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[process] Revising versus editing - Lakeshore — LiveJournal
An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2010-12-08 05:32
Subject: [process] Revising versus editing
Security: Public
Tags:calendula, process, writing
No, this is not the post I promised a while back. Not yet. Think of this as a pre-post.

Last night over dinner, calendula_witch and I were comparing notes on current writing projects. "I'll fix that on revision" is one of our favorite phrases in those conversations. I mentioned that I'd been thinking about making a blog post on the difference between revision and editing. That unfolded into a curious conversation wherein the more granular our discussion became, the more confused I became. That in turn eventually forced me to fall back on three basic concepts, none of which I am very satisfied with.

1) There is often a difference of scale between revision and editing, but that is not the distinguishing feature between the two.

2) There's a reason we don't call all those nice people at the publishing houses "Revisers".1

3) I am sorely tempted by the Potter Stewart test, viz. "I know it when I see it", which is a bad sign for the clarity of my own thinking.

So let me turn this around and throw the question open. What do you think the difference is between revision and editing? I'm quite curious how this looks to other folks.



1. Granted that editing as done by acquisitions editors, copy editors, production editors, managing editors, etc., is a different-but-related beast from editing done by an author laboring away in their digital garret.


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cathshaffer
User: cathshaffer
Date: 2010-12-08 13:38 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I think it all becomes clearer if you make a distinction between revision and rewriting and then think of editing as something someone else does for you, giving you instructions to do one or the other. So we wouldn't "edit" our own manuscripts. We might either revise or rewrite them, either on our own or to editorial order.
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User: swan_tower
Date: 2010-12-08 18:03 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:*writing
I personally use the terms that way. Editing is what my editor does; revising is what I do. I don't think I ever talk about "editing" my own book, and I certainly don't talk about someone else "revising" it.

But that's personal usage, which will vary wildly depending on who's speaking.
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User: joycemocha
Date: 2010-12-08 13:39 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I always think of revisions as completely tearing whatever it is I'm doing apart and turning it into something entirely different. A revision is just that--a re-vision of the original idea, with significant changes in orientation and purpose.

Editing is putting a polish on the product, even if from the outside it looks like revision. A revision can look like a rough draft, where an edit, ideally, won't.
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Laura Anne Gilman: meerkat coffee
User: suricattus
Date: 2010-12-08 13:49 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:meerkat coffee
I keep it simple: revision is what I do. Editing is what someone else gives me (I revise as per editorial comments, for'ex.)

I also specify "line edits" versus "revising," which delineates scale rather than action (editing fixes small things, revisions approaches the larger missteps).

This kept me on-track when I was both writing and editing full-time: I knew what part of my brain was required at any given time/project, and didn't confuse what I would do with what my author might choose to do.

Edited at 2010-12-08 01:51 pm (UTC)
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The Ferrett
User: theferrett
Date: 2010-12-08 14:11 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
For me, revision is when I'm taking a hard look at the impact of the work as a whole - specifically looking for missing scenes, scenes that aren't carrying their weight, the presence of the proper emotional beats, and so forth. Revision may mean I rip the guts out of the whole thing.

Editing is when I'm content that everything's pretty much there, now it's just time to tidy them up. There's a lot of crossover, since (f'r instance) good editing is what helps to define/clarify an emotional beat, but in general the revision is big picture and the editing is smaller picture to me.
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Eposia
User: eposia
Date: 2010-12-08 14:21 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Probably way too early in the morning for coherency, but here's my first thought on the divisions:

Revision, for me, is the stage before editing. The early drafts are not fully defined, and may change in small or substantial ways. Using the sculpture metaphor, initial drafts are hewing the large edges off the block of marble, revision is cutting it down to mostly the shape and size you want.

Editing is the fine-tuning and polishing stage, the act of bringing the work fully (or as fully as possible) into the final form you envisioned for it. Sure, sometimes you'll come across a flaw at this point that requires substantial re-working, but usually that will get discovered in the earlier revision stages.

Since I've come up with those distinctions on my own, I could have it totally backwards from what other people perceive the revision/editing distinction to be; looking forward to reading other thoughts on it!
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e_bourne
User: e_bourne
Date: 2010-12-08 15:09 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Because one might revise, rewrite, and edit all at the same time I think it can be easy to confuse them. Not the same they are. I like a little Yoda-speak in the morning.

To my mind, rewriting is the big, sloshing bowl of rethinking portions of whatever you're working on. The villain is someone else, after all. That section needs to be over there.

Revisions is when you go in and think about what you're missing. Can these four paragraphs be turned into one sentence? Is there a better way to write this section? Should the section in chapter 1 really be a memory flashback in chapter 4? Nothing is significantly changed, but it's massaged into a better shape.

Editing is the nitpicky stuff. Have I overused the word "blue?" Why are her eyes hazel here and green there? Damn, it's all in passive tense.

And that's what Yoda thinks, yes, he does.
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kudilu
User: kudilu
Date: 2010-12-08 15:42 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
for me, there are a couple of different definitions.

first, there's point-of-view - revision is what the author does, editing is what someone else does.

second, there's scale - revision is mostly big-picture. That scene isn't needed; this section is dragging; that section is moving so fast i can't keep track of it without multiple reading; that character's personality has completely changed; this event doesn't fit with your established world-build; that sort of thing. big things. things that might take significant re-writing.

editing is more nitpicky (though important!) - consistent spelling/grammar/tense/descriptions; awkward (and isn't that a word that describes itself) construction, repetition (of word, phase, or something else) - things that mostly only matter in the specific place that they happen, not things that may mean re-writing significant portions of the story.

a lot of this gets muddled, especially in professional and spec writing, due to professional editors sometimes needing to ask for a drastic re-write, or significant revision. but even if they do ask for these things, they aren't the ones DOING it - they're just asking for it and giving guidelines of what they're looking for.

