Revision has always been a rather terrifying concept for me. People will tell you: "Writing is hard." No, writing should be the best and easiest part, you should be excited to get those first words down on paper. Writing is easy. Revising is hard. And it is important to note that there is a huge difference between revision and editing: and up until recently, I rolled the two together. Now that I know there is a clear and distinct line between the two, it feels a lot more comfortable to think about. During my Creative Writing class my teacher started to discuss revision. I'll be honest, it's a concept that paralyzes me with fear. Mostly because I don't understand it. But I can admit, happily, that he described it in such a way that some of the fear has ebbed.
The first thing my teacher did was ask us a riddle:
"What is the difference between a great writer and a good one? What is the difference between a beginning writer and a good one? It's the same difference between a beginning writer and a great one."
Stop me if you've heard this one before...
The answer is...
The second thing my teacher did was introduce a book, and I hope you've heard of it: The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr and E.B. White. As of April 14th, 2016 the book is available free through Amazon for their Kindle edition (or any Android phone with the Kindle Reader app on it). [Below is not an affiliate link, just a preview from Amazon]
I've owned the book in the past but pretty much have to pretend like I didn't: I don't remember reading it in the last five to ten years. My Creative Writing teacher swears that everyone needs to own this book. I took Amazon up on the offer and snatched it up for free.
Revision Techniques and Advice
"Be willing to change each word, each punctuation mark." - Creative Writing teacher, Mr. Jonathan Frey
Other techniques for revision that were suggested:
- To literally re-write your manuscript: re-type each and every word (or hand write). This will give you the opportunity to reacquaint yourself with your story. Every. Single. Word. Again.
- Always read your story out loud.
- Move or change your writing location. If you wrote Draft 1 in your office, work on Draft 2 at your favorite coffee shop or public library. This will help you disassociate from any environmental influences or baggage.
- Read your manuscript in a different format than you wrote it in: if you typed it, print it off and read it on plain white paper. If you hand-wrote it, type it up and read it on the computer. It will help give you a different and new perspective by forcing you to physically see the work differently.
- Have outside readers read it (preferably someone who doesn't like you or your work. Don't have your mother (or boyfriend/girlfriend/best friend) read it, because they will not be able to give you an honest opinion. Choose someone impartial. Someone who hates you is best because they won't be worried about hurting your feelings.
- Author's note: Do as I say, not as I do. I have my boyfriend and my best friend read my work all the time because A: I trust them, and B: they're accessible to me. C: they may not be able to give me an unbiased opinion but I have to work with the resources available to me. So if you fall into that same category of "I only feel comfortable with X, Y, Z - then use X, Y, Z and just remember you'll have to learn to be more critical of your own work to make up for what they, and yourself, cannot see.
- Use different fonts for different drafts of the story. My Creative Writing teacher has a writer friend who does his first draft in a "super secret font," and his second and follow up drafts in something else. This helps get the author into the correct mode, just by looking at the fonts.
- Research responsibly. Yes, a certain amount of research is going to be required--you certainly need to make sure if you're including birds or trees in your story that they are the correct ones. Just make sure that you're actually researching and not just