by Allison Pang
This is a rather timely topic, seeing as I'm right in the middle of revision hell as we speak. And I should probably preface that a bit. It's self-revisions, as opposed to editorial revisions, so it means I have a little more flexibility than I might if I were staring at a revision letter.
My writing process tends to be a bit convoluted at times. Due to the panster nature, things often don't come to light plot-wise for me until the end of a draft. A lightbulb goes off and the last piece of the puzzle slides into place and then everything makes sense.
It's not always a particularly efficient way to write, but it's how I do it.
So what does that mean for editing vs revising?
Well, for one thing, I don't bother with basic editing - punctuation, spelling, sentence snipping and the like until I have a completely finished and revised draft. Sure, if I see something really out of place, I'll fix it, but otherwise, I leave searching for things like word echoes until the very end. Part of that is maybe being lazy, but in truth, since so much of my revision process involves rewriting or plot modifications, I consider it a waste of time to fix up the tiny things - there's a very good chance I'm going to cut it or move it or change it so much along the way that I'd just be doing extra work with no pay off.
In my current WIP, for example - I finished the dirty draft at 92k. That's okay, but it's also the shortest draft I've ever written. So many ideas and changes popped up along the way of writing it that I knew I'd have to make some additions. I printed out a hard copy and began to take stock of what I had. I tend to use sticky notes and highlighters and I look at the overall structure. Does it flow? Are chapters too long or too short? Are there too many instances of people standing around talking?
Once I've made my base notes, I start the revision process. Which in my case means I've added nearly 20k so far (and at the rate I'm going...quite possibly another 20k or so.) Once I have the additions and reworking done, I go through it again. This time I'm looking to cut - extra words, dialogue tags, sentences that maybe reference something I cut before - basically continuity and sentence massaging. At that point, I may send it out to beta readers to get some feedback, but it depends on if I have time for that, based on possible deadlines.
After line edits and incorporation of beta suggestions, it goes off to my agent or editor and I'm done...until I get an actual editorial letter.
A few years ago when I was all fresh and new at the professional writing gig, I was waiting on my edits for A Brush of Darkness. I'd actually started writing a Sliver of Shadow in the meantime - got 40k into it before my editor put the brakes on that. (Which was frustrating because I wanted to be productive and get my ducks lined up as early as I could.)
The reason? Her editorial revision letter for BoD was 26 singled spaced pages. I essentially had to gut the book and rewrite about 70% of it. (The overall plot stayed the same, but the mechanics? Oof. Yeah, they changed.)
She knew based on the number of changes she'd asked for that much of the second book would probably not work out - and she was right. And, in fact, writing that second book became that much more difficult, because I'd already had ideas and concepts rather firmly entrenched and it took me a while to wrap my brain around having to essentially scrap most of it. Wasted time, all the way around.
But here's the thing. As much as I try to fix up my writing and my story to the best of my ability, one of the hallmarks of being an author is flexibility - knowing when to stand your ground in the face of editorial requests vs taking an objective look at what is going to make your story better. Being told to clean up sentence structure is way different than being told you need to remove a character, and even if your knee-jerk reaction is to be "NO WAY!" that doesn't mean you shouldn't at least try to see the reasons behind the change request.
So like everything else, revisions and editing are about balance. It *is* possible to over-edit or over-revise. The key is being able to streamline your work without losing the components that make the story yours.