My writing/editing buddy from college Patrick Scalisi graciously agreed to guest post on the blog today, and with great advice on the dreaded (at least if you’re me it’s dreaded) revision. Be sure to check out his book coming later this year from Hazardous Press. Welcome, Patrick!
A No-Nonsense Approach to Revision
by Patrick Scalisi
Editing is often a dirty word among writers. I myself have often used the axiom that creating is more fun than correcting, which is to say that revising one’s work is less thrilling than the sheer adventure of crafting a new story from scratch.
Like it or not, though, revision is an essential part of the writing process, the method by which you make your work truly shine. I’m not going to lie and say that editing isn’t an arduous, frustrating and time-consuming process. It is. But editing also lets you put your best self into the world when your book, short story or poem finds its way onto a bookshelf or someone’s e-reader.
As a professional editor for the past 10 years, I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with writers whose work has been both very rough and very polished. Here are some insights I’ve gleaned that can help make the editing process as fruitful as possible.
Edit both on screen and on paper. Almost everyone does their writing on computers and tablets, so the inclination is strong to edit on these devices as well. For a first run-through, editing on screen can be a good idea. But make sure to print your work and edit on paper as well.
While science is still on the fence about whether our eyes can better interpret text on paper versus on screen, most studies agree that our brains work differently based on the medium we’re reading. This difference is important. Often, you’ll catch errors on paper that you missed on screen and vice versa. So no matter what you’re writing, make sure to integrate a paper edit into your revision process.
Eliminate Unnecessary Words. Your word processor’s extended search-and-replace feature (often Ctrl-F in Windows or ⌘-F on a Mac) lets you easily find problem words — like adverbs — that can weaken your manuscript.
During the revision process, I like to do a document-wide search for “ly.” This lets me identify most of the adverbs and evaluate each one to see if it’s really necessary or if it can be replaced with a stronger verb.
In addition, this list from writer Juliet Madison is extremely helpful in identifying and replacing other trouble words like “very” and “almost.”
Get HONEST opinions from people you trust. At some point, you’re going to want to share your work with someone else to get an outside opinion on the story / novel / poem’s strengths and weaknesses. These people are often called “beta readers.” Choosing beta readers, however, can be just as tricky as finding a stronger verb to replace that adverb.
Beta readers should, above all else, be someone that you trust to give HONEST feedback. Surrounding yourself with yes-men who tell you that the work is “perfect” and “not to change a thing” does a disservice to you as a writer because you’re not receiving the constructive criticism you need to make the work as strong as possible.
You’ll notice I used the term “constructive criticism.” A good beta reader will tell you what he or she both liked and disliked about your work. The very best beta readers can also offer suggestions on how to fix existing problems.
So, who makes a good beta reader? In short, anyone who isn’t going to sugarcoat it for you. Parents and siblings are often a bad choice, but some writers have such strong relationships with their families that they can count on mom or dad, brother or sister to say what they liked and what they didn’t about the work. Friends who read a lot are also viable candidates.
It’s also important that you emphasize to your beta readers that their honesty won’t affect your relationship. Make sure you mean this, too. The truth is that writers have to develop thick skin to deal with rejection, critical reviews and more. Steeling yourself for feedback from your beta readers is a good place to start.
One of the best pieces of advice that I ever got from a writing teacher is to treat each sentence like a painting that you want to make as perfect as possible before moving on to the next one. A collection of these “paintings” form paragraphs, chapters, entire works whose aim is to captivate your readers. Revision is a critical part of the writing process and the one that will ultimately make your work as rewarding as possible for both creator and audience.
Patrick Scalisi is a journalist, magazine editor and author from Connecticut. He has published fiction in several magazines and anthologies, including The Willows, Neo-opsis, Shadowplay and Penny Dread Tales Vol. 1. Pat also edited The Ghost Is the Machine, a bestselling anthology of steampunk-horror stories from Post Mortem Press. His debut book, The Horse Thieves and Other Tales of the New West, will be released this year from Hazardous Press. Visit Pat online at patrickscalisi.com or facebook.com/patrickscalisi.