“The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress.” —Philip Roth
There are two main kinds of revision: big picture restructuring and small picture polishing. In big picture work, I move whole pieces of the book around and reshape the thing from the spine up. Sometimes this means adding new sections or cutting out whole other parts. The beginning becomes the end and vice versa. This kind of editing has to come first.
The second kind of editing is my favorite. This is the word choice editing. It’s grammar, punctuation, spelling, syntax, rhythm, and sound. This is where I remove all the unnecesssary words like “very” and “a lot.” It’s where I decide if I really need that second that. I rewrite the passive verb sentences into active voice. I polish and polish and polish.
The book I’m writing about running a marathon is still in the big picture editing phase. I am so tempted to jump into knit-picky grammar, punctuation, word choice, line by line revision, but that’s not what it needs. I err on the side of polishing since it is my favorite kind of editing. This will cause trouble. Unless I have the shape of the book down, doing smaller scale revision is a waste of time. The section I am so lovingly polishing might not even be there on the next draft. How much more difficult will it be to cut if I’ve just spent two weeks crafting it?
So I have to force myself to only look at the big picture. What can I cut? Not just words, but what whole sections? Is this part necessary? Can the book live without that? Does this section go as deep as it needs to go? What else does it need? How can I bring it to life?
Do you have a favorite form of editing? How do you help yourself do the kind of work you least enjoy? I’d love to hear about it.