If you were to ask me, right now, the difference between revising and rewriting, I would say that one of them is easy…and I just happen to be doing the other one. They are both part of the editing process and sometimes you dabble in both at a given time, but it’s good to know which you are working in so that you can have the right mindset.
You see, revisions means that you either found loop holes or scenes that aren’t doing your story justice. There may be characters you need to hack from the story. You’re changing elements. The writing isn’t affected much or at all. You are simply rerouting your story.
“I’m in the middle of a project that needs…tweaking.” – Tom Hanks
You’ve Got Mail
With revisions, it’s best to think about the “big picture” items in your story. Get your story ship-shape and running smooth. You’re making adjustments and, when necessary, major changes.
I am in heavy rewrites. I wrote my first draft, gave it a few edit sweeps, just to find out that I was missing a few key elements: character voice and good writing. This is pretty common for your first book, so I didn’t worry too much about it. So I began what I thought were revisions. It didn’t take me long to discover that I was basically telling the exact same story. I wasn’t changing anything important, just writing it better. With each chapter I re-wrote, I was lucky to get a paragraph in from my original manuscript. I thought I was revising, but when I finally understood what rewriting meant and why I needed it, the story and writing improved.
Rewriting is when you do very little tweaking to the story. The story is still the same. You’re working within the same plot line, characters, and scenes, but you are basically starting with a clean page. This usually means that the story is fine, but the writing is lacking in some area. The more you study writing, the more you recognize bad writing. Overuse of ‘was’, lack of character voice, too many adverbs, telling vs showing, melodrama, and blatant foreshadowing are just a handful of issues that could require rewrites. This isn’t adjusting, this is replacing your crumpled fender with a sleek, shiny, new one. It’s still a bumper just like it’s still the same story, but it looks much more pleasing to you and everyone else.
Going Back and Forth
The funny thing about revisions and rewriting is that you will most likely rotate between them, back and forth until it’s perfect. You may receive feedback from a beta reader, agent, or editor that makes you rethink something that you never thought of before. You have to be willing to just go with the flow, discover what your story needs from you. Make adjustments, replace, revise, rewrite, over and over until it’s done. Then you can start the whole process over again with a new project.
Isn’t editing fun?