When my wonderful friend and writer, Nancy Burke, was speaking recently about her fast-paced newly published novel, Only the Women are Burning (stay tuned!), she made a helpful distinction between editing and revising. As a gifted author and teacher, she’s right on target (https://www.
Editing as she described it, is vital to a high-quality end product and makes a huge difference in readability: it involves tightening text, ensuring clarity, rearranging, and, ultimately, copy editing. Revising involves a deeper dive into a text’s content and meaning, and can require major surgery.
To my mind, revising is about playing. Now some writers love revising! Joyce Carol Oates, for example. And I just heard children’s writer Karen Cushman says that getting a first draft down in tough, but that she enjoys revising.
If you’re a reluctant reviser, here are ways to approach revising more playfully:
Think re-envisioning: In a way, revising is all about coming up with a new “vision” of your work — teasing out themes that emerged in a draft, building up characters that are crying out to be heard, restructuring so that the central problem and through line of your tale are clearer. See revising as a chance to deepen and enrich your story — as a chance to mine the hidden gold you didn’t even know was
there when you wrote your draft.
Think layering: Getting a first draft down on paper is a little like creating the skeleton, the bones of your story. In revising, you flesh out what’s on the page. Revising gives you the chance to add layers, to enrich and enliven what you’ve written. You can give key characters stronger desires and demons, and make minor characters more real and
essential. You can add emotional energy to your settings and description — and make them more integral to the mood you’re creating.
Think dialogue drama: Revising lets you play with dialogue and make sure it sparkles. You can take a dialogue pass through your entire text, approaching it in isolation and making sure that it ratchets up tension, reveals character, and sounds realistic.
Think break it down and pump it up: Revising allows you to make sure that your story’s pacing and plotting are spot-on. You can analyze chunks of your story and make sure the pieces fit together like a puzzle. You can also pump up the drama and action in places where your story sags.
As many writers have said, writing is rewriting. So let’s bring some play to our day as we all write on!