Revising Made Simple: Start Where You Are

The revision process, new writers tell me, is confusing, long and really really difficult. Think of it this way: when you rewrite, you’re in essence taking that lump of clay (in this case, a finished draft) and shaping it into the story it needs to be. Yet many writers have trouble with this part of writing.
Writing Tip for Today: How can you get started with revisions when you don’t know where to start?

  • Go for the Stuff You Know. Yes, if your story is structurally weak those line edits (changing words instead of the story) may eventually get cut. So what? You have the ability to write more words. If you don’t have access to a trained manuscript evaluator, just dive in and do what you can. Start with too many modifiers and those pesky “LY” words, or adverbs. See if you can substitute a more particular or specific VERB for what you have written. If you can, the “ly” is generally not needed. EX: He walked slowly. He strolled. She moved quickly. She darted. If you see a pattern where you consistently use two descriptors (EX: He was a withered old man, living in a brown clapboard house with his sick mangy dog and elderly calico cat.), consider eliminating some of the modifiers. Remember, Less is More!
  • Reach for Those Verbs! As long as we’re talking about verbs, look for “was ings” and switch them to simple past tense. EX: He was walking. He walked. The more “was ings” you keep, the slower the story reads. Tighten up with simple active verbs. If you see a lot of generic verbs in your work (move, put, place, look, talk, walk) see if you can liven them up with more specific verbs. EX: move (sidle) put (slam) place (set) look (glance, glower) talk (yammer) walk (amble, trot, dash). Use a Roget’s Thesaurus if necessary.
  • Identify and Kill Off Redundancies. Do your characters nod in agreement? Does he shake his head no? Does she put her hat on her head?  These “explainers” aren’t necessary. In our culture, a nod is yes and shaking the head is no. And where else would you put your hat? Remember: Resist the Urge to Explain. Wherever you are on the writing learning curve, you can begin to add to your revision skills by practicing them. Strengthen your verbs, toss excess modifiers and axe redundancies for a solid revision start. Your lump of clay may end up as a beautiful statue.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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