Creative Writing and Revising: Rewriting, Editing, and Proofreading
Writing is revising.
I’ve heard many authors make this statement in various ways: writing is rewriting, writing is polishing, writing is proofreading and editing.
The gist is that the bulk of work happens after the first draft. That is, once you’ve gotten your ideas down, the real craft of writing is making your work clear and presentable.
One could argue that this means when the creative writing is done, the more mechanical process of polishing begins.
Discovery writing is a popular technique among writers. You turn off your inner editor and let the words flow, typos and all. You focus is on getting your ideas out of your head and onto the page.
This allows you to stream your thoughts more freely. Instead of worrying about word choice, paragraph structure, and grammar, you just concentrate on what you want to say. Not all writers use this technique, but many writers find that any other technique actually spoils the fun of writing. For example, if you know how your story is going to end, why bother writing it at all? Even with nonfiction writing, you may not fully understand your own feelings on any given topic until you’ve written your way through it.
Once you get all those creative writing ideas out of your head, revision becomes critical. You may find that you spend more time revising than you did drafting. Even writers who approach their first drafts with their inner editors turned on find that revision is essential.
Revisions: Rewriting, Proofreading, and Editing
Revision is all about change. More specifically, it’s about making changes that improve our work. Rewriting, proofreading, and editing are all revision methods. Each has a specific function.
Rewriting is the process of making deep, contextual changes to a piece of written work. When you’re rewriting a novel, you might turn a leading character into a sidekick. You might move the setting from one city to another. You may go through and change the tone of the narrative; in fact, you might even switch the point of view from first person to third person. Rewriting is done by the author, although in some cases, editors will do some rewriting.
Editing may deal loosely with context but its true focus is on readability. Are the best word choices made? Do the sentences make sense? Are the paragraphs well organized? Does the work read smoothly and effortlessly? The primary purpose of editing is the make the work ready for a readership.
With many publishing models, there is a step after editing and before proofreading in which the text is reviewed and adjusted for formatting. This is called copy editing.
Proofreading is limited to checking for correctness. Proofreading focuses on grammar, spelling, and punctuation (including typos and syntax).
Overlaps in the Revision Process
There are a lot of gray areas between these various steps in the revision process. An editor might do some light rewriting and a copy editor might fix some grammatical mistakes. If you have an agent, he or she may get in on the fun and recommend some revisions before sending your book out to publishing houses. As you’re rewriting, you will likely fix typos and make adjustments to the syntax. In other words, agents edit, editors proofread, and you, as the author, will do all of these things.
It takes a village, right?
If you’ve written a book or are thinking about writing a book, it’s smart to think about how you’re going to handle your own revision process. You might think you can write a novel over the coarse of eight or nine months, but then how long is it going to take you to do your revisions? Will you hire an editor or a proofreader to help you clean up the text before you shop it around?
Where Do You Stand?
Self-published writers are under fire for poor editing. It’s not unusual to read reviews of self-published works that say the story’s good but there were typos on every page. Meanwhile, traditional publishers are reportedly pulling back on editing and proofreading. They are struggling with the poor economy and massive changes within their industry; their staffs are overworked and as a result, books aren’t edited as thoroughly as they used to be (as a reader, I can report that I see far more typos in newly published works than with books published ten or twenty years ago).
When all is said and done and a book becomes available for sale, it’s the writer’s name that appears on the cover. It is the writer who will bear the criticism, whether it addresses the quality of the content or the professionalism of the copy. As a writer, part of your job is to think about how revisions mold your creative writing into a professionally polished, published piece of work that is ready for readers.
What’s your revision process? How do you feel about typos and other mistakes in published books that you’ve read? How much time do you spend proofreading and editing your own work? Do you separate creative writing from the more mechanical processes of editing and proofreading? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.