Revision: It’s A Treasure Hunt!

imagesRevision. 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.

Read Aloud.

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.



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.

4 comments on “Revision: It’s A Treasure Hunt!

    • Marie,
      So good to hear you say that! Writers sometimes fear revision–it’s either going to be a TON of work or it will suck all the juice out of the original. I say, “NEVER FEAR!” If you do the work to “dig out” the gold, your work will be more of a treasure. Thank you for your comment. Keep writing, Linda

  1. Linda, I’ll post this on the Christian Poets & Writers blog, so other members of our FB group will be more apt to see – Also want to say how I used to dislike revision, but the thesaurus feature in most word processing programs is a fun and easy way to find The word that will bump up sound echoes and add layers of connotations. That’s my “trick” for making a poem pop, but I think it helps all types of writing too. And, like you, I read each version and revision aloud to hear for myself the big difference (or no difference!) those subtle changes can make.

    • Mary,
      Thanks for your support. I sometimes use the Word program’s thesaurus too. Even if there are no “suggestions,” it makes me stop & think about what I really wanted to say. And oh–the Tater Tots and Mashed Potatoes must get together someday soon! 😉
      Keep Writing!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *