revising vs. editing

I’ve mentioned the joy of revisions before, but I didn’t take the time in that post to differentiate between revising and editing.

edit, verb. To prepare (written material) for publication by correcting, condensing, or otherwise modifying it.

revise, verb. To implement a change or a set of changes that corrects or improves something.

At first glance, they don’t look that different. However, when it comes to writing fiction, they describe two different worlds.

When you edit, you’re fixing sentence structure, improving word choice, changing or updating punctuation, and a myriad of other issues that come up when you’re trying to follow, say, the Chicago Manual of Style. You’re fine-tuning a fairly solid product, like washing or waxing a car.

When you revise, you’re getting under the hood. You might do something as small as replacing an air filter or undertake a massive project like replacing the entire engine. But you’re looking at story elements far more than how you’re using grammar and punctuation rules to tell that story. You’re hunting for character motivations, plot holes, POV (in)consistencies, details large and small that are integral to the reader’s perception of the individual scene or the story as a whole.

Sometimes revising breaks more than it fixes. Like you need to replace the heater core, but to get to it you have to take out the entire dashboard, and then putting that back together breaks other things.

Or you find a hose just about to burst by fiddling with the radiator. (I could make car analogies all day.)

The key thing to understand is that revising is hard, greasy, dirty, frustrating, sweaty, sometimes even bloody work. You might injure yourself along the way (figuratively speaking). You’ll step back during the revision process and wonder if you’ll ever get the damn thing back together in any sort of running shape. This is fine. This is normal.

Keep a pre-revision version of your MS handy. Get in there and fix what needs to be fixed. Step back and let it sit for a few hours or days (or weeks if you can). If you find a spot that’s being stubborn, that doesn’t want to be fixed, leave yourself some notes and come back to it later.

Pace yourself. Give yourself breaks. Enjoy a glass of wine or a run or a movie or something else that distracts you from your revisions. Don’t expect to revise everything overnight. Create a checklist, a to-do list, or a priority list, something that highlights the most important things to revise and the ones that aren’t so important. Reward yourself for getting items checked off those lists.

When you finally get that engine running again, it’ll purr, and you’ll realize the entire process was worth it. And you’ll become a better writer for it.


struggling to find balance

Today I woke from a dream in which I (the professor) found myself in my classroom with a bunch of expectant faces and realized that not only had I not finished grading their homework, I hadn’t even started putting together the exam that apparently I was giving that day.

Yeah, the student nightmares of sleeping through a test don’t end when you find yourself on the other side. They simply become different beasts.

But that made me think about all the things I’m doing “wrong” right now as a professor. I could be focusing more on research manuscripts (the journal articles we write–and revise–for publication that are extremely important for peer reviewing our research, getting our research out there, and getting tenure). I could be focusing more on the classes I’m teaching this semester and next semester. I could be focusing more on research proposals (large bodies of preliminary work we compress into a few pages to ask funding agencies for research money–lots of rejections there too–that tend to only get finished and published if we get funded). I could be focusing more on learning the ins and outs of administration in my department and at higher levels so that I have a better sense of what I can and can’t do as a student advisor, as a researcher, and as a teacher.

I’m doing those things during the work week, but I could be putting more effort into them (my nights and/or weekends). Where is that effort going right now?


Writing for audiences I don’t have, hoping for an agent I don’t yet have, struggling with doubts and insecurities I always will have (unless I get over some of them I HOPE I GET OVER SOME OF THEM).

I’m also doing a lot of waiting. Waiting for feedback from critique partners and beta readers who do have my book. Now, I am so freaking grateful for these people. I can’t stress this enough. They’re taking up their free time to read my words and respond to them. They have lives, jobs, deadlines, so many distractions aside from my little MS. They have no obligation to do this, and all I can give in return is my undying thanks as well as feedback on any writing of theirs they ask me to read.

That doesn’t make the waiting easier when you’re wondering why you do this in the first place. I feel like a mediocre professor and a mediocre writer right now. You’d think I’d focus on being a professor–the job that pays–and give up on writing for a while.

But dammit, I’m greedy. I want to do both. I want to be good at both. Right now, though, I’m struggling with the how.

Considering the fact that I schedule my work days, it might be time to schedule my writing time and my non-work-day research time too. Except I need to be willing to try schedules and watch them fail and change them based on what worked and what didn’t. And failure is exhausting. Picking yourself back up from failure is exhausting.

If you have any tips on picking yourself up from failure, I’m all ears.

the joy of revisions

Revisions can be fun!

Yeah, I said it.

My Pitch Wars mentor gave me some stellar feedback on my manuscript. She put name and face to the things I sensed were wrong but couldn’t identify. And her questions gave me an avalanche of ideas.

One little thought led to another to another and suddenly I struggled to hold myself upright.

It was AWESOME. It still is.

I’m falling in love with my characters again. I’m loving the relationship between the two leads. They’ll say funny things to each other, they’ll say things they regret, and they’ll say things that mean the world.

I’m giving my queer MC more agency. She’s reaching out and claiming the opportunities that come her way rather than bracing for waves as they hit her. Other opportunities she creates herself.

It’s becoming a better book.

Dear IWSG friends, don’t be afraid of revisions. Embrace them. Yes, buckle down and write that first draft. Then give yourselves the freedom–and the space–to tackle what doesn’t work. To improve it. To transform it into the best possible version of itself.

As the incomparable Victora Schwab said: