Editing vs. Revising: The Real Difference

Editing vs Revising: The Real Difference blog post via KLWightman.com
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You’ve reached the point in the writing process where it’s time to make some serious changes. Congratulations!

Editing vs. Revising: The Differences

Credit: littlepieceoftape.blogspot.com

Now it’s time to pick up that red pen and make some small and big alterations to your writing. This is called the editing process and the revision process.

Here’s where it gets confusing. The terms editing and revising are often used interchangeably. Even I’m guilty of doing that.

But there are key differences between editing and revising. I like to refer to this chart:

But I can also spell it out.

The Truth About Editing

Editing is about making the surface of the words nice and shiny. It’s like washing your car after driving across the country.

Editing means:

  • Capitalizing proper nouns such as names, places, titles and months
  • Correcting the use of nouns and verbs in sentences
  • Adding or removing punctuation such as periods, quotation marks, commas and apostrophes
  • Fixing misspelled words and awkward phrases
  • Deleting unnecessary words

The Truth About Revising

Revision takes editing beyond the surface level. Revising requires you to focus on the meaning of the words. To put it in another way, revising is like popping the hood on your car to see why it makes that funny noise.

Unlike the editing process, there are two levels to the revision process. That’s because, like a car, fixing that funny noise can lead to another leak you can’t see.

The first level of revising means:

  • Adding or removing sentences
  • Moving sentences or paragraphs to earlier or later in the writing
  • Improving transitions
  • Switching sentences from passive to active voice

The second level of the revising process focuses on the big picture of your writing. It’s about making sure that all the parts are in the right places and that it all flows coherently.

The second level of revising (for an essay or college paper) means:

  • Stating the thesis clearly
  • Ensuring all paragraphs support the thesis
  • Fact-checking all sources
  • Strengthening your argument
  • Interweaving arguments that challenge your thesis and disproving their views

The second level of revising (for a narrative) means:

So, Does Editing Or Revising Come First?

There’s a lot of debate on this subject. And the right answer hasn’t been established yet.

Here’s what I recommend: Start in reverse. Revise your writing by looking at the big picture. Then revise for sentence flow and order. Wrap it up with editing every letter and punctuation mark.

I find this way saves a lot of time. Why spend hours capitalizing words if you end up cutting out that entire paragraph tomorrow?

Sometimes, the editing and revising process overlaps. I often fix the spelling of a word or shift passive into active voice while I’m heightening the action of a scene.

Finding what works for you takes time as well as some trial and error. Even our processes can use some revising and editing.

What do you think the real difference is between revising and editing? Share your thoughts below.

Are We Overthinking Our Writing?

? + ! = Interrobang. That's how I feel about you overthinking your writing.
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? + ! = Interrobang. That's how I feel about you overthinking your writing.

 

As I write this, a beautiful golden retriever lays at my feet with her duck toy.

Yes, her name is Marnie. And no, she is not my dog.

Golden Retriever, or Why We Overthink Our Writing

Don’t you wish you could hang out with this pooch?

 

I am currently hanging out with her while her family volunteers at Leader Dogs for the Blind this afternoon. After a stroll down the block and a dog bowl feast, she is pooped.

Literally and figuratively.

“I’ll get a few things done before you’re ready to play again,” I said to Marnie.

She exhales through her nose.

But I made one tragic mistake before her family walked out the door: I forgot to ask for the WIFI password.

When it comes to crossing things off my to-do list, it’s amazing how depended I am on the Internet.

That only leaves one thing for me to do: Write this week’s blog post.

Lake + Golf Course, or Why We Overthink Our Writing

Isn’t this the perfect view for writing a blog post?

 

I had a great idea for a blog post, but I wanted to get a grasp on the subject matter before diving in—and that meant relying on the Internet.

(I understand that there are other ways of obtaining information, but I refuse to go to the library if it means leaving my new dog friend alone.)

So that means starting from scratch. How can I come up with an original idea without double-checking the search engines? How do I know that I’m right without fact-checking against other sources?

Once again, I am overthinking my writing. And that stops now.

Am I overthinking my writing?

The simple answer: Of course.

We all do this. We spend too much time worrying about if we conducted enough research to write, if we understand our characters enough to write, if we have imagined the scene or concept far enough to write.

But what’s enough? And what’s just too darn much?

When I was in high school, I always had big ideas for stories. I spent hours diagramming a character’s likes, dislikes, life history, insecurities, proud points, physical features…

…that I never picked up the pen and wrote the story.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s important to understand the depth of your characters just as it’s important to create a complex plot structure.

But if it’s keeping you from writing the story, then you’re overthinking your writing.

