Read and Revise – How Many Times Should You Revise Your Own Work?

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Continuing on the subject from last week, the question naturally arises: “How often should an author reread and revise their work before sending it off?” Those of us who are perfectionists (Hi!) worry about over-revising to the point that we become mired in a single story/article. We regularly gnaw at our nails as we wonder if we can ever truly avoid this trap.

Other authors would rather write their story up and get it out there fast (I feel for you, brothers and sisters). They moan and grit and grind their teeth at the mere idea of revising a piece more than a handful of times. It takes a massive effort for some of them to do one reread for self-editing purposes; to do more than one for these writers is practically akin to martyrdom.

So how many times should an author reread and revise their work before sending it off? Well, the truth is that the number of times the writer revises his/her work is entirely up to them. Some people will not feel comfortable until they have self-edited their work thirteen times; others will make an effort to get at least four or five done before putting their stories or articles in circulation. My recommendation, which is based on personal experience, for the number of times you self-edit your work is to look it over three times before you give it to a beta reader or send it off to an editor.

As mentioned in last week’s article, this author did not want to be one of those writers who self-edited a work twenty times before submitting it to a publisher. However, I did learn that revising my own work before handing it in was necessary, based on the feedback I received from my beta readers. My compromise with them and the inner voice shouting “Hurry up and get it done!” was that I would look over my work at least three times before allowing anyone else to see it.

This is a practice I have kept up with everything but my needy stories/articles. Looking over my work thrice before sending it off is what sharpened my interior critic and editor’s skills. It helped, too, in developing the ability to accept criticism from others without instantly thinking of it as an attack. Though that reflex isn’t gone, I have more control over it, meaning my editing sessions go far more smoothly than they did previously.

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If self-editing thrice sounds good to you, either because it takes so little time or because it seems like a good check for perfectionist tendencies, then go ahead and use that as your stop-gap number. Feel free, however, to adjust this format to your own needs. Some lucky ducks out there might only have to look over their work twice before sending off; others may need four or even five self-edits minimum.

There is another element to revision to consider, however; in some cases, the project before the writer will demand more than three rewrites or revisions of its own accord. Sometimes, certain stories or articles refuse to come out in a coherent manner on the first, second, or even the tenth write through. While this is infuriating, it does happen, and (to borrow a medical phrase) authors should look at these works as their “high needs babies.” They demand a great deal of attention from us, which can make them among the more wearisome factors in our jobs.

The only advice I can offer when your “high needs” works are driving you crazy is to switch things up: work on a separate article/story for a while before returning to that petulant, piqued piece. If that doesn’t work, then try to do something that lets you relax or which allows you to vent your frustration. This could be anything from a night out bowling with the family to an afternoon spent mowing the lawn or cleaning the house.

Remember, whatever you are working on isn’t going anywhere any time soon, and one evening/two days/a certain number of weeks won’t necessarily mean the end of your career. It may be your best shot at keeping your “inner peace” and sanity intact. Besides, once you are relaxed or have released your aggression, your mind will be able to think things through more clearly. This will probably give you the perspective needed to complete the task with less fuss than if you had avoided taking a break.

Whoops, I nearly forgot another editing trick I learned! This is to reread one’s work from the bottom up after reading it from the top down several times. Doing this helps authors spot missing words, misspellings, or gaps in the narrative that they missed on the top down reviews. It can be a bit exasperating at first, but it is a very valuable practice for a writer to develop.

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Ultimately, the number of personal revisions a writer should do is not set in stone. Authors should imitate the U.S. Marines: we should study the situation and adapt to overcome it. So if a piece you are working on needs only a few revisions, then that is what it should receive. If it needs more…well, I can tell you that those are the times when we must give our work more thought and effort. It may feel like a waste of time while we are doing it, but in the end, the product will be more worthwhile than if we hurried through and didn’t do our best to make it as good as we could have.

So while I don’t suggest you bind yourself to a model that isn’t working for you, I do recommend that you find/build a routine which works for you. Whatever requirements or obstacles you may encounter, now or in the future, having set a number for self-edits will help make you a better author. It may drive you crazy at first, but it will be good for you.

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One thought on “Read and Revise – How Many Times Should You Revise Your Own Work?

  1. I have, indeed, found your posts to be enlightening. The real crisis in the writing world has been the inability to get quality feedback on what we write. Professional proofreaders are basically gone. (I believe these jobs were filled by highly educated women who had no better prospects. Since the 1970’s however, the kinds of jobs women can find have exploded and “bye-bye” proofreaders.) The typos I see in even high end hardbounds are appalling, but it is what it is. Proofreading is being done by developmental editors and spell checkers (gasp!). (DEs are overworked, of course.)

    Having a genre savvy editor is a rarity, but then so many more people have the opportunity to get published, I guess eventually things will settle out into a new system.

    Self editing is a necessity, always has been, but proofreading and copy editing are still needed. maybe we need to form collectives and share skills.

    Liked by 2 people

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