Revision vs. Editing
"Oh my gosh, what in the world was I thinking there?"
"That doesn't make any sense. Did I start falling asleep while typing again?"
"Note to self: focus on what I'm doing next time I write!"
Among other things ;). I've had it happen where I start falling asleep at the computer, trying to get that last paragraph out, and then I wake up the next morning to find crazy, odd sentences that probably made sense in my half-asleep state but communicate absolutely nothing to the conscious mind. Yikes!
... and that's why we revise, ladies and gents! ;)
When You Revise...
- Once you've completed your draft, you may feel like you need to take a break, or you may feel like you need to start revising right away. There's nothing wrong with either choice, but I've found that waiting a week or so just to catch my breath is very helpful. A week is long enough to take a breather but not long enough to forget your story; if you're up for it, you can condense that week down into a day or two of break time to do other things and shift gears for a little bit. This helps ensure you aren't "too close" to your project while working on it.
- If you find mistakes along the way, feel free to correct them; you aren't exclusively revising, and the more in-depth you get with each revision, the less mistakes will be in your manuscript when you do a final edit and/or send it to an editor.
- Anything you see within your book that has any doubt attached to it - any doubt at all about usage, grammar, or anything else - needs to be double checked. Chances are that you're writing on a device that has access to the internet, or at the very least you have access to a computer with internet capabilities. Google is a fantastic resource when you have questions, so don't be afraid to use it. (Even editors have to double check things throughout a book, so nobody's judging.)
- Revise multiple times. It doesn't matter if you choose to focus on one chapter at a time or do the whole entire book multiple times; the thing is that if you do the entire book a few times within the shortest amount of time possible, you should be able to keep facts and plot points fairly straight in your head (the smart ones use notes) to ensure that everything makes sense and ties together well.
- Be attentive to detail while focusing on the big picture. For example, if you make multiple references to a character's eye color, make sure it's the same eye color throughout the book ;). Attention to detail is an absolute must when you're revising your own work, so if that isn't your strong suit, it's time to put in some practice!
When You Edit...
Here are some common (and maybe not so common) things to look out for that I've come across over the years when editing other authors' books. You should be able to get a feel for and learn how to keep an eye out for these kinds of mistakes yourself if you put in a little time, effort, and practice (and reading... your mind will absorb grammar and spelling subconsciously while you read a book, so make sure that it's not a book that was put together sloppily or is riddled with mistakes).
- Before you begin editing, take a breather.
You have to completely switch gears from being a writer to being an editor, so it's a good idea to take 2-4 weeks off, get away from your book, and then look at it to edit with the freshest eyes possible, at least for the first pass. Because you want to look at your book objectively, with minimal emotional attachment, and with a discerning eye, you must remain undistracted by your own preconceived notions about your work.
While you're taking your break, don't think about your book at all if you can help it. If you find yourself obsessing over character traits and plot points, you may not be finished with the revision process yet. Go back to writing and revising until you're at peace for two weeks to a month.
- First things first: take out any and all double spaces.
For many people, this is just a habitual thing that happens because when students were taught typing skills in school years ago, typography wasn't nearly where it is now, not to mention things didn't become completely digital until more recent years. You do not need to hit the space bar twice before starting a new sentence or after ending one. Fonts are designed to put slightly more space where needed, and it happens automatically.
To take out double spaces with minimal effort, watch this quick No Bull video tutorial:
- Fact-check, double check, and triple check confusing words or phrases.
Editors have to fact-check and double-check all sorts of things, so don't feel bad if you are dependent on the Google machine for help. There are some confusing things out there! For example, is it, "chalk it up," or, "chock it up?" Does something "peak" or "pique" your interest? Are your issues "deep-seeded" or "deep-seated?" If you have even a single doubt about which way is correct, look it up. That simple task could save you from a multitude of embarrassing mistakes... and it will save your editor from pulling her own hair out ;).
- Read up and study any confusing punctuation; when in doubt, leave it out.
This is especially true for commas, as they tend to be extremely overused when a writer is unsure of the rules. While I am a big fan of utilizing all punctuation as appropriate (including colons, semicolons, em dashes, en dashes, ellipses, and parentheses), if you aren't sure how to properly use these tools, do a bit of reading. Research the rules and look up examples; if you can do that, you can learn the right way to use these sometimes tricky but often important little characters.
- Learn the difference between various homonyms, especially if they confuse you.
Yep, I said it before and I'll say it again (and I would scream it from the rooftops if it didn't mean having to get on a ladder): KEEP LEARNING! One major difference between failure and success is your ability and drive to keep learning, do research, and hone your craft (writing). If you're past the third grade and still having trouble with differentiating between, "there," "their," and, "they're," you may need to spend some time focusing on your writing skills.
As a final thought, I wanted to go back to something I said earlier about reading and how your mind subconsciously absorbs spelling and grammar, word usage, and sentence structure when you read. As authors, it is our responsibility to make sure we don't perpetuate illiteracy in today's world (as you may already be aware, the US is massively behind in education... a very sad indicator that could be improved with a little effort from each of us as individuals).
Full disclosure? I don't have an English degree, and my mother tongue is German (meaning that I learned German before any other language). If I can learn these things and create a career out of editing and publishing from nothing, then you can at least learn these things ;). Not only will this help to make your books better, but it might even have a small impact on the world as far as how well we are able to communicate as humans. You just never know how your work might impact a life, so treat it (and those lives) with utmost care, respect, and excellence in your efforts.
Happy self-publishing, and keep learning! I will, too =).