Writing Tips: The Power of Rewriting

Revision is a passionless, cold, extraction of your beautiful thoughts, right? Not exactly. It’s more likely that revision will save you from yourself, as it’s saved my writing many times. There are, for the sake of brevity, two types of editing: line editing and content editing. I pride myself in the latter (and think it’s largely forgotten), line editing is a skill any writer can benefit from.

Content editing is first making sure the reader can follow the narrative. It is ensuring your plot is logical and native to what preceded it, while simultaneously adding or removing scenes from the story. I also include theme and other major literary elements within content editing as it provides layers to the narrative. Editing such literary devices can mean getting rid of phrases you loved while writing because it has no place in the tone of the story. It also includes reinforcing scenes with literary language to add emphasis.

Content editing is vital but line editing is even more so. This is what most people see as the lifeless destruction of a piece. Often times your first thought, those that often go onto the page, are half right. They have a sort of half-correct essence to them but they linger aimlessly. They don’t come with the finality of a revised thought. Some of this might be good in a given context, but if every sentence felt that way it would grow tiresome. In another sense line editing is also spell checking. It’s ensuring your paragraph contains a unit of thought and that the following paragraph has logical sense to the preceding one. If these are not edited, they will become a significant speed bump to the reader. Enough of these speed bumps (some readers only need one) and you lose the reader.

Editing is mentally taxing. I often find myself shirking it because of its difficulty. Without it though, my short stories would be a minefield. Rereading my stories fill me with immense doubt to the validity of the narrative. I regret writing entire passages or using a phrase the way I did. Its a burden a writer must bear because a story on the back of solid editing stands much taller than one without.

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36 thoughts on “Writing Tips: The Power of Rewriting

  1. Great insights with regard to editing. Funnily, I love to edit my own work. The struggle, for me, is the middle bit…when I’m running out of steam on finishing a first draft. It’s a sad little limbo. Once I’ve finished a first draft, I look forward immensely to editing and elevating the language, tweaking and polishing. I’m some sort of freak I guess!

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  2. I enjoy the editing process almost as much as the writing. Why? Because after the initial writing, I let it sit for a while. During the first write, I usually read it to my writer’s group and work out the general kinks. Then I set it aside for a few months. When I go at it again, it’s reliving the adventure all over again. There’s never anything major, just tweaks. I write so linear, I never have major issues with so called, re-writing. That only happened when I first started and didn’t have my stuff together. At least that’s how things work for me.

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  3. Austin, you say, “Rereading my stories fill me with immense doubt to the validity of the narrative. […] Its a burden a writer must bear because a story on the back of solid editing stands much taller than one without.”

    Content is an impossibly hard realm to deal with for the author for whom it is entirely subjective. It is where a few helpful readers can help – in the way I asked it of you. After all, I know the plot, where it’s going. A reader coming fresh to the book cannot.

    Accepting feedback from others is what many authors shrink from, to me it’s far more sensible to accept it from a friendly voice – than to be lambasted with harsh criticism online.

    In this respect, whilst line editing for grammar and sense is important, the content, the development of the plot is vastly more important.

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      • Read a story from memory and you won’t be thinking about the grammar. The need to edit grammar has only arisen out of a world where people read rather than listen. The right-brain thinking that deals with grammar could never lead to the formation of a real and interesting plot line.

        Thus the formation of a real and coherent plot is vastly more important than the details of a culture’s grammar. I will add that in Britain the apostrophe is a huge problem: too many people use the apostrophe in a plural, thus: apple’s. This arises out of the Saxon grammars, where this is correct grammar.

        One can have a plot for a story and write that story in any language one can speak, and in each case you will need to edit the story using a different system of grammar. This only means it is possible to read fluently in that particular language.

        The story is the same if spoken in Danish or German. The plot would be as flabby if the person edited the life out of the plot!

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        • This absolutely not how I read in the least. Grammar and the bending, morphing and of its rules is style. It’s what makes a run of the mill story stick out to something extraordinary. The is no masterpiece without style and therefore without proper editing and bending of style.

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      • Now, let’s get this straight: editing is for the formal grammar of our world.

        Bending the grammar is a creative act that is part of the content, not the line-editing.

        That’s one reason I don’t want a lone copy editor to come and straighten out all my deliberate grammatical errors… but as you know, it’s a fine line between expression and comprehension. But that in itself is part of the ‘content’.

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      • I come from a family of academics, who see grammar as something like Holy Writ.

        I agree with your point about editing, however, in employing the term in the way you do, you are editing creatively. The more creative you are, the more chaos you introduce into the formal, systematized world of formal grammar.

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  4. Pingback: Writing Tips: The Power of Rewriting — Writings By Ender | Arrowhead Freelance and Publishing

  5. Indeed, editing is sometimes like pulling a tooth that is decaying but not quite loose enough. Painful but absolutely necessary. Indeed, editing saves me from myself every time. Thanks

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  6. I found editing the most complicated and even irritating parts of creative writing. I’m impatient to finish and move forward to the next story/plot/character. The process of editing creates more doubts about the plot and the language (especially the language). It is easier for me to find and to correct mistakes and typos in a text which has been printed out then in an electronic document.

    By the way, thank you for following my blog:)))))

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  7. I work with students and edit for clients, and have been doing this for so long, the work mostly simply flows. Then I go through a second time to be sure I didn’t miss something. Of course I might refine additionally on further drafts if someone wants that, but it’s perfect enough for submission after two drafts–if the initial writing is pretty good despite glitches or certain categories of errors.

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  8. Pingback: Editing Your Work | Springfield Writers' Guild

  9. Your post speaks many truths on the subject of editing. It would seem I have no talent in the art of revising and editing, especially content editing. I seem to lack that awful, yet essential, inner critic. It definitely makes the revising process much more difficult. If you have any tips on editing I’d love to hear them!

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