How to Define Revision

Many writers and editors have struggled to define revision over the millenia. Make sure you know the difference between editing and revising. This definition of revision came from brilliant YA author Laurie Halse Anderson’s Twitter, and I agree wholeheartedly:

Revision means throwing out the boring crap and making what’s left sound natural.

This reminds me of a great Elmore Leonard quote about the same topic:

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

You can find ten more witty tips along these lines here.

define revision, editing, self-editing
No matter what you consider to be the definition of revision, the point is that you DO IT.

How You Define Revision Doesn’t Matter

Writers like to sit around and come up with a witty definition of revision because, perhaps, they’re procrastinating about doing revision. I find that, no matter how you talk about it or what you call it, it matters that you do it. Novels are written in revision, after all. (More concrete thoughts on the revision process here.)

Some writers really get excited to write (looking at you, pantsers). They don’t tend to want to stick around after the fact and clean up the mess. If you have an adversarial relationship with revision, I’d recommend an easy exercise:

Read your entire manuscript aloud.

I’m serious. Don’t just think about doing it, actually do it. (Just like with revision itself.) There’s no better way to dive right in, kick start a revision, and also hone in on your writing voice to ferret out those parts that “suck” or feel overly written, per our mentor quotes, above.

Plus, it gets you out of your head and puts your project more into your body, which might just be enough to get you excited. No matter how you define revision, just do it!

Let’s all mediate on that today!

If you’re struggling with your novel revision and want concentrated feedback from an expert source, hire me as your book editor and we’ll tackle it together.

14 Replies to “How to Define Revision”

  1. Now just gotta figure out what’s the ‘boring’ and what’s the ‘crap’ 🙂

  2. Elan Cross says:

    Eeeeee! A post on Tuesday! And a great one! You have just made my day, Mary:)
    Off to throw away the boring…

  3. I might suggest that more than one mediator might spoil the broth. 🙂

    My younger son (4th grade) is writing his “young author” book for school right now. It will end up being about 2,000 words, I’m guessing. He knows I write and has asked me some advice (he wrote himself into a corner at one point, a good lesson in plotting). Last night he asked about prologues, and we discussed until we ended at something very similar to what you quoted. If it’s important, work it into the story. If it’s not, then leave it out. He concluded that he didn’t need a prologue.

  4. True. True. You just have to be honest with yourself about what the “boring crap”‘ actually is. Thank you for sharing.

  5. I agree. It’s all about spotting the bits the reader will skip, and then deleting them.

  6. I was privileged to see Laurie Halse Anderson talk at the NESCBWI conference a few years ago. Her speech was inspiring and I scribbled away, trying to copy it word for word. Here’s another great bit of wisdom from her.

  7. Is there anyone else around here who secretly fears that removing the boring crap will result in a 250 blank pages?

    Er, maybe that’s just me? 😉

  8. So after yesterday’s comment, I went home and typed up the rest of my son’s story for his “young authors” book for school. Not only did he add in a prologue, but he also added an epilogue.

    So much for dad’s writing lectures.

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