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Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Revising, Editing, and Proofreading Your Writing

from the Creative Perspectives Newsletter

So, you have that first draft completed. Congratulations! Some new writers have a difficult time getting that far. Why? The urge to revise, edit, and proofread while involved in the initial creative process is hard to resist. Most beginners haven't yet accepted that their first draft shouldn't be perfect. Instead, they try to do
everything as they go along and dampen that creative spark, loosing interest in the project before it is completed.

So, the first lesson is to move ahead and put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and worry about the polish later. Whether you plan your story meticulously before writing or work out your ideas as you go along, just get to it! Don't expect or try for perfection the first go 'round.

However, the second lesson is to make sure you HAVE put a high-gloss spit shine on your work before it leaves the nest, stretching its wings for the first time out in the big, bad world. To do this, you must Revise, Edit, and Proofread.


Revising is the process of changing what you need to better satisfy your purpose and audience. You will examine words, sentences, paragraphs, and the overall flow of the work in its entirety. Walk away from the draft and come back a day or two later before beginning. Also, endeavor to look at your writing critically, just as a stranger would.

When you revise, you do four things:

1) Cut material.

Unnecessary sentences or paragraphs that slow the pace of your story to a crawl or are irrelevant fillers should fall to the knife. For example, two escaped convicts being chased by hounds probably wouldn't have a conversation about the dogs they owned as children while hiding in a tree.

2) Replace material.

We all tend to gloss over material we aren't sure about, giving a generic surface description. Replace this with sentences or paragraphs that add clarity and depth.

3) Add material.

Watch for sudden jumps from scene to scene and add transitional words, phrases, or even paragraphs. Be sure there is enough description to add atmosphere to a scene. For example, the expression on a woman's face, the color and fullness of her lips, and the texture and movement of her mouth all add to the written description of a kiss.

4) Rearrange what's already there.

You will find that, as you revise, rearranging sentences and paragraphs will be necessary to ensure the flow, pace, and clarity of your material. Don't be surprised if the finished product is radically different from the original draft.


When editing, you are making changes to ensure your writing is grammatically correct. You will check for mistakes in grammar, usage, and mechanics (spelling, punctuation, and capitalization). We, as the writer, tend to see what we know should be in our manuscript instead of what is actually there. So, go over your manuscript again and again.

Following is a checklist to use while editing:


___ 1. Fragments
___ 2. Run-ons


___ 1. Missing letters
___ 2. Extra letters
___ 3. Transposed letters
___ 4. Incorrect plurals
___ 5. Errors in homonyms (such as, their/there/they're)


___ 1. Errors in pronouns (such as, who/whom)
___ 2. Problems with subject - verb agreement
___ 3. Lack of clarity
___ 4. Wrong verb tense
___ 5. Double negatives
___ 6. Dangling and misplaced modifiers
___ 7. Unnecessary words
___ 8. Misused adjectives and adverbs
___ 9. Incorrect voice (active vs. passive voice)
___ 10. Lack of parallel structure

Parallel structure example:

Correct - Cotton is comfortable and washable.
Incorrect - Cotton is comfortable and one can wash it.


___ 1. Missing commas
___ 2. Missing quotation marks in dialogue
___ 3. Misused semicolons and colons
___ 4. Missing or misused apostrophes


___ 1. Proper nouns and adjectives not capitalized
___ 2. Errors in titles


Proofreading is the final step. Consider it the garnish, the added touch before presentation. Once again, you will be examining spelling, punctuation, grammar, and usage. However, this time you will be slowing down, disassociating yourself from the story-line and looking at each individual letter and word.

If you are proofreading your own work, this task is especially hard to do. Remember, as the writer, we tend to see what should be there instead of what actually is. And, disassociating ourselves from our own writing is a daunting task.

Ideally, find someone else to proofread your manuscript. Make sure they can be critical and honest with you. Bribe them if necessary.

If you are stuck doing it on your own, try proofreading backwards. Start from the last page and work your way back to the beginning. This will help you disassociate yourself.

Revising, editing, and proofreading are critical to the success of your finished product. Do NOT skip these important steps of the process!

Happy Writing,

K. Campbell

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