Why do we overthink our writing?

It’s usually because we don’t trust ourselves to get it right the first time. You doubt your writing talent to take hold of your vision and execute it.

And your intuition is correct: You will not get it right the first time.

I’m not insulting your writing skills. All writers—even the greatest ones—don’t get their story right the first time.

Because we’re not supposed to write flawlessly. Just because you don’t get all your ideas on paper today doesn’t mean that it will never make it into the story.

When you make time to write, it should be solely dedicated to writing, not editing as you go.

So, how do I stop overthinking my writing?

Just write.

Write down how you see the character right now, how you envision the environment right now, how you observe the dialogue and action right now. Write down how you see it in this moment.

It may change tomorrow or next week. You may need to do some serious editing and rewriting.

But that’s part of the craft and beauty of writing. Think of it as watching the behind-the-scenes extra footage of your story. You get to watch your story unfold and grow in a way your readers never experience.

And that’s just one of the many perks of being a writer.

So, do you overthink your writing? Share your story below.

What Traveling Does For Your Writing

Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, or what traveling does for writers
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Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, or what traveling does for writers

I had to get away.

See, after five weekends of cat-sitting, I was getting antsy. All my travel plans were shelved so that my friends could go off on exciting adventures across the country. The things I do to make a little extra dough.

Now it was my turn.

After feeding the cats an early breakfast and doting on their petting needs, I hit the road. These cats would want dinner, so I didn’t go too far. Just two hours away down windy roads and through hidden villages for my final destination: Tonto Natural Bridge State Park.

Not every adventure has to be thousands of miles away. But every writer needs an adventure.

Traveling may seem uncharacteristic for a writer to do. We writers are stereotyped as introvert homebodies who don’t travel farther than the local library or downtown café to sit hunched over our book or laptop screen.

That couldn’t be further from the truth.

While writers need solitude to write their masterpiece, we also crave adventure to craft it. If you’re on the fence about taking a trip near or far, consider these reasons about taking the leap—or the drive—towards adventure.

New Places, New Ideas

Creativity is finding ways to make connections between ideas. And sometimes you need a new idea to make a better connection.

What makes traveling so exciting is because something is new. You discover something new or learn something new or find something new—or you enjoy the newness of diverting from your usual routine.

This newness prompts us to ask questions—and we writers love to ask questions. That’s because questions are the start of the creative process. We’re not afraid to ask, “What can this newness bring to my writing?”

Live The Character Journey

At Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, my mission was to hike to the natural bridge.

My obstacles? Lots and lots of boulders.

Hiking to my destination meant jumping from one large rock to the next. And when I reached my destination, all my hard work was instantly justified.

If the trail was paved and the weather not a windy 40 degrees, then it wouldn’t have been an adventure. As the saying goes: It’s about the journey, not the destination.

Traveling shines light on these important character development questions:

  • What obstacles does you character need to overcome before reaching that destination?
  • How do these obstacles impact the character’s thoughts, actions, words and motivation?
  • How does your character feel once reaching that destination because of conquering those obstacles?

The Journey Has Risks

Beneath the natural bridge is a flowing creek. This makes the boulders slippery and worn away.

And this is where my trouble began.

My challenge was to get from my wet, polished boulder onto the next. I patted every inch of its slick surface, investigating all my options. I found that the most difficult solution was my only solution.

So I clung to that slippery, smooth rock with all ten fingers—until my one hand slipped. Now it was up to the strength of my one hand to keep me from dropping into the cold, rocky waters below.

It was close—but I made it. Then I remembered my cell phone was in my pocket.

It wasn’t a life or death situation, but a lot was at risk. If I dropped, I could have seriously injured myself. My food supplies would have become soggy and nonedible. And my cell phone would have suffered serious water damage.

Traveling is a reminder that tough choices have to be made. Things don’t always go as planned. The right choice is usually the hardest one to make.

Traveling verifies why we ask the tough plot questions when crafting a story:

  • What obstacles would really test the character’s motivation?
  • What other ways could the character conquer this challenge? Why does the character not choose these solutions?
  • How can the easiest solutions to the problem not be available to the character?
  • What needs to be at stake for the character to commit to this challenge?

How does traveling impact your writing? Share your story below.

What Most Writing MFA Programs Don’t Teach

What Most Writing MFA Programs Don’t Teach
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What Most Writing MFA Programs Don’t Teach

Credit: surrey.ac.uk

Getting into my Writing MFA program was one of the happiest moments in my life. I was accepted into my school of choice and I had the luxury of delaying the real world for another three years. I was finally going to become the writer I always wanted to be.

But did I?

