Writing Tips Series Part 2 of 3: “Clearing the Hurdles of Editing and Revision"

Author Mike Clemens highlights some of the writing pointers he's found most helpful in Part 2 of his three part Writing Tips Series.


    Having now transformed your , you must now face down the dreaded task of editing your work. This is the part of writing (whether you’re writing the Great American Novel or a research paper for your high school English class) that everyone hates. I happen to think that this hatred is misdirected.

   I am a firm believer that the most difficult part of the writing process lies in getting your ideas on paper. That is the step where you have to work through all the problems; Such as, putting in the effort to make connections between the separate parts of your masterpiece, making it all flow together and just managing the overwhelming desire to give up. If you have made it to the point where you’re ready to edit – congratulations, the most difficult times are behind you!

   That being said, editing and revision are not without their own challenges. Let’s discuss a few tips I have found helpful for editing my own work. Maybe they will work for you.

   (Oh, and if all that blabber about editing and such didn’t make any sense to you, it’s probably because you missed Part 1 of this three part series: “Tips to Turn Your Awesome Ideas into a Completed Draft.” You can access that article .)


1.  Be open to change.

    Sometimes your ideas seem so awesome that there just can’t be anything worth changing. If you find yourself thinking like this, it is probably because only your mind has tried thinking it over. Every idea seems amazing to the person who drew it up – take for instance a calendar that’s good until the end of time. Sure you would never have to replace it, but it would also be really difficult to hang on the wall. The truth is that every idea can be improved upon. The key is learning where to give in the make those changes, and a second, third or even fourth set of eyes can really help narrow it down.

2.  Talk to others about your work.

   This is an editing tip that can actually begin during the initial writing process. Your writing stands nothing to gain from being locked away on your computer’s hard drive. Solitary confinement is not the way to grow an idea, and a writing project is no different. Instead, tell people about your work and gauge their reactions. As mentioned above, if no one else seems quite as excited about an undersea, spy thriller as you are, that might be an indication that it is time to make a change. After all, the goal of writing is to tell a story both that you enjoy and will resonate with readers.

3. Print a copy of your draft for each proofreader.

   This is one of the most important steps to editing well.  In order to edit your draft thoroughly, you are going to have more than one person read through it. The corrections/suggestions that those proofreaders make will be invaluable to you as you move through the editing process. Therefore, it will make your life a whole lot easier if all twelve readers don’t make their marks on the same copy. It seems simple, but it will go a long way. 

4.  Work slowly.

   Just as the creative process can’t be rushed, editing your draft is also going to take a good bit of time. Editing is not something you can accomplish in a single afternoon. The total process could take weeks, months or even years to complete. This can seem daunting, but the more care you take with your draft now the greater the payoff will be at the end. 

5.  Edit thoroughly, but don’t over edit.

   It is important to work through every inch of your draft, making sure that you have not left any stone unturned. However you can reach a point where you are editing too much. At some point you have to be able to declare your draft “Finished.” Editing for a long period of time can be extremely beneficial, editing compulsively with no indication of stopping is not. To combat this, set deadlines for yourself and stick to them. No piece of writing will ever feel truly finished, and it is common for writers to want to continue to make changes, but we must also be able to let go of a project and move on.

6.  Don’t delete or modify old drafts.

   Though it may seem like a good change, there is no telling if you will still feel that way tomorrow. It is a good idea to save each round of changes as a separate file (or to write them on fresh pages). That way if you realize down the road that taking out the fistfight between your protagonist and that cheetah was a horrible mistake, you can always go back to a previous file and recover it.  

7.  Don’t be afraid to move away from your original plan.

   What they say about writing is true: All writing is re-writing. During the editing process, it is not uncommon to move completely away from your original ideas. That is all just part of the process and it will eventually lead to a better product. Even though you may have spent forever writing your first draft, it is perfectly alright to delete most or even all of it. If you are enlightened during your revision process, roll with it, just make sure to keep your original drafts as a fallback plan.

Check back next week for the final part “Moving Beyond Traditional Writing.” Thanks for reading!

Mike Clemens is the author of the novel My Dying Wish. He is a student at Siena College and Assistant Editor of the Siena Promethean. You can visit him online at www.mikeclemensbooks.com.

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