One of the more tedious parts of being a writer is the editing phase. When you proudly send off a manuscript and get it back with over 1,000 suggestions, it’s pretty discouraging. But once you get the nerve to start looking at those suggestions, you find that most of them make sense and do indeed improve the flow of the story. You make the changes, knowing that the story is better as a result. But in the vast majority of cases, one round of edits isn’t enough. Most writers go through at least three rounds of edits before they reach a final manuscript. So once you’ve sent back the revised manuscript implementing the suggested changes, know that you aren’t done. You can expect to receive yet another marked-up manuscript. And another…
In the writing world, the different phases of editing are named. Three of the most common are developmental, copy-editing, and proofreading. Each of these gets progressively more focused. In a developmental edit, the editor looks at the big picture: what are you trying to say, and are you telling your story as effectively as you can? He or she points out plot holes, places where the language is unclear or repetitive, and inconsistencies with characters or setting. The main goal is to make everything flow as well as possible.
Once the developmental edit is done, it’s time for copy-editing. Now the focus is a bit more narrow. Yes, the editor is looking for spelling and grammar, but mainly for accuracy and fixing inconsistencies. They check facts to make sure the writer isn’t misrespresenting anything, like using an iPhone in the 1990’s. They alert the writer to possible legal problems, such as quoting lyrics to a copyrighted song. They take what happened in the developmental edit and ensure the story flows.
And then comes proofreading. This is the most focused type of editing. Proofreaders get into the nitty-gritty. Should this be a comma or a semicolon? Does this need to be hyphenated? They look at tricky rules that are hard to remember like “lay/lie/laid.” Proofreading is the final step before the manuscript goes off to formatting and printing.
Admittedly, it’s easy to get defensive when you’re in the middle of editing. Sometimes those suggestions from your editor feel more like an attack. But it’s important to remember that you and your editor are on the same side. You have the same goal in mind, which is to make the best book possible.
So what phase of editing are you in? I’m not talking about a written manuscript; I’m talking about your life. You’ve probably already been through a couple phases of developmental edits growing up, as your parents strove to help you see the bigger picture and how your life relates to those around you. They pointed out inconsistencies where your behavior didn’t match your family’s morals and beliefs. This is where you developed your character.
As you get older, maybe you find yourself in the copy-editing phase. You’re translating what you learned from the developmental edit into your life now, making sure it’s in line with who you want to be. You’re checking your sources and facts to be sure you aren’t misrepresenting anything. If you’re a Christian, you look to the Bible to be sure your actions aren’t misrepresenting your Lord. You pray with the psalmist, “Keep me from deceitful ways; be gracious to me and teach me your law” (Psalm 119:29). The Bible itself serves as an “editor,” after a fashion, correcting you where you are wrong.
Or perhaps you find you need some proofreading. You need to know how to apply what you’ve learned to specific situations, rather than just an overall worldview. You search the Bible for passages that pertain to your current experience, praying for God’s wisdom in that particular instance.
Unfortunately, in life editing, these phases aren’t as neatly defined as they are in editing a manuscript. Once I’m done with proofreading a manuscript, I won’t go back for another round of developmental editing. But in life, things aren’t that tidy. You may feel like you’re stuck in continuous rounds of developmental editing, and that can get cumbersome. It’s easy to get discouraged and even resentful of the impossibly high standard God sets in the Bible. But as with a human editor, it’s important to remember that you’re on the same side. God has your best interests in mind, and His goal is to mold and shape you into His own image, so you reflect Him to others.
But there’s a very important difference between editing for writing and the editing God does in your life. A written manuscript will eventually be error-free (or at least, very close) and ready for printing. But you will never be perfect this side of heaven. You’ll find yourself falling into the same errors, committing the same sins over and over. You will fall short of God’s standards. But Jesus has already lived the perfect life you can’t. He died for your sins and rose again to defeat death for you. No, you won’t be perfect in this life, but you will be perfect in the life to come. That’s God’s ultimate goal.
So don’t shy away from the editing process in your life. Yes, it can be tedious, but the end results are worth it. And speaking of which, I’d better go. I have a manuscript to edit.