We can all agree writing is a joy. It’s fun and many of us make our living doing it. But, there are parts of the publishing aspect that can be frustrating and difficult. Most of us find revision to be the most difficult hurdle. “I like it the way it is. Everything there is important and I don’t see anything that needs changing.” How many of us have approached the revision process with that mindset? I think we all have, at times. In other words, you are not alone.
Although I am an editor as well as a writer, I don’t find revising my work to be easy. However, I’ve collected tidbits of advice from several writers and editors. I’ve found them helpful, so I’m sharing them here:
- Revise big stuff first, make small edits later. This doesn’t mean you should not correct obvious typos and grammar errors as you notice them. However, you shouldn’t be actively tinkering with word choice until after you’ve nailed down the structure of your piece.
- Put the manuscript down and walk away. Writers need at least a little distance from their manuscripts before jumping into revision.
- Scan the whole manuscript without reading. Scanning can make big problems more obvious than a writer might not notice when reading closely.
- Read carefully. Take your time and read every word. Then, read it out loud. This will help you catch obvious errors and check for smoothness or the “flow.”
- Look for ways to be more concise with your language. Can you turn a 15-word sentence into an 8-word sentence? Can you turn an 8-sentence paragraph into a 5-sentence paragraph? Less almost always means more for the reader.
- Use active voice over passive voice. There may be occasions for using passive voice, but for the most part be active.
- Vary sentence structure. Don’t fall into the trap of always writing: Noun + Verb + Noun = Sentence. Even if it’s grammatically correct, using the same pattern over and over again will make your manuscript boring. Don’t feel like you have to be creative with every sentence; just check that you’re not falling into a monotonous pattern.
- Save each round of revisions as its own file. Start with the first draft. Then, the second draft. Then, the third draft and so on. Saving these files provides a record of your changes and shows your development of the story.
- Have someone read the manuscript. The more eyes the better, because they’ll be more objective when reading, and they’re less likely to make “leaps of logic” than you, the writer, might. It is always best to ask someone other than a relative, who naturally will be biased.
- Print the manuscript for a final edit. There are things you’ll catch on paper that you won’t on the screen.
Take your time with revision. Set it aside for a few days, a week if you have the time. Then return to the work with a fresh attitude. Save your revised version in a separate file. Be sure you have addressed all of the editor’s comments. Do not ignore them. If there are some changes that you don’t agree with, write the editor a note explaining why the revision called for will change the meaning of your work. It’s best not to take exception to more than one or two editorial changes. If you and the editor are far apart on the way the piece is written, you may wish to withdraw the work and resubmit to another publisher. That, of course, is beyond the topic at hand.
Revision is necessary to polish the work for the reader, and the reader should be foremost in your mind. If you use these revision tips, you’ll be ahead with your revision process and find the editor is not the ogre you imagined.