Writing advice, Writing and Editing

The Difference Between Revision and Editing

For many people, saying that they are revising their work means anything and everything they do to bring their writing from the rawness of a first draft to the polished efficiency of the finished product. For years, I thought the same thing. I took a first draft of a story or novel and went through it and through it, reading it over and over, correcting this and changing that until I finally had a piece that, if not perfect, was at least as good as I could make it. What’s wrong with that, you ask? It’s how many writers perfect their work.

Well, there’s nothing exactly wrong with it. Like I said, I’ve spent most of my writing life working that way. The primary drawback to that method is that it isn’t terribly efficient. And the problem with inefficiency is that much time gets wasted because you end up doing work you didn’t need to do at all, or you end up doing the same thing twice while completely missing something else that needed your attention.

Part of being a professional writer (whether we get paid or not is immaterial. In my mind, professionalism is an attitude.) is the ability to work as hard and efficiently as possible. This includes revising our work.

So how do we streamline the act of revision? How do we increase the efficiency of our work as we struggle to turn rough drafts into final, polished products?

By realizing that revision and editing are not the same thing. They describe two very different processes that address different potential problems with our written work. By concentrating on each in its turn, we can quickly and efficiently correct the flaws that may exist in our rough drafts without the risk of wasting time or missing anything crucial.

The difference between revision and editing.


The revision process is about making “big picture” changes; macro, if you will. You may need to remove whole sections, completely re-write others, still others may need to be moved from one part of the narrative to another. It is this type of “big” changes that revision is designed to take care of.

A simple approach to revision is the A3R system. (Adding, Rearranging, Removing, Replacing).


What else does the reader need to know? If you haven’t met the required word count, what can you expand on?


Sometimes, scene x you wrote toward the end of the story would actually work better in the middle where the action drags. Or vice versa.


Possibly you’ve gone over the requested word count, or maybe the anecdote about your character’s Uncle really doesn’t add anything to the story. Sometimes you need to bite the bullet and just delete it.


Sometimes, your original idea for a particular scene isn’t as strong as you’d like. Sometimes, it just doesn’t work. Maybe the ending disappointed your test readers. In all of these cases you just have to come up with something else. It happens.


Editing is the “small picture” to revision’s “big,” the “micro” to revision’s “macro.” Editing is the process of making sure you have the perfect words and sentences for your purpose. It should only be done after the “big” changes of revision are finished. There is no point (and it is incredibly inefficient) to agonizing over the choice of verb in a particular sentence if you’re going to end up cutting the entire scene from the work.

Editing involves going through the piece line by line and making sure each sentence, each phrase and word is as strong as possible.

Here are some things you might check for as you go through your piece:

Have you used the same word, phrase, or description too many times?

In the novel I’m currently working on, I found the verb “nodded” some 350 times in just over 200 pages. (Thank you “find and replace.”) In another place, I used “body” four times in one paragraph. In both cases, it meant being creative and finding a different way of saying what I meant.

Are any of your sentences hard to understand? Awkward?

Reading the work aloud is the easiest way to find these. If they sound awkward or senseless, they probably don’t read well either. Read what you wrote, not what you meant to say.

Which words could you cut to make a sentence stronger?

Just, quite, very, really, and generally, are often meaningless and merely filling space. See if the sentence is stronger without them. The same goes for all adverbs and adjectives.

Are your sentences grammatically correct?

Is everything spelled correctly?

Have you used punctuation marks correctly?

Have you avoided the passive voice?

These are just some suggestions. There are always more.

I think that this system will help streamline the revision process for everyone and help you create clean, polished works faster and with more efficiency than ever before.


8 thoughts on “The Difference Between Revision and Editing

  1. barn7777 says:

    Very helpful post. This is the one area I struggle with the most in my writing–revising/editing! Definitely will share!


    • Thanks David. Yes, it was an eye-opener for me. I was doing everything mentioned before, but in a helter-skelter fashion. This is much more methodical, so less chance of missing anything. (Or doing things we don’t need to do).


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