    When I do have the time, though, I try to do it in the same order you do. Like you said, when I’m revising, I’ll just be putting in more spelling and grammar mistakes anyway. But it is really hard not to notice everything little thing when you’re reading through a story.

  6. Hart said,

    I think you’re absolutely right that the big stuff OUGHT to come first. My problem is that I sometimes can’t SPOT the big stuff myself and I can’t bring myself to hand off anything to my writing partners until I clean up the worst offenders. So I do an edit (revising the glaring stuff) THEN I work from rewrite (moving whole scenes, deleting, adding) to revising (mostly word choice–more show, less tell) then I edit AGAIN.

    I hope as I go that I will get better at spotting the big stuff myself, because I know this route is more work.

  7. Lua said,

    Iโ€™m exactly that girl in your scenario- I begin with typos and end up rewriting the whole thing! ๐Ÿ™‚ But of course that is not an effective way to do a revision so Iโ€™ve made a list and Iโ€™m thing to do one thing at a time- check the adverbs, check the plot holes etc. Now I just have to stick to the list!

  8. Jonathan said,

    I’m not sure on the novel level. I’m on my third draft and have yet to revise an entire draft. I put aside the early drafts before I had finished reading because I didn’t want to revise something I was going to discard. The story was not strong enough in draft one or two. I suspect that this draft will allow me to revise in earnest.

    For short stories, I’m all over the place. I may try more a more systematic approach next time.

  9. Miss Rosemary said,

    I think I do all at once, if only because I get bored with myself if I have to keep going back for each individual piece, I get bored with myself and hop to a different story. Does this make the precess longer eventually? Maybe? But it’s how I roll.

  10. Jemi Fraser said,

    I tend to do some revisions during the first draft. If it doesn’t feel or flow right, I can’t get past it until I’ve fixed it. Then I pretty much follow the same process you mentioned. I try to go in order, but I do flip editing hats too ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. AlexJ said,

    I look for revisions and rewrites first, although typos will jump off the page at that time. I try to make a note of everything that needs changing, as it might slip by me the second time. Or I just forget!

  12. Casey Lybrand said,

    Right now, I’m looking at a lot of structural work on the first draft of my novel. I’m going to try to avoid making little changes while I’m working on the structure, but I know myself — I won’t be able to avoid it altogether.

    I also make notes while I’m writing of things I want to fix later. Making the notes helps me to keep writing: I can just keep going, and leave the mistakes for now. (Not typos, though. Those bug me when I notice them, even while I’m writing.)

  13. Am I Editing, Revising, or Rewriting? (via Cassandra Jade in the Realm) « My Literary Quest said,

    […] Sometimes it is difficult to know. What starts out as a simple search and destroy for typos can suddenly become a revision of a clumsy scene which can soon morph into an entire rewrite of an act of a novel. I think the problem here comes from not being able to focus on only one aspect of the writing at a time. For me, I like to start with the big stuff and work my way down to the small. While I'll correct typing errors as I see them and move punc … Read More […]

  14. Carol J. Garvin said,

    I do a fair bit of minor fixing as I write, but when I finally get to the end of that first draft I print it. After a couple weeks I read the printout right through with sticky notes and red pen in hand to mark everything from typos and punctuation to inconsistencies and scene inadequacies — anything at all that jumps out at me. Then I start revising… and revising… and revising. When I’m reasonably happy with the overall story I do another read-through to pick up any last typos. That’s when I’m finally ready to share it with beta readers and critiquers. After their responses come in I revise some more. For one novel I hired a professional editor and then revised even more.

    I love your “rest of forever” phrase! That’s exactly what it feels like. I’m often so tired of the story by this point that it’s hard to be objective. The story now seems lifeless and boring so it’s either time to stop tweaking and send it out on submission, or else abandon it on the shelf and move on to something new. Knowing which to do is difficult. I’m not a good judge of my own work.

  15. oldancestor said,

    For me, the first draft is a blitz. Just automatic writing until the novel is complete.

    Second draft is fleshing out the story.

    Third draft is moving chapters around and starting to look for typos and pacing flaws

    Fourth draft is fighting with those stubborn passages that I just can’t get right.

    Fifth draft is me realizing that if I can’t get something right, it doesn’t belong and I cut it.

    The remaining drafts are working out kinks, like running the edge of a credit card over a window cling until all the ripples are out.

    Then it’s time for a few other pairs of eyes to look at it, after which I fix the typos I missed.

    Then, just when I think I’m done, I panic and rewrite of the first chapter 47 times

  16. Stuff Around the Web « Steven K. Griffin said,

    […] Cassandra Jade:ย Am I Editing, Revising, or Rewriting? […]

  17. Cassandra Jade said,

    Thanks all for the great comments and sharing your processes. And thanks Steven for the link back.

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