Writer Wednesdays

Writer Wednesday: Revising A Story

In a perfect world, writers would produce flawless first drafts with no need for editing. In this world, I’d also be married to Selena Gomez, my children would always be on their best behavior, and my bank account would put the US Treasury to shame.

Obviously, this is not reality. Editing is a part of writing, no matter how frustrating it can be. In fact, I would argue it is the most important part of writing. Anyone can put words on paper. Developing those words through editing is what separates being a writer from getting published.

For this post, I want to talk about my own editing process. There’s a lot to discuss when it comes to editing, and I don’t want you to think this is the entire summation of the subject. Instead, it’s insight into one writer’s process that has grown over time and proven to be successful in putting out quality stories. 

All edits start with a story. You have to write something to be able to edit it. Right now, I have over a hundred pieces sitting in my “waiting to start editing” folder, and about thirty more in various stages of the process. Of that, I’ll probably finish editing two to three pieces every month.

A little math tells us that not everything I’ve written will get edited–my initial output greatly surpasses my ability to edit that output. But the first stage of editing for me is identifying a good story. 

What marks a good story can vary. It can be something that fits a call that I want to submit to, something that tickles my fancy, or just the overwhelming sense that I need to do something, so I pick something and get to work.

Once I’ve identified what I’m going to edit, I start with a complete rewrite. This is a recent addition to my editing process, but one that has made an immeasurable difference. My prose reads more smoothly after a rewrite–it grinds off the burrs. It also helps me identify problem sections that will need some developmental work, and often I can address them as I rewrite, saving time later.

When my rewrite is complete, I move on to story development. This process usually begins by showing the piece to a critique partner. 

You might be thinking, “You actually show something unfinished to someone else?” 

Yes. This isn’t just anyone, it’s a fellow writer who I trust to look at my story and identify problem areas that need improvement. It helps my story to put it outside of my own mind and see what an actual reader thinks it needs early in the process. 

Once I get it back from my critique partner, I continue working on developmental editing. What I mean by this is big picture edits–story and plot points, making characters stronger, and any major additions or cuts.

When I’m satisfied with the story, I move on to polishing the piece. For me, this is a combination of line editing and proofreading, making each sentence as strong as it can be to help keep the story moving. 

Both of these stages get easier with practice. I’ve produced stories that have been ready for publishing with minimal edits. I’ve also had stories that have taken up to ten rounds of revision before I was ready to send them into the world. Editing isn’t an assembly line. It’s crafting the best story you can from the material you have to work with. 

Most of the time, editing requires at least a month of putting the story aside and coming back to it with fresh eyes. This doesn’t mean I’m doing nothing while I wait–I’m writing, editing other pieces, etc. It just gives the piece room to mellow and ferment, and lets me come back with new eyes to see something I might have missed before.

Can I do it faster? Sure. One of my own favorite stories, “One Last Christmas,” was written, edited, and submitted in four days to meet a deadline. 

But the process is the important thing, not the timeline. Even with the speed I got “One Last Christmas” out, I still had multiple sets of eyes on it to critique it (more than usual, because of how quickly I was working). I still stepped away from it often so I could come back to it with fresh eyes. I still worked it from idea to development to polishing. I trusted the process I had built, and the end result was the same as if I’d spent months on it.

And that, more than anything, is what I want you to take away from this post. If you build a process that works for you, that allows you to put out quality pieces, you’re doing pretty damn good.

It took years for me to figure out my process, and it continues to evolve. Hopefully, with some of the ideas here, you’ll get yours nailed down a little sooner.

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