Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Revision and Self-Editing--A Necessary Evil

This is the perfect poster to emphasize today's subject. Revision and self-editing. When you read an exceptionally beautiful poem or a novel filled with outstanding prose and an intriguing plot, rest assured it was not that way when the first draft was written. 

Rare is the writer who comes up with the perfect piece on the first go-round. Authors, Rennie Browne and Dave King have written a book on self-editing that I think is one of the best on the subject. It's been a good resource for quite a few years but is still current enough for today's writers. There is a second edition as well as the original. If you don't want to purchase the book, try your library or library interloan service. I think once you've gone through the book, cover to cover, you'll see the benefit of owning it. 

My number one tip for revising and self-editing your work is to never do it as soon as you've finished the first draft. You'll be looking through rose-colored glasses at that point. Put it aside for a few days, even longer, then read it. Beleive me, you'll see an entirely different piece of writing at that point. The problems will be noted as easily as if there were red flags waving at you. Let the piece simmer on the back burner before attempting a revision.

Only yesterday, I was going through some old stories when I ran across one I liked a lot but had never been able to sell. I hadn't read it for a long time so I was looking with fresh eyes. I still liked it but I suddenly saw what it lacked. Add a little dash of that and maybe it will be a go the next time I submit it somewhere. 

Self-editing can involve a lot of the small mechanical things while a revision can entail far more. Revision is going to deal with the substance of the story or creative nonfiction story. You may end up reversing paragraphs, omitting some and adding more to it. 

Should you do more than one self-edit or revision? That is entirely up to the writer. There are some writers who go back over and over again, seeking perfection. But there comes a time when you have to say that it's done. Don't beat your head against the writing wall with multiple revisions and edits. Do it once, twice if you must and send it out. I fear that more than that and you might lose what started out to be a good story. Don't revise yourself into oblivion. 

Make a checklist to use when editing your work. Keep it handy and refer to it when you think you're finished. If you use it long enough, it will become automatic and you won't need that physical list. It will be etched into your brain. 

Taking time to revise and self-edit will be well worth the time and effort. It's not what we enjoy doing, it's one of those necessary evils in our writing world that will pay off.

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