John Irving said, “Half my life is an act of revision.”
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As writers, especially those who spend significant time publishing on the internet, it’s easy to overlook revision as the essential second step.
And third. Sometimes fourth.
No one gets it right the first time. I repeat, no one.
I’m a perfectionist by design, often deliberately walking away from a draft so as not to keep hacking away at it.
Still, in my eager if not egotistical ambition to produce more text, I sometimes omit this vital act.
When I’m in the zone, however, all jacked up on the search for passive sentences and wordy rants, I have an effective ritual.
Four Steps To Effective Revision
1. Read out loud – when reading in your head, it’s easier to mentally fix typos and omitted words out of familiarity with the text.
You know what you mean to write, so you subconsciously amend and mistakes go unseen. If read out loud, however, these errors become obvious.
Find a quiet room, turn off ambient noise, and embrace the sound of your voice. It works every time.
2. Make a short to-do list and spend five or ten minutes on each item – as a writer, it’s important to understand your strengths and weaknesses.
If you lean towards redundancy (as I do), make a point to go sentence by sentence and look for ways to be more concise.
If you love commas, go back and figure out how to vary punctuation.
Here are a couple of ideas to get you thinking:
- Find to-be verbs (am, is, are, was, were, being, been, be) and see if any can be removed from a sentence (it may take some rearranging). This process is also known as changing from passive to active voice (it’s more exciting to read active prose).
- Look for word repetition. We all have tendencies, favorite words. When overuse goes unchecked, writing can seem one-note.
3. Walk away and come back – we all reach that point of diminishing returns. When you think it’s finished, walk away for at least 30 minutes. Eat a snack. Take a walk. Do something mindless.
When you return, give it one more go. You’ll be surprised what improvements can be made after a solid break.
4. Get fresh eyes on it – there’s a reason best selling authors have editors. Writing is personal; you want to keep all of it. Send your draft to a friend, relative, or peer – someone you trust to be honest and thorough.
They often find inconsistencies or errors you miss. This trick is also helpful for clarity.
Sometimes ideas get jumbled on the journey from your head to your hands (remember the telephone game from elementary school?), but you can’t always objectively see the disconnect.
Handing it off solves this issue in a perfect way.
Revision can be arduous. Sometimes we want to write and be free of it, but if you take the time to carefully revise, the final product has the best chance of success.