Edits or Revisions?

A very large part of my Day Job involves writing and editing, often under very tight deadlines; I have been inculcated for decades with the understanding: there’s no such thing as deathless prose. Oh sure, there’s nice clean copy. A strong proposal. A compelling narrative. But very rarely is something so perfect as to not need even a tweak.

In the few small fictions I’ve had published, the editor has come back each time with a handful of suggestions; all but one of which I have agreed to*. My theory? This person is buying my words, and should get at least an opinion as to how they flow. Also sometimes I’ve been staring at a page so long I look right past obvious changes, and part of an editor’s job is to make the words work together as best they can.

I recently got a note back on a story I submitted saying it was short-listed (happy dance) but the editor wasn’t thrilled with the ending. She didn’t have any specific edits or revisions, it just left her going “meh” and was there something I could do?

Changing words or their flow is different than “your ending sucks, please fix it”; to me, one is basic editing (which I do a lot of) and the other is revising an entire story. I dove back in knowing I might have to make significant changes from Word One, and that was scary and a little sad…. but a really good exercise.

So what happened? I ended up adding a paragraph right in the middle that didn’t mean anything to the revisions but my Muse dropped right into my brain as I got to that part of the story. Then I added about 500 words and came up with a far better ending than I had in the original submission (if I do say so myself).

I also learned something along the way I think is going to be really important. I knew that I need to let stories percolate in the back of my mind before my Muse puts down the tequila and kicks out a decent idea. But apparently my “Done!” draft is only a final one, and I need to set it aside for a couple of days before picking it up for one more round.

This is hard to do. With the deadlines of my Day Job, I’m used to finishing, proofing and shipping projects out because there are more coming at me like jets landing O’Hare and I have GOT to clear the runways before a crash. Fiction has deadlines too (obviously) but ordinarily they are more forgiving…. especially if I learn to plan time for one more review. I will always proofread and do my own editing (and yes, the old “fool for a client” axiom applies to writers as well as lawyers) but I need to get a better feel for revising, in order to become a stronger fiction writer.

I have a rolling calendar for my Day Job that includes due dates, ship dates, etc. I think it’s time to create one for fiction, too.

*The only one I pushed back on was because I clearly “heard” the character’s voice saying the words one way and not the other

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