the importance of editing

This article is all about the importance of editing, including the difference between editing and revising, and considerations for self-editing.

What Is the Difference Between Editing and Revising?

Many writers hear the terms “editing” and “revision” and wonder about the difference between editing and revising. Are they different? Is one better than the other? Do you need to do one, or both, or neither if you want to publish a book project?

These are great questions. For our purposes, I like to define editing as making systematic changes to a manuscript, which can be as simple as proofreading for grammar and punctuation, to as involved as overhauling an entire plot. The latter also gives you a hint at how I use the term “revision.” To me, all revision is editing, but not all editing is revision.

To clarify the definition of editing, I will point you to this types of manuscript editing article. Now, consider revision. When editors write a first draft of their manuscript, and then they go back into it for revision, they can either move commas around or they can commit to seeing the project with new eyes. The latter is revision. Literally, “re-vision,” or “seeing again.” Why is this distinction so crucial?

Well, writing is done in revision. You can see the following section for more, if you’re not convinced. If you are taking it easy on yourself in self-editing, if you aren’t looking at your manuscript on the whole, it’s possible you are not revising to your full potential. Most manuscripts are not complete after a first draft. In fact, you are probably have not fully grasped what your story really is yet. So to revise lightly will shortchange you in the long run. Read on.

The Importance of Editing and Revision

The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.
— Terry Pratchett

Editing will always play a part in your writing and self-editing process, but revision is where manuscripts are made into published books. My biggest tip for true, transformative, big revision is this: Put your manuscript away.

For three months. Do it. Seriously do it instead of thinking about doing it. Here’s the reason: You are always working, as a writer, whether you’re at your word processor or not. Your creative brain keeps ticking. You know this because you’re often coming up with brilliant ideas in the shower or waking up in the middle of the night with brainstorms. You can’t rush that work.

Time takes time, you know?
— Ben Folds

So if you put your manuscript away for three months, your creative brain will keep writing on the back burner. You will, in turn, develop “new eyes” with which to do your “re-vision.” You will come back to the manuscript and see it in an entirely new light. And then you will be more able to take a step back, look at it objectively (a huge problem for every writer) and start playing around with the bigger elements of it, like character and plot. Most writers who’ve just finished a manuscript are too close to it. They are reluctant to delete large sections or move big things around. They’re reluctant to admit that the whole middle doesn’t work and that they need to start over.

But big changes are often at the heart of revision. And the sooner you can make some big changes in your manuscript, the better. You don’t want to fiddle with commas for three years only to realize, on draft twenty-seven, that your two main characters need to be combined into one. Ouch. (The trick of putting your manuscript away for three months also works wonders when you are on draft twenty-seven and can’t bear to look at the thing one more time. I always recommend that writers do this before they go on submission.)

How to Get Help With Editing Writing

Unfortunately, there is a limit to self-editing. Try as they might, writers can never see their own manuscripts with the type of clarity that others can. That’s why, in addition to putting the manuscript away and then taking big revision risks, I recommend getting actual other eyes (not just your own) on your project.

The first solution would be to get a critique group, critique partner, or beta reader. Here’s a link for how to put a team together that will provide you with feedback. But be warned. They are only as good as their level of experience. Everyone is great at having opinions. You want to make sure you’re soliciting worthwhile feedback that you’ll be able to trust. For more tips on how to find great manuscript critique, check out the how to revise a novel article.

The second solution would be to hire a freelance editor. These professionals work with story every day, and a good one will bring insider publishing industry experience to your project as well, so you’re not just getting craft advice ... you’re learning whether your idea has wings if you aspire to get published. Here’s a link on how to find an editor.

No matter what, whether you manufacture “fresh eyes” of your own, or enlist help, or both, you will want to go back to your draft for both editing and revision. First drafts don’t get published. The sooner you learn to love the creative process of revision and the importance of editing, the better off you’ll be for your entire writing life.

hiring a freelance EDITOR

Now you know more about the importance of editing and revision. It always helps to have an extra set of eyes on your manuscript, ideally with extensive experience in the publishing market, so that the opinion you’re investing in will help guide you toward your goals. Check out further resources on how to find an editor, and get insight into editorial service rates.

Please don’t hesitate to check out my writing craft book or reach out for editorial services via the contact form, below.

Click here to purchase Writing Irresistible Kidlit, my book on fiction craft for MG and YA novels, out from Writer's Digest Books. This will show you my writing craft philosophy and give you lots of valuable advice, including tips for the novel revision process and self-editing. There are over 35 example novels cited and discussed throughout. It’s a valuable resource for any writer’s toolkit.

It genuinely feels like you’ve handed me a golden compass so I can trek off in the right direction now to ultimately find buried treasure. I’m so excited to not be wandering around aimlessly on this story any more. I can move forward on it now with confidence.
— Kendra