Ways to revise

Most writers revise by crawling through their text word by word, changing anything they don’t like. That’s a perfectly fine method, but it’s slow and only improves local effects. In fact, many writers revise heavily as they draft, and that’s why they’re so slow, particularly since they keep revising things they’ve already revised. That’s the slowest way: just keep writing sentences and revising them and changing anything the revision damages.

What’s the fastest way? You draft the entire piece with no revision whatever, and then revise the whole thing once. Get it down, then get it right. Few writers do it that way because they can’t stand to leave anything wrong or misspelled or poorly phrased on the screen. Writing with the screen off helps them see that they can draft without revising. I draft at my top speed and then revise separately to compensate for my poor typing. (I type four words a minute finished, draft at 25!)

If you revise as a separate step, you’re making changes to a complete piece, rather than just part of it. Each sentence gets revised with all the other sentences in mind, which helps unify the whole thing.

Instead of starting small, at the sentence level, you can revise the structure of the piece first. A lot of phrasing problems vanish when you figure out first what you want to say and how. Rapid drafting gets you there fast. Rearrange first for the structure you want, then fix the transitions, and finally the sentences.

Some writers get a friend (or two or ten) to read their draft and tell them what works and what needs work. Such test readers point out assumptions and holes we can’t see. Oddly enough, the less expert test reader is more likely to see the problems by experiencing them as a reader.

Another strategy involves reading a printed version aloud, putting a tick in the margin beside anything that bumps you, anything you want to change. Then you have a marginal index of everything that needs work.

Finally, you need to stop revising when the piece is finished. At a certain point, further revision makes a piece heavy and less readable. As a writing coach, I find that quick revisers like their pieces better.

[Let’s hear your revision tricks.]

Published in: on October 28, 2009 at 8:45 am  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hey Dad, recently wrote a young-adult book, which I read out loud to Joshua at bedtime over a couple of days. Turned out to be a great way to find mistakes and bumps, some of which I would totally have missed reading on the screen.

    On the other hand, the kid got really annoyed when I would stop reading and scrawl something on the page.

  2. Thanks for inventing a new revision technique: reading aloud to another person. I’ll add it to the book.

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