Sunday, June 22, 2014

Editing vs. Revising DEATHMATCH

When people ask me to “edit” their work, I often think, “I don’t think that word means what you think it means.” (Ah, I love that movie!)

In the writing world, “revising,” “editing,” “critiquing” and “proofreading” are broad terms with several sub-categories that involve different levels of time commitment. They also involve different levels of financial investment.

Yeah. Just like going to the dentist, getting a filling is a whole different level of coverage on your dental plan than getting a crown. And I don’t mean a sapphire and diamond one. That would be a grill and a topic for another post. (You don’t know what a dental grill is? Look it up. Bling city. And how do you talk with one of those in your mouth, dude?)

So for those of you who are already gurus in the field of “I know this, you’re boring me, what’s the point of me reading further?” please, hang with me, okay? I do have a revisionist point to make. Skim if you must.

As stated in this VERY clear PDF from Clarion University, revising is a “re-visioning” of your piece into a better and more readable form. This is step one. This includes changing the order of sentences, paragraphs, and chapters, changing characters, changing plotlines, changing scenes, and (small scream) totally deleting old passages and rewriting them. Or leaving them out altogether.

In other words: revision is hack and slash galore. If you don’t see blood and guts of your story hanging off your word processor screen, you’re not doing it right.

Editing, however, is synchronizing your style, analyzing word choices, focusing on readability, clarity of thought, things like that. Even though some people chunk this with proofreading, I see it as a separate function. MHO. Middlebury College agrees with me:

Editing, my friends, is plastic surgery. After the main violence passes, you sew up the wounds, set the broken bones, and start rehab.

Critiquing can be done by a singular individual, someone who can give an opinion on marketability, clarity, continuity, etc., but most often critiquing is done by a group of (trusted) friends who know how to point out additional errors for you to go back and revise and/or edit.

Critiquing can sometimes lead back to the violence of the revision war or merely back to the operation table for a nose job, but just because someone wants to hack up your work doesn’t mean they’re right. You and only you know if a comment is on target. Here’s a hint, though: the amount of anger you feel is often in direct proportion to how right they are. Which means, if they get your goat, there’s a goat to be gotten SOMEWHERE. They may not have the right solution, but they might have hit on the spot to fix SOMETHING. Watch those goats. They can be cursed!

The very last step, proofreading, is correcting grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Middlebury College agrees it should be the last step. (See link above.)

Proofreading is makeup. Coif your hair, file and paint your nails, a little shave or wax for the ladies, a little manscaping for the guys (if you’re into that sort of thing, otherwise, just take a shower.) Don’t get me wrong. Grammar, spelling, and punctuation are ESSENTIAL to clarity and understanding, but they’re the window dressing to great writing. If you don’t have great writing, great grammar, spelling, and punctuation mean nothing.

If you’re curious there’s a website that lists the current average rate for various types of editing and revising services:

These are all things I’m asked to do as a freelance editor. I read, I give my opinion, and then the author...well...responds to my comments in a variety of ways. Few of them include the words, “” (Ah, I love that movie!)

So where’s the controversy? The revision? The crazy question?

I’ve heard many writers say the establishment has set arbitrary rules that writers need to break so their style can shine through. (Check out Origins of the Specious:Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language by: Patricia T. O’Connor) Some say that many editors and agents are too indoctrinated with the rules of the establishment to allow anything new or innovative into the world of writing. Can’t a writer simply write in his or her own style, in any way he or she chooses, and publish? And be successful? In fact, why would you need an editor at all with spelling and grammar check in most word processors? At most you’d need would be a few beta readers to check to make sure you didn’t change Lola to Bethany in Chapter 7, right? I’d love to hear your opinions and see a discussion on this topic!

Editing vs. Revising Deathmatch. It’s all-out war, ladies and gentlemen, but who are we fighting?

Yet another rare dish served cold for your revision delight.


Next main course on Revision is a Dish Best Served Cold: 

An interview with Margot Dill (Editor 911) about her new book 

Also look for my articles on Walrus Publishing’s website. 

Like Ghost Stories? I’m published in Rocking Horse Publishing’s Spirits of St. Louis: Missouri Ghost Stories. Check it out!