Sure, now my writing style is refined. I know how to make sentences evoke strong actions as well as subtly convey foreshadowing. I can shape character development and recurring themes in my sleep.

However, there’s one thing that I didn’t learn. And it’s probably why I had to write my thesis three times in order to snag a diploma. It’s something so rare and yet so simple to teach.

Plot.

There wasn’t an option to take a Plot and Conflict Development class. There wasn’t a lecture on how to create a story arc. There wasn’t even a homework assignment on it to see where my storyline was weak.

In fact, plot was never discussed at all. Instructors always asked, “What happens next?” but they never explained the necessity of asking that question.

It wasn’t just my program. Even the most prestigious Writing MFA programs don’t dedicate a course to crafting a strong plot. There are a plethora of workshop sessions and literature courses as if you’ll learn the plot process through osmosis.

Some of my Writing MFA program courses tried to explain it.

In my Young Adult Fiction class, I was assigned to outline my proposed young adult novel from start to finish. But outlining a story without plot structure is like trying to solve a math problem without the formula.

My playwriting courses brought me closer. My instructor explained that a play was based on what characters want, what they’ll do to get it and how conflicting wants between characters creates—you guessed it—conflict. But that’s like saying that if you want to solve that math problem, you’ll need a calculator, a pencil and paper.

There’s still no formula on the table.

Is it because plot structure is a scientific way of breaking down a story? Are Writing MFA programs afraid to introduce science in a fine arts program? Do graduate writing programs think that left brain strategy destroys right brain creativity?

Or do instructors simply not know how to teach plot?

Whatever the reason, not knowing how to structure a story left me feeling helpless in grad school. It’s like refining every tool in the toolbox and throwing out the largest wrench from the shed. It’s like graduating with all but one skill that is the driving force for writing success.

Don’t worry. There’s a happy ending to this story.

I discovered the science behind plot and conflict development when I attended the Rochester Writers’ Conference in 2012. The keynote speaker explained not only how to create the physical plot of the story but also how to parallel the emotional plot with the story’s adventure.

My mind was blown.

Then, in 2014, I got to choose a book from the free books stack simply by signing up for the library’s summer reading program. And there on the shelf was The Plot Whisperer Workbook, a step-by-step guide to creating the plot all my stories craved.

Summer reading programs do change lives.

So, for the cost of a local writing conference and a free book, learning plot structure ended up being cheaper than taking a three-credit Writing MFA program course.

And, finally, my writing is back on course.

In next week’s blog post, I explain how to create a story arc through character development.

Did you learn plot structure in your Writing MFA program? Share your story below.

Is It A Story Or A Story Idea?

Is It A Story Or A Story Idea?
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Is It A Story Or A Story Idea?

Credit: churchsermonseriesideas.com

As I creative writer, I hear this often: “I have a story for you to write.”

“I’m listening,” I’ll say.

“It’s about a blind man who regains his sight, but then loses his hearing.”

“Then what happens?” I will ask.

“You tell me. Write it!”

But that’s not a story. I definitely appreciate the lead-in, but let’s call it what it is. A story idea. A writing prompt. A character.

So, what’s the difference? Let’s define it.

A story, in simple terms, is a narrative telling of connected events with a setting, characters and plot.

A story idea is a fragment of a story. It’s an idea for a character, a backdrop, a start of a sticky situation.

But what happens next? What happens to the character? What happens at this place? What complicates the situation? How is the plot resolved?

There’s nothing wrong with story ideas. The best stories were born from a story idea. The difference here is that the writer recognized that the story idea was, in fact, a story idea and took the time to grow it into a story.

Even the best of creative writing students mistake a story idea for a story. I know I did.

During my grad school years, I wanted to write a young adult novel about a teenage skater girl who gets sent to an all-girl Catholic school. I was so certain that I had a story that I plunged in and wrote several chapters. But by Chapter 5 and she still wasn’t at the all-girl Catholic school, I knew something was up.

I didn’t write her to be at the all-girl Catholic school because I didn’t know what would happen next. I didn’t take the time to see the big picture because I was so excited about one detail of the potential story.

That’s when I knew I only had a story idea, not a story.

Don’t worry. I was able to shape the first chapter into a short story.

That’s why I’m a big supporter of outlining a story. I agree that freewriting helps in the creative process of crafting the plot of the story, but we creative writers often believe that we’ll be able to write a perfect draft from start to finish without any hiccups simply by having a story idea.

But a story idea isn’t enough. Knowing what happens from start to finish as well as how the characters change and grow is.

At least, enough to know that you’re on the right path towards a story.

Do you agree that there’s a difference between a story and a story idea? Share your thoughts below.