Shop Mobile More Submit  Join Login

:icondorianharper: More from DorianHarper

Featured in Collections

Lit Community by MotleyDreams

Journals by Peonies18

Journals by raspil

More from DeviantArt


Submitted on
January 24
Submitted with Writer


7,368 (9 today)
110 (who?)

PE Prose Basics: Revise and Edit

Fri Jan 24, 2014, 7:05 AM

Prose Basics Week is winding down now and hopefully you've learned a lot from the brilliant past articles. But, there's more to writing than just getting that first draft done, isn't there? That's where the next big crucial step comes in: revision.

The Art of Revising:

Revision is such a huge topic to cover, especially since there are many ways to go about it. You can do self-edits, which always are a good first step, or you can get outside revisions from peers. Both are good ideas to really get your work to be top notch. But, the big thing to remember is that there's more to just editing your work than cleaning up a few spelling and grammar mistakes. Revising also includes corrections to sentence flow, scenes, and sometimes overall plot. So, before we jump into some ways to edit, here are a few different terms of methods of editing that may be handy to know-- especially if you're asking a peer to help you with revisions.

Types of Editing:

  • Proofreading (AKA: Beta Reading)

For the most part, proofreading is the cleaning up of grammar/spelling errors (and sometimes sentence flow) to make the story readable for others. Often times, the typical "beta reader" will be asked to do edits like these (of course, there are other betas that may go beyond this, but typically, this is what a proofreader/beta reader does). The purpose of proofreading, as mentioned, is simply to make the story presentable and understandable to the readers. It normally does not cover errors with scenes, plot, etc.
(Take note: In publishing, a proofreader is the last person to receive the manuscript in its final form to check over for any errors, hence the term "proof" reader.)

  • Substantive Editing

Just as its term says, this is editing the "substance". This type of revision focuses on the overall plot of the story and tries to find inconsistencies in voice (narrative and character), plot holes, scenes, etc. This is really the big rewriting part of editing, since it tackles the bigger problems with the story. If you're lucky, sometimes a beta reader may point these sorts of things out to you if they notice them, but you may have to be specific.  Typically, this is the type of revision that most writers fear, but it is one of the most important.

  • Copy Editing (AKA: Alpha Reading)

This type of editing focuses heavily on catching grammar/spelling/punctuation mistakes and cleaning syntax, as well as the final product. Sometimes, copy editing can be confused with proofreading, but they're not the same. Yes, copy editors do last minute read overs for catching grammar and spelling errors and making sure syntax is smooth, but they are mainly working to get your piece ready to present. They give tips on titles and chapter names, etc. as well. Some people on the internet have coined this as "alpha reading", since there is more focus on the small details of grammar/punctuation.
(Take note: In publishing, a copy editor does what a "beta reader" essentially does. They work on a "copy" of the manuscript.)

:star: In writing communities on the internet, "proofreading" and "copy editing" are often swapped with their terms. The examples I gave above are what most outside of publishing would most likely assume if they heard "proofread", etc. Please be aware that in actual publishing, however, their roles are reversed (as in the "Take note" sections added).


For many writers, this is probably one of the more stressful areas of the "writing" process. The reason? Many don't know when exactly to stop editing and ask themselves if it truly is done. Some writers worry about over editing and taking away too much or things that really don't need to be touched. Or, in general, one of the bigger fears I've heard from many writers when it comes to the revision stage is simply: how?

  • Reading Aloud

I cover this topic much more heavily in my article here, but as a quick summary, reading aloud can be, sometimes, the most helpful way of editing by yourself. The ear is a much better critic than the eye and it's easier to pick up mistakes that you may have missed a few times skimming on the page. It's usually best with catching syntax errors, and seeing if dialogue feels and sounds natural.

  • Record Yourself

Going hand-in-hand with reading aloud, recording yourself read is another great way to be able to find errors in your work. Since you're not focusing on what you're reading and just listening, you have a better chance at picking up more of those syntax errors you may have missed otherwise. A tip would be to record yourself the first time you read aloud, and then play it back and see what other mistakes you can find.

  • Printed vs. On Screen

Believe it or not, sometimes you just need a change of scenery to help you edit. If you've been using the computer screen to do the majority of your edits over and over again, try printing out a copy and see what mistakes you may find. Looking at your work in a different way can actually trick your mind into thinking you haven't seen it that way before, and this is a new piece of work.

