Monday, October 25, 2010

Edits are NOT Revisions

What I'm reading: Slim to None, by Taylor Smith

Our upstairs has been fully renovated. For the most part, we were 'editing' what was already here. Replacing cabinets with new cabinets, flooring with new flooring, appliances with new appliances. But now, we're looking into remodeling the basement. Down there, we'll be revising. The exterior walls will remain the same, but inside, new walls will go up, doors will be relocated, the laundry room will move to a new location.

As I mentioned last week, I was working on revisions per my agent's suggestions. She offered copy edits, but then asked for revisions.

The writing process goes through countless phases. There's the initial writing—whether you're plotting things out in advance, flying by the seat of your pants into the mist, or a combination. Eventually, you'll get to "The End."

Maybe you're the sort who likes feedback along the way, and you weigh advice and edit as you go. Maybe you keep your work close to the chest, not being willing to share until the manuscript meets your personal standards of "suitably dressed to appear in public."

You've edited, polished, rewritten, repolished. You've checked for all those pesky weak verbs, overused words. You've passed it by your critique groups, your first reader, and asked your dog what he thinks.

Regardless of how you get there, eventually, you send the work out for the approval of that all-important professional. You may be querying to acquire an agent, or you may already have one. You may be submitting directly to an editor if they take unagented submissions. Now what?

If the stars are aligned properly, you might get a response that says, "I like this … but."
No matter how technically perfect your manuscript is, no matter how strong your voice, there's still no guarantee you'll get that contract offer.

Edits are easy—or at least they're obvious. A word is misspelled, your point of view might be shaky in spots, or your transitions are weak. Maybe your character started the day in slacks but ended up in a skirt. Or ate dinner twice. Fixing those sorts of problems is straightforward, and rarely requires more than some mechanics.

But what about when you get a request for revisions? Now you're in uncharted territory. You don't get those little squiggly lines on your manuscript, or comments, or suggestions in Track Changes. You get an email saying something like, "I'm having trouble keeping track of your main characters—they need to be more distinct." Or "The tone is too serious," or "The characters need to be kookier." And these comments are prefaced with, "What you have is good, but I don't think it's what the editor is looking for…"

How to fix it? There's no Search and Replace for "kookiness." No, now comes the time when you have to grit your teeth and think about tossing what you've already written (saving it in another file, of course) and rewriting those scenes virtually from scratch. You've got to have confidence that your writing is strong enough to start over, not try to patch what's already on the page. Some of your words are salvageable, but trying to write around them ends up creating a repair job. But if my basement will work better with the doors in different places, and the laundry room somewhere else, then I don't want to repair, I want to remodel.

Will my revisions meet the agent's expectations? I'll be fretting about that one for a while.

Don't forget – you can now get When Danger Calls at the Kindle Store and Smashwords at the discounted price of $2.99. And you can download a sample at no charge from either site.

Tomorrow, my guest is Joyce Yarrow, who's going to tell us about her trip to Russia where she researched her novel. See you here.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I'm sure your changes will meet the agent's expectations with no trouble! :) You're a pro at this. Thanks for a helpful post.

Anonymous said...

Good analysis. I always shy away from using the word 'edit' because it always feels as though I'm doing more than that. If it was as simple as taking out words and altering punctuation I'd be... published!

Thanks for sharing your experiences.

SJ Stone said...

It all comes down to how much revising needs to be done. Beefing up a scene or a dialog doesn't have to be hard. Revising a whole chapter -- that could be tough.

Terry Odell said...

Elizabeth - thanks. I sure hope so!

CharmedLassie - when you rip out two chapters, you can't really call it 'edting', can you?

r,w,r - Agreed. In this case, it's definitely rewriting, not beefing.

Maryannwrites said...

I am so glad you made the clarification between revising and editing. Sometimes the lines between the two may blur somewhat, but revising is definitely making more changes that edits.

Terry Odell said...

Maryann - so true. Compared to revisions, edits are a piece of cake.

Shawna Thomas said...

Great post! I love the construction comparison! I think we tend to use editing as a blanket term for any change to a "finished" manuscript!

Have a great day!

Caroline Clemmons said...

Great post, Terry. Revisions are the pits.

Keena Kincaid said...

Great post, Terry, and a cool way of looking at changes to our manuscripts. I love revising...not so much the editing, though.

Sherry Gloag said...

Thanks for this, Terry. My latest 'return' requires a major re-write, and reading your post has encouraged me to stop messing around and get down to it!
Thanks for the push I needed.

Penny Lockwood Ehrenkranz said...

Terry, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. As both an editor and a writer, I agree.

Terry Odell said...

Lynne - given all the work we've been having done on the house, it was an obvious analogy for me.

Caroline - I think they're scary, because you're working 'cold'

Keena - I don't mind doing edits. Broad revisions make me nervous--will it be good enough?

Sherry - go for it!

Penny - thanks for stopping by

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Terry,
Thanks you so much, that was a very informative blog. I always thought of edits as revision and revision as edits. Now I know better.



Wynter said...

Revisions can be tough but they are usually worth it. Having trust in the person who requested them is so important. And they are way more quiet than revisions to a house;-)

Terry Odell said...

Margaret - I wouldn't worry about what you call them as much as dealing with them!

Wynter - definitely quieter, except for moments of stomping around on hardwood floors.

Kester2 said...

A good topic, Terry. So far, with five novels through the edit to publish stage I've not had any messages to revise. My crit groups, on the other hand, are never so shy. Even when they don't want a revision, their responses (or lack of responses) tell me that some digging in the foundations is needed.

Chris H.

Terry Odell said...

Kester - my novels haven't required real revisions; they were all accepted "as is" with only edits. However, this project is only a proposal, and it's going somewhere entirely new, so I have to rely on the agent's knowledge of what the editor she's pitching it to will want.