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  • Writer's pictureRachel Paige

Drop the Pruning Shears

I know most of you have extra writing time now and if you read last week's post, hopefully you're doing better at using it.

Little update for me: after writing that post, I've written over 8,000 words in my novel. My roommate and I did a social distancing approved writing session with some friends of ours over Facebook messenger video chat. For most of the time, it was just us writing with the other people's faces in the corner of our screen, but the accountability helped greatly.

So now that we're writing, let's recognize that some of you aren't working on writing a project, you're editing or revising it. That's an overwhelming process, so let's talk about it!

First of all, editing and revising are not the same thing. Editing is combing through your writing and fixing the details. Typos, syntax, grammatical issues, things like that. Revising is big picture. Changing plot lines, cutting out characters, moving around events.

Personally, I think editing is a lot easier because it doesn't involve as much movement. You get to keep all your words and tweak them. But that's not how you get a great novel. That's how you make a crappy first draft into a clean but crappy second draft.

I've heard two ways of going about editing and revision. Most writing books will say you need to revise first. You need to tear apart that novel and stitch it together and when the plot lines make sense and the characters are so real they're walking off the page, you can fix the typos.

But for some, myself included, that feels too overwhelming. Sometimes, it can be easier to polish the writing first, then start revisions. I find it easier to revise a clean but crappy draft than a straight-up crappy one. But really, it's just preference. As long as you do both, do what works for you.

There is one big advice I'll give. Before you revise your story, you need to do two things. First, let it stew (see here for details on that). Second, read it.

I don't mean read while you edit. I mean stick it in read mode or turn it into a PDF and read that novel as if it's published and finalized. Read it as a reader. This is another reason I edit first. I find it hard to read as a reader when there are typos.

While you're reading, note parts that don't make sense, are inconsistent, or could be stronger. Also note the parts you love. Note the pretty sentences and strong paragraphs. The unique characters and powerful imagery.

Note the good and the bad, but don't change a single word. You're reading as a reader, not the author. But why is this important? Why can't you dive right into revision? Why shouldn't you edit as you go?

Because stories are like gardens, as I've mentioned before. As you write, they will grow and change. You can know what you planted, but you won't know what the garden looks like until you step back and look at the blooms.

In the same way, you don't know what your story says until you read it. Sure, you have an idea. But if you go in there and start hacking away with pruning shears, you're going to lose a lot of beautiful flowers that may have benefited your story.

Reading your story doesn't take long. Once you've objectively seen it, you'll know what worked and what didn't. You'll know what the story is truly saying. After you've read it, you'll know which plants have got to go and you'll be better equipped to grab your pruning shears and start revising.

Reading as a reader makes revising faster, because you're stepping into the garden with a game plan. You aren't figuring it out as you go along. You've got a vision and you know which plants are in your way. You know which ones need to be shorter. You know which ones need to be cut. You know which ones need extra love.

You know which characters need to go. You know the scenes that are far too long. You know the subplots that aren't developed.

Once your story is written and stewed, read it. Don't hack away at a garden you haven't looked at. Don't revise a story you haven't read.


Do you read as a reader? Do you find it helps you revise more efficiently?

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