Authors revise. Other people edit. Authors may also sometimes edit, but it's more difficult (because, after all, the brain is a funny thing, and YOU know what you meant to say). Other people's edits (or editorial comments) may CAUSE the author to revise, but they're not doing it.
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kudilu
User: kudilu
Date: 2010-12-08 15:43 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
and take all this with a massive grain of salt, because I don't write, or edit, or beta-read basically at all. And most of my information from other people that do such things comes from the world of fanfic.
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User: brownkitty
Date: 2010-12-08 16:03 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I seem to be having a definition confusion.

To me, editing is fixing the language mechanics: grammar mistakes, typos, punctuation problems.

Revision is fixing the plot mechanics: bring that character in at a different time/place, fix continuity errors, add drama to this scene, explain more/less/differently.

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irismoonlight
User: irismoonlight
Date: 2010-12-09 02:20 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yes, this.

Revision to me is big-picture stuff: dump that character or merge those two; pick up the pace there, cut those five scenes.

I often make edits as I revise, and sometimes it feels like that's all I'm doing. (which often means I'm doin' it wrong)

But those are *my* writing activities.

An editor makes big-picture and small-picture suggestions to strengthen a book -- changes that will require revision -- as well as catching mechanical errors.

That's my definition, anyway.
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David D. Levine
User: davidlevine
Date: 2010-12-08 16:16 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Let's go back to the roots: "revise" comes from a root meaning "to look at again," while "edit" comes from a root meaning "to send forth." (If you go back to the origins of the word, an editor was what we would today call a publisher; in the Coliseum, there was a person called "the editor of the gladiators" whose job was to send the gladiators out onto the sand.) Our modern verb "edit" is a back-formation for whatever it is that editors/publishers do to make the work ready for publication. So when you revise, you revisit the work; when you edit, you change it into a more publication-ready form. As others have observed, we commonly do both at the same time.

The connotations that have attached themselves to the words at this time and in this community are that "revision" involves more radical change and is generally self-directed, while "editing" involves less radical change and is generally done at the direction of others. Note, too, that you can "edit" someone else's work (meaning to suggest changes) but if you "revise" someone else's work it means you are making the changes yourself. But when referring to my own work I personally use both words almost interchangeably.
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Ken Scholes
User: kenscholes
Date: 2010-12-08 16:56 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I don't think of myself as editing typically. I see that as what the editor does -- reviewing the story and pointing out places that need work, explaining why in some instances. Then, as the writer, I revise based on the editor's edits. Sometimes, I edit my own stories and then revise them.

But that's just the Trailer Boy Approach.
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my patronus is a basilisk: coalesce
User: jeliza
Date: 2010-12-08 16:56 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:coalesce
I couldn't really tell you the difference for writers, but I'm tempted to try and introduce "revision" into the lexicon of image post-processing, because right now we have "editing" (which means going through a shoot and getting picking a subset that actually make it to a client) and "editing" (which means going into the images and doing stuff to them to make them better.)

Which, when you have more than one person involved with the workflow, can get crazy, crazy confusing, and I think we could swap in revision for the second editing. (We sometimes use "cull" for the first, but it is subtly wrong, because the process is more about set selection than throwing out the baddies.)
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Kari Sperring
User: la_marquise_de_
Date: 2010-12-08 17:30 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Editing is the tidy-clarify-tune-tighten stage. That's when I fix things at word level -- rhythm and balance and form. Revision is when the whole book gets picked up by the shoulders and shaken, when the structure is moulded, the holes fixed, the plot arcs and character arcs shaped and polished.
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irismoonlight
User: irismoonlight
Date: 2010-12-09 02:21 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
perfect.
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Elspeth
User: evaleastaristev
Date: 2010-12-08 20:11 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
To me, revision is when I'm actually changing plot stuffs around. Editing is grammar and MAKE IT MAKE SENSE mistakes.
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Keikaimalu
User: keikaimalu
Date: 2010-12-09 04:48 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Editing is clean-up. Revision is substantive change.
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Joy
User: cithra
Date: 2010-12-09 18:33 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Editing is mechanics; revision is craft.

That's my perspective as an editor, at least. Editing is making sure things are grammatical, formatted correctly, and that the sentence means what it is supposed to mean (weeding out typos and homophones, etc.) That last blends into revision when I find myself trying to imagine what the author actually meant me to read, or thinking about how if I changed a few things around or just re-wrote a paragraph, the piece would flow better.

It's an easier dividing line to notice in other people's work, since at that point I don't know what the author actually intended I read, without asking them about it. (The reason for #2, as you have it.)
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oaksylph
User: oaksylph
Date: 2010-12-13 04:20 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Crazy bookstore person says: The writers-in-residence draw the distinction between global:particular :: revising:editing for the most part; one says it's writer revises, editor edits; one thinks of editing as the removal of bits and revising as the rearrangement and possible fresh drafting of larger pieces.

I use the terms analogically to describe the processes I apply to the 100+ sections in the shop: editing is culling the weak, adjusting prices, shifting the books on the shelf to make room to display one, or moving one subtype of book from one section to another, while revising is changing the nature of the section. Like, I used to have a section for alien abduction stories, but that space somehow turned into a section of books on the Freemasons and Templars and so forth. The alien abduction section itself used to be the Who Killed JFK Really section. For a less dramatic example, I decided at one point to take out all the old duodecimos with neat spine designs from the fiction section and make a separate section for them. (I go back and forth on whether that was a good idea.)
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