Monday, July 25, 2011

The Difference Between Revising and Editing

Week of July 24—Revision Strategies that Work!
Monday, July 25—The Difference Between Revising and Editing

Some of you know that for many years I worked as an editor and editorial manager for a major religious publishing company. That’s when I learned there are different kinds of editors who do different kinds of work. I would call the editors who might buy your book the substantive editors (not an industry term). They deal with substance—ideas, concepts, acquisitions, budgets, design, and revision. Somewhere else in the company (and usually lower down the totem pole of responsibility and pay, unfortunately) are copy editors who deal with grammar, punctuation, word choice, and the like.

Most “substantive editors” expect that a manuscript they receive will not have big issues with editing. (If it does, you’re dead in the water. Few editors read beyond a misspelled word, a poorly punctuated phrase, or a paragraph where the writer doesn’t seem to know the difference between there, their, and they’re.)

As a writer wanting to sell a piece and have it published, you have to be your own editor and reviser. So what’s the difference between editing and revising? In the most basic terms, editing deals with the conventions of writing and revision deals with the art of writing and the meat of the story. The bottom line is that you have to insure that your manuscript is as stellar as you can make it. Here’s how Georgia Heard distinguishes between editing and revising:

Revision involves changing the meaning, content, structure, or style of a piece of writing rather than the mere surface changes that editing demands . . . and (revision) occurs throughout the writing process.

—Georgia Heard, The Revision Toolbox, p. 1
Revision and editing don’t just happen when you complete a draft. They happen throughout the entire writing process.

From my work as a writer I know that revision is more than a stage in a four- or five- or seven-step process, it is the source of the entire process.

Barry Lane, After the End, p. 5

Since a poorly edited manuscript can stop you before you get started, let’s look at simple editing strategies. The four most essential things to look for when editing are:

Word usage/Grammar

Most word processing software programs will do the basics for you by highlighting misspelled words (sometimes even changing them automatically), underlining a sentence where the grammar or punctuation isn’t working, or by questioning a word that does not seem correct. But as a writer, you cannot rely on a software program alone. (After all, who’s the author, you or Bill Gates?) You have to build an arsenal of editing tools. Some resources you can consult include:

·  Grammar and style guides
·  Dictionaries and thesauruses
·  Google searches for specific questions

After I have a manuscript in good shape, I always print out a hard copy. And I use a simple little tool to help me focus on each of the “Big Four” listed above. Below is a photo of my EDIT IT! sheet. (In my classroom I have multiple copies of the sheet laminated for students to use as needed.)

I choose which side to begin with—let’s say SPELLING—and I lay the sheet so the word SPELLING on my sheet is horizontal below the first line of text. Then I read one manuscript line at a time, sliding the sheet down as I go. This forces me to think and focus solely on spelling and make corrections as needed on the hard copy. (If you discover another issue needing correction that doesn’t pertain to spelling, by all means change that, too. Then get back on your single-minded focus.) After making the first pass through the manuscript, I turn the sheet to another focus (perhaps PUNCTUATION) and I repeat the process. I continue until I’ve made four passes through the manuscript, each with a distinct purpose.

Ok, it’s a bit A-R, I’ll admit. But you’ll be surprised at what you find and correct. And if you don’t find anything, your mind can rest assured that editorially your manuscript is in good shape.

Simple, but effective. You can take my word on that!

It’s Your Turn!
1. Make your own EDIT IT! sheet and use it ASAP!


JR said...

Excellent idea, Rob! I like this specific sheet and I'm going to give it a try. Thanks and keep up the great posts.

Rob Sanders said...

Thanks, Jackie! Go forth and edit!

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