The Heart of Revision: Finding Your Own Answers

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I’ve written before about revising based on critiques and editorial letters covering both the emotional upheaval and the how-tos.

You’d think I’d know what I’m doing by now.
But each revision brings challenges. I’ve been struggling through the line edits on my manuscript and I’ve found them to be of three general types:

Clarity. My original wording is unclear. The line edit added clarity. These, I keep or modify even further to make sure I’m clear. Writing is the act of putting something on paper that reproduces a thought EXACTLY in the reader’s mind. That’s makes clarity the first goal of all writing. Otherwise, the communication fails.

Technical issues. This might include subject-verb agreement, verb tense, etc. I’ll almost always do this.

Matters of choice. Some edits however, just seem to be a matter of personal preference. Which way would you say this?

  • It was like a dolphin’s tail.
  • It was akin to a dolphin’s tail.

Both versions are clear; there are no technical issues. On line edits like this, I do what I want. Or more specifically, I look at the surrounding text and ask myself, “Would I write that? Is that my voice?”

I won’t accept any line edits that change my voice or try to force it into other paths. I’m not foolish: I consider the edit because maybe I was lazy when I wrote this paragraph and I wasn’t thinking of the best choices. Often, however, it’s how the editor would have phrased it and it’s not my voice. No go. I won’t change that.

Line edits, then, take time. You must consider each one in turn and decide to keep it, modify it even more, or reject it.

And that’s the problem right now. I’m bogged down in line edits. Talking with a friend, she said it a different way: you need to re-read the editorial letter at different points in the revision.

Editorial letter. Oh, yeah. That. There is a long editorial letter that addresses overall issues of plot, characterization, pacing, and backstory. THAT is what I really wanted to focus on for this revision. Instead, I’m just tediously going through line edits.

Revision is a combination of micro and macro. You must go deep into the words and sentences used to tell the story–the line editing. But at the same time, you must pull back and take a wider view. I’ve been lost in the details for the past week. My plan for this week is to reread the editorial letter and choose a couple major issues to focus my writing efforts.

But even on the major issues raised in an editorial letter, I’m not likely to agree with the editor on everything. One thing a writer brings to a novel is a unique sense of what makes a story. There are no rights and wrongs in this business, only opinions. My sense of Story (with a capital S) is different from the editor’s sense of Story.

Seldom do I do EXACTLY what a revision letter details. Instead, I read the editor’s thoughts with an eye toward understanding the heart of the issues raised. Then, make revisions based on that. It’s the difference between mechanically following a set of directions and understanding why those directions were given. Don’t blindly follow your editor’s advice: Go to the heart of the issues raised and find your own answers.

Do you struggle with going from micro to macro levels of revision?

OwnAnswers

2 Comments
  • David H. Safford
    October 5, 2015

    I have to force myself to ignore the micro when performing macro edits.

    One way I satisfy my OCD is I make a list of corrections to do in a separate document – an “Edits” document, like “Chap 5 Edits” – and feel satisfied that the micro will, in turn, get done.

    But how many of these micro mistakes will actually remain AFTER the macro? An entire chapter or scene could be rewritten by that point!

    When we remember that macro trumps micro, and performing micro edits may actually be time in the trash, we can leave our OCD at the door (partially, at least) and focus on what matters most.

    Great post!

  • Darcy Pattison
    October 9, 2015

    David:
    You’re so right. The smart way to work is to do macro edits first, and THEN turn to micro. Sounds like you have a good handle on a process that works for you.

    Darcy