  • Stash it Away

You've probably heard this before (Stephen King makes note of it in his On Writing) and while it may not work for some, it's definitely a method to try out. After you've written something, put it away for a little while. Take a break. Don't look at it for a week or more. Sometimes, you need that little refresher to get your mind ready to edit. Jumping right back into a story to start editing right after you finish the first draft probably isn't your best bet. But if you wait, it's like looking at the story with fresh eyes. And, perhaps, you have had time to distance yourself from it.

Peer Revision

Although many fear it, getting peer revision is the best way to go when it comes to getting edits-- especially for those that involve plot. Your reader isn't as invested in the story as you are, and they are more able to give an unbiased opinion when it comes to finding things that don't sound right or don't add up. They will be your saviors when it comes to getting things thoroughly polished.

  • Reading Aloud (Again!)

Getting someone else to read your work aloud is another great way to catch mistakes. Not only are you not focused on reading it yourself, but the pacing of the story may be read differently by someone else. This allows you to find errors that you may have not picked up alone. Plus, you'll have someone else there reading to see if they find anything in syntax that doesn't sound right.

  • Who To Ask

Generally, it's best to get advice from all around if you can. However, the unbiased reader (one who really has no investment or attachment to your story) is the one that's going to give the better answers when it comes to plot holes and the like. Finding someone with a general knowledge of grammar and punctuation is also a plus, since they will be more accurate in finding and fixing these errors for you. Now, you don't have to go out and hire a professional to edit for you, although if you're seeking self-publishing, it may be advised just to make sure everything is in top shape. Finding those around you who may have time to invest in helping and getting a second opinion is fine enough-- though it's always best to find at least someone who has a knowledge on good writing skills to give some more detailed critique.

  • Where to Look

Luckily for you, being a member of deviantART already makes you a member of a community-- and there are lots of writers here looking for feedback. A good way to seek critique would be to do critique trades with others looking for feedback. That way, not only are you helping them get their work polished while you are getting yours done, you're also improving your editing skills. The Literature Forum's Monthly Critique Thread is a good place to go and put a link to work you're seeking advice on. Beta-Readers is also a great group to check out and get partnered up with a critique buddy.

:star: The big thing to remember with peer revision is that your critique partner is out to help you improve. Critique is necessary for growth as a writer. Even if something is not what you necessarily wanted to hear and it hurts to hear (ie: this doesn't make sense, I can't connect with your characters, your writing is too telling, etc.) don't get mad at those who help you. Take it with a grain of salt and learn from it!

Drafts, Drafts, Drafts (And Killing Those Darlings)

Now that you're finally done with getting all your feedback and working on those revisions by yourself, it's time to get some drafts done. The biggest thing to remember as a writer here is that there is never just ONE draft. Writing takes many drafts, many re-writes, and many edits. Some writers I've talked to have re-written their novel 10 times before getting it right and ready to query. The bottom line is, no first draft is ever perfect.

Take your feedback and see what you can do! This is where those plot specific edits are going to come in handy and help you rewrite, move things around, delete scenes, etc. This is probably the hardest part of the whole process since it's when you essentially are "killing your darlings", but this is the most important step of it all. This is when you're getting your work to its full potential and ready to read and be awesome! So, grab a box of tissues and get ready to red pen and cut out scenes and rearrange and essentially start from scratch. But, remember, it will be worth it in the end.

Questions and Conclusion:

Now that you're a happy writer, getting all your edits done and feeling your story really come to life to its full potential with your lovely peer reviewers cheering you on, you realize that all is worth it. All that hard work of writing your book, struggling to do edits yourself, getting some critique from others that left you near tears (but you're a strong writer, so you pulled through!), and sobbing through the draft stage, your work is ready to go. And aren't you proud! Revision is just as important as writing itself, since it's getting your work to be the best it can be-- and isn't that the most rewarding part of the process?

Before you leave, a few questions for the readers:

  • Have you ever read your work aloud? If so, what was your experience?
  • Do you prefer revising yourself or having someone else revise for you?
  • Do you have any critique partners that you actively exchange stories with to review?
  • How many drafts do you typically write before you consider your story "done"?


Add a Comment:
ShadowedLove97 Featured By Owner Jan 27, 2014  Student Writer
Ahhh editing, the scariest and hardest part of writing! Also probably the longest part of the writing process for me.c:

  • Have you ever read your work aloud? If so, what was your experience?
I do, actually. I typically do so whenever I feel like something doesn't sound right, though I don't usually read it aloud all the time. I'm trying to do so more often, though. Heh.
  • Do you prefer revising yourself or having someone else revise for you?
Though I'd love to have someone else revise it for me, I usually revise it myself. Considering right now I mainly write fanfics (my original stories don't get posted on the internet), it's even harder than normal to find someone willing to edit my work. Occasionally I've had a friend revise my work, and when I had a collab partner we'd always act as beta readers for each other's chapters, but other than that I usually revise my own writing.
  • Do you have any critique partners that you actively exchange stories with to review?
My former collab partner and I would usually help each other out with our own individual stories. 
  • How many drafts do you typically write before you consider your story "done"?
In all honesty, I never really feel like my story is "done". Though I usually go through and edit my longer stories multiple times. It really depends on what I'm writing though and how long it is; some works only need to be revised a few times, others need to be revised much more. It really all depends. Though I do have a habit of editing my work while writing and revising parts as I go along as well, so I'm never too sure how many drafts it takes. I'm pretty sure that's a bad habit but I have yet to break it heh.
Lupina24 Featured By Owner Jan 27, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
I rarely ever read things aloud, I end up skipping over words, confusing lines or just trouble keeping track of where I am.

I prefer revising and editing the first draft myself just so I can feel more confident about presenting it to others. the second, third and fourth+ drafts I will let others give their feedback, notes, corrections and suggestions.

no, not really.

I think about four drafts maybe up to six especially when parts have given me a rough time or massive amounts of editing.
dragoeniex Featured By Owner Jan 26, 2014
Have you ever read your work aloud?
Yes. :D Everything from college work to newspaper articles to my actual stories.

What was your experience?
It lets me see how the work flows- what is and isn't awkward. I also tend to catch any surviving typos.

Do you prefer revising yourself or having someone else revise for you?
I'm not sure. You see... Embarrassing as it is, I've never done multiple drafts for a story. My short stories get a couple of rounds of editing (typo-catching, rewording, adding or subtracting for coherency, etc), but I never actually rewrite them. This may be because I've yet to write a novel-length story and don't see current works going places.

But now I'm considering continuing one of my short stories and making it into a novel. It's time I started requiring more of myself. I prefer editing/revising myself, but I like it when I can get someone else to take a look too.

Do you have any critique partners you actively exchange stories with?
Not actively. College classes make it hard for me to write much nowadays. But I have a friend I can swap with when needed, and I get the feeling a couple of kind folks around DA might be willing to swap as well.

How many drafts-
We've established I'm not qualified to answer this yet. ^_^;; I'll be honest and say that thinking about completing a full-length work three or more times intimidates me.

But like so many in the comments have said, writing isn't meant to be easy.
cronasonlyfriend Featured By Owner Jan 26, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Reading aloud tends to irritate me, because that's when I find the most of those pesky little typos. I have a few friends who check out my chapters, while I check out theirs. I much prefer this, because I know my view is biased, either to harsh, or too forgiving. I have never finished novel, but my current project has been re-written three times so far.
mirz-alt Featured By Owner Jan 26, 2014   General Artist
  • Have you ever read your work aloud? If so, what was your experience?

Yes. Almost every story in one of the draft forms.

  • Do you prefer revising yourself or having someone else revise for you?

I revise myself, but that is mostly out of necessity. It's difficult to find someone who will do it for you on a long-term, consistent basis, short of paying. I simply don't have the finances for a professional editor, so I self-revise. I know it's not the preferred method, but it's either that or not revise, and I know the virtue of getting the work polished.

  • Do you have any critique partners that you actively exchange stories with to review?

I have a collab partner. We heavily critique the sections the other writes, and we critique each other non-collab works.

  • How many drafts do you typically write before you consider your story "done"?

The best words I heard on this recently is "There is no magic number. You revise until it's done."  I have had some stories where it takes 3 drafts. I have had stories where I have revised it 20 times before it was right. You simply cannot know until you are in the thick of it.  I have NEVER had a story come out right on the first draft, even the best works that seemed to flow from my fingertips in a steady stream. I insist on at least 3 draft for a personal preference, but I find it generally 5 or more to get it perfect.

That said, you do have to know when to stop. As Stephen King said, "you never really finish a work, you abandon it."  Meaning, there is always something you could re-word, tweak or change. You get it to a point where it really can't be improved much more and move on.

DorianHarper Featured By Owner Jan 26, 2014  Professional Writer

I definitely agree with the last point most definitely! At least, I totally feel that way haha.

Thank you for answering, too! It's always nice seeing everyone's different approaches.
Created-By-Caz Featured By Owner Jan 26, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
 I hope people actually take note of this one as I've seen so many people (who consider themselves to be 'serious' writers) let themselves down due to bad revision.  An occasional typo I could understand; it happens to the best of us, including those of us who type for a living.  My issue is when the grammar, punctuation, layout and numerous typos mean you cannot actually follow the prose - I even had someone post a story to my group that was so full of errors (someone who is an experienced writer) that I had to refuse it until they fixed it.

Even sadder though, are the ones who, when glaring errors are commented on, decide to get all huffy - it soon becomes clear they are too lazy to read something through properly (or in some cases just don't care about editing as apparently 'it's not important').  They have even become abusive (calling us 'Grammar Nazis' when all you have tried to do is give them (politely phrased) critique - which they asked for!  I've actually given up trying to critique some people and now, if I see a story is full of these errors, I just delete it without trying to finish it.  Such a shame, a fantastic idea can be ruined by not taking enough care.

Do I ever read my work aloud?  Yes, I have done that on several occasions.  When I was taught to type, our teacher told us to do this, actually reading the words we saw, as opposed to what they should have been.  It's quite surprising just how many errors you can catch, especially with dialogue.

Revising myself v having another revise for me?  I do both!  

Critique Partners  When I've finished the first draft (or sometimes after I've reviewed it myself) I ask another person (my husband, who also writes as a hobby) to review it - he will sometimes see something that feels out of place, or will question whether something is relevant/could be better expressed.  We have different styles so sometimes I follow his advice and sometimes I don't - but having that extra opinion always helps. 

How many drafts?  This depends on what I'm writing.  A short story may be reviewed over a few days, longer stories have been known to take between 1 and 2 weeks.  I usually write one draft and fiddle with it, though on occasion I've hated what I've written so much/decided to completely change what I was writing, that I've deleted the whole thing and started again.

DorianHarper Featured By Owner Jan 26, 2014  Professional Writer

It's sadly surprising how many "serious" writers who query their manuscripts also don't edit. Scary, really. You'd be surprised how many come through that have grammatical errors and even spelling errors strewn throughout. I wish people would understand that editing is just as important (or more-so) than actually getting the story written down.

I thank you so very much for your long and detailed reply! It's nice hearing how people approach editing in different ways :)
LadyKylin Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2014
  • Have you ever read your work aloud? If so, what was your experience? This is my main editing tool. Things may read fine but sound ludicrous.

  • Do you prefer revising yourself or having someone else revise for you?

Both. I revise before showing it to people, then I ussaly get soemone to look over it and they catch a lot of mistakes I missed.

  • Do you have any critique partners that you actively exchange stories with to review?

I'm active on the site which has a fantastic critque interface, as well as more indepth feedback then I've ever gotten here.

  • How many drafts do you typically write before you consider your story "done"?

Stories are never done. Art is never really finsihed, just gets to a point where you don't know how to make it any better.

Lewanut Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2014
While I generally do all the pre-posting reading and editing myself (due to being unable to find anyone who'll actually give substantive feedback), one area where I've found outside proofreaders to be invaluable is in not knowing things. Specifically, since they don't already know the intentions of the piece, they're great at misinterpreting things and bringing ambiguities to light. I'm profoundly grateful to them for this, since it shows things that need fixing up that I'd have never found on my own. (Especially when it turns out an intended double entendre was actually a triple entendre, and the secondary meaning that I hadn't thought of was horribly offensive. Happens more often that you'd think.)
Add a Comment: