REVISION; Well Worth the Win!

Revision is the process of looking back at our first attempt to make improvements. Nonetheless, writers are attached to their words, therefore; this revision process is not easy.  While it can be a daunting and bittersweet task, however; there is a formula to help ease some of the pain.

The writer will ADD information, relatable quotes, more suitable words, or punctuation to clarify, or better describe her message to the reader.  Conversely, she might REMOVE, or subtract words, information or phrases and more,  if they do not work, or they weigh the manuscript draft down.  On the other hand, she may MOVE information, words, or phrases that do not work where they are. Furthermore, the writer might SUBSTITUTE words, quotes, information or more, to improve the writing. This process is often referred to as the ARMS approach.

In THE WRITING HABIT, Peregrine Smith, 1991, David Huddle writes the following about revision: 

I like to think of revision as a form of self-forgiveness; you can allow yourself mistakes and shortcomings in your writing because you know you’re coming back later to improve it.  Revision is the way you cope with bad luck that made your writing less than excellent this morning. Revision is the hope you hold out for yourself to make something beautiful tomorrow though you didn’t quite manage it today.  Revision is democracy’s literary method, the tool that allows an ordinary person to aspire to extraordinary achievement.

Revision means to “see again”.  It means to look at your writing from a fresh, more critical perspective and to make necessary global changes.   It is usually performed from a larger to a smaller scale. In other words, the writer will tackle the bigger picture first, to make sure the overall content is right,  before she gets into the nitty gritty steps of editing and proof-reading.  Revision is about finding and sharpening your focus, and tailoring it to fit your theme or overall message.  It is about re-shaping your manuscript to ensure that it will meet your audience’s expectations. When the writer revises, she corrects flaws in the flow, the overall pacing, the relevance of each paragraph, chapter or idea, and she assesses the voice and point of view to make sure they are the right fit. 

In the April 5, 2017 Writer’s Digest article; 7 Strategies for Revising Your Novel, the author , Lisa Preston, points out ; the rewrite is tougher than the draft. The draft is infatuation.  Therefore, any thoughts for marriage at this stage are simply out of the question!

She continues to lay out the 7 strategies as follows:

  • Embrace the doubt, or make sure every word carries its weight- to reveal character or advance the story.
  • Read the draft in reverse, back to front.  This prevents the writer from overlooking weak areas.
  • Structure your novel, or create an outline after finishing the initial draft. This allows the writer to more clearly see the arc of the story, the placement and relevance of key scenes and turning points, and other critical areas. 
  • Revisit characterization, to fine tune motivation, goals, appropriate dialogue and relevance
  • Task your computer, or use software with tools to locate redundancy, inappropriate words, or mistakes.  Under this heading, Preston makes a great suggestion, in my view, to select a different font for the second printing of a hard copy, to help freshen the writer’s eyes to the words.
  • Read the draft out loud, to someone else, or listen to it from a recording.
  • Continue to study the craft, re-read books on writing while you give your draft a rest, or time out.

I have often thought it would be nice if we could revise our own first (or second, or third…) attempts in life the way writers are able to revise their first draft attempts in writing. If individuals could only go back in time and say or do the right thing to change the directions we took, and wish we hadn’t. If only we could go back to school and start over, we would do it right this time around, for sure!  If only we bought that dream house instead of hemming and hawing over the price for too long, or if we only took better care of our health, or spent more time with our loved ones.  If only we didn’t let things go stale in that relationship or get to the breaking point when it was too far gone to fix.  If only we could remove what we did wrong, add or substitute what we should have done right instead, to reshape the outcome.  If only there was an ARMS approach we could use in our everyday life the way the writer applies it to his manuscript drafts. 

If only…..

But, alas, unlike revising in writing, all we can do in our real life, is learn from the past, and become more mindful of the actions we will take moving forward!   All the more reason for writers to employ the power of revision in writing, the way individuals are unable to do in life!

To illustrate this further, Children’s Book Writer, Terry Pierce describes revision this way:

Revision is where writers roll up their sleeves, plunge their hands into the wet clay and then squeeze, twist, roll and contort their words until they’ve sculpted the perfect text. There’s nothing pretty or glamorous about it. It’s hard, tedious, and time- consuming. And very intentional.  But it’s a necessary (and rewarding)  part of the writing process.

In addition to the 7 Writer Digest strategies listed earlier, I’ve compiled my own comprehensive list of advice collected from different writers on how to revise:

  • Make sure you addressed the Five Ws right away; the Who/Why/When/Where and What- in the opening?
  • Confirm that your character appears all the way through the book, and doesn’t disappear off the face of the earth and that she stays true to character!  And make sure she has relevance to the story, that she adds to the story, otherwise delete her or combine that character with another.  Or change her. And make sure she changes, or learns something about herself by the end, and if not, make sure there is a reason why she didn’t. Remember, she must solve her problem herself!
  • Make sure every scene has significance, and ties into the end, moving the story forward, that each scene makes sense or matters, when the story comes together. 
  • Confirm that the story has good pacing with rising action and solid structure.
  • Make sure the point of view and tense are consistent. 
  • Replace adjectives with stronger nouns, and adverbs with stronger verbs. 
  • Make sure you have showed, rather than told. 
  • Make sure you don’t have too many “to be” verbs, such as there was, there is, there were, etc.
  • Have you used a more active voice, rather than a passive voice, such as “I ran, “  instead of “ I was running”. 
  • Make sure you resolved your theme or sharpened your focus. 
  • Have you tightened the text as much as possible, removing unnecessary words and sentences. Have you used too much purple prose?  If so, remove or fix it.
  • Is there sentence and word variety, that you have not used the same word too many times, or written the sentences in the same manner. 
  • Have you read the piece out loud or from a recording.
  • Have you had  someone or a writing group critique it?
  • Have you put the draft aside for a while ( a week, or a month) and re-read it with fresh eyes.

And don’t forget, above all, make sure first that you have a good story that will interest the reader!  None of the strategies or in this post will fix a faulty foundation!

If all of this sounds excessive, or time- consuming, it is!  After all, nothing worth getting ever comes easy! Author Roald Dahl said the following; Good writing is essentially rewriting. Pointedly, Ernest Hemmingway rewrote the last page of Farewell to Arms 39 times before getting it right!

Moreover, I repeatedly stumbled upon the following quote by William Zinsser, American writer, editor, literary critic, and teacher, in several of the writing articles I researched when putting together this blog;

   Rewriting is the essence of writing well- where the game is won or lost.

Don’t lose the game after putting in all that practice and hard work on your first attempt. Go the distance to make the final touchdown, or score the winning goal.  Do, as a writer, what we are unable to do in our real life as human beings. Recognize and employ the magic of revision to your writing. It will be well worth the win in the end. 

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