Editing My Writing Journey

After the First Draft – the difference between an edit, revision and re-write

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

So, I finished the first draft of Divided Elements last month. And, no, I didn’t celebrate. Which surprised me, because after a year of slaving away to beat this story out of my psyche, I was all kinds of ready to celebrate. But, when you are faced with the final product in all its glory and with all of its flaws, you gain a new appreciation of the kind of work that is necessary to make your rough hewn story match your original vision. 

Looking over my first draft, and with the help of my critique group, I have learnt a lot about not only my story, but  also my identity as a writer. These lessons are the key driving forces guiding me into the next stage of my writing process – the rewrite.

Yes, I said re-write – not edit, not revision. Re-write.

What’s the difference? 

An edit is a review, assessment and amendment from a distance. Most edits are undertaken by an outsider – someone distanced enough from the project to view it objectively and offer insight into assumptions, oversights, gaps and flaws. Editing your own work is difficult, but possible – it requires distance from your own work (usually by letting the work ‘rest’ before you even glance at it again) and an approach from a position of understanding the excellence you seek to achiever (usually by reading awesome books by talented writers, gaining insight from industry players on what works, and getting your hands on all the right writing guides).

A revision is a tinkering at the edges. For me, it is the equivalent of a line edit or proofread – focussing on the finer, micro details and ignoring the larger structure (even if it riddled with flaws). Revisions are best left til the eleventh hour, once everything else has been fixed. No point fixing a paint chip if your entire chassis is structurally defective. Revisions that take place too early are usually a symptom of being too close to the work – you’re too attached, too biased, blind to your errors and issues. Not being able to see the forest for the trees is a real thing – it’s the whole Cameron Frye complex – you’re focusing on the dots and have lost sight of the picture. 

A re-write is the thing between an edit and revision – it needs to come from an intimate and personal place that only the writer knows, it needs to be infused with their voice and their vision and, yet, it needs to be focused on the bigger picture – the structural elements of plot, character and theme. Re-writes mimic the first draft approach and typically benefit from lots of thinking and (if you’re a plotter) lots of outlining. But, unlike the first draft, it benefits from what has come before and the insight that brings – a fuller exploration of your ideas and a more informed gut instinct of whether it is working (in its individual parts and as a whole).

Over the next few months, I’ll be sharing my experiences with my  novel ‘cut and polish’ and, hopefully, I’ll be able to turn this rough carbon allotrope into an FL (or at least a VS1)… 🙂


Image courtesy of Steve Jurvetson via Flickr Creative Commons

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