Mouse View/Eagle View: Revision

Ah, a new year, a new calendar page!

In the past year, I've had the opportunity to edit fiction for a US publisher and provided feedback to other writers on their creative projects. And now I'm also in the throes of revising some creative writing projects of my own.

One of the more frustrating realities I live with is that I've worked, with some success, as a writer and an editor for years -- yet revising my own creative writing remains one of the most challenging parts of the writing process.

Good news: Revision is one context in which distinguishing between mouse and eagle view can be the most helpful. In fact, it's necessary.

When I work with a client, I have to know what kind of feedback they're looking for. Do they want me to be a mouse? If so, I'll standardize their use of punctuation and verb tense, correct errors in grammar and usage, and even check the bottom of every page to see if the last word is hyphenated.

Or do they want me to be an eagle? Do they want me to track the elapsed time in a novel, so that a trial doesn't inadvertently take place on a weekend, or a mention of "three weeks later" in March doesn't turn into September? I'll look at whether the protagonists actively create the events in the story, whether I'm willing to suspend my disbelief and take a trip with the characters.

When a publishing company is looking for a quick copy edit or a proofing job, they're not interested in hearing about problems in the plot (though sometimes I can't resist pointing them out). When a writer asks for substantive input, she doesn't want me to standardize how she uses commas.

Revising my own work is also easier when I'm explicit with myself ahead of time about what I think the piece needs. Although it's relatively easy to get enough time and distance for me to correct grammar or spelling, getting perspective on larger issues in a manuscript is tougher. Time helps, and that's eagle-view time: in December, I reworked a story that I hadn't looked at for a year. The story I start on tomorrow has been "resting" for nearly two years -- which is good, because I suspect it's going to need a major overhaul.

And of course I didn't invent this concept: "levels of edit" have been around, with various definitions, for decades. Quite the useful tool they are, too!

So that's three contexts in which I have used "mouse view/eagle view" recently: life balance, rejection, and revision. I wonder how many more I can find!

Happy 2013, everyone.