Revision. To some writers, rewriting is a chore. To others a fabulous opportunity. You can either think of revision as an awful chore or you can dive in with the expectation of wonderful discovery. Let’s examine how and why your writing will improve if you approach revision with open arms.
Writing Tip for Today: No doubt about it: revision is work. But here are some ideas for revision to help make it feel less like a giant stack of dirty dishes and more like a treasure hunt:
Self Edit in Layers.
Finishing a draft is exciting–as it should be. But after you’ve rested the material for a period, revisions can feel overwhelming. How are you ever going to clean up, tighten or repair all that needs doing to make your work shine? One way to lessen the load is to self-edit in layers. I like to begin with the overall theme and message (for nonfiction) and the larger story for fiction. Does the work say what you intended? Are there places that derail or go off on tangents? Is the hook compelling? And so on. But never fear–if you’re just beginning to learn self-editing, begin where you are. On one session, go through the work and identify and repair all passive language (sentences where the “to be” verb, is, are, was, were dominate) by substituting an active, precise verb. Next session, eliminate excess modifiers (ly words and/or too many adjectives). Look for spots where you are telling and not showing or showing and then telling too. By dividing these “hunts” into more manageable sections, you can make progress in revision.
At any stage in revision, your ears will pick up errors your eyes miss. Read to another writer or your dog, but as John Updike said, “The best way to improve is to read your work out loud.” You’ll catch far more typos, clunky constructions and grammar gaffes by reading aloud than you will by reading silently from the screen. You can also use this “read-aloud” method to pick up on places that lack clarity, purpose or flow. But don’t forget that you may also listen for places that work well or are poetic and strong.
Refine for Real Gold.
Finally, revision offers writers the amazing opportunity to refine a good idea and make it better, sharpen a character’s focus or raise the stakes in a more compelling way. While it isn’t fun to discover your work is lacking in some way, consider this: if you figure out or learn how to adjust, fix, repair your work, it will likely be not only an improvement (and possibly a leap to being publishable) but your writing skill in general will probably improve. Yes, revision is work. But it’s also a grand opportunity. Your draft is your treasure map. Be willing to “dig in” and revise until “X” marks the spot. The sweet spot, that is. Now that’s what I call writing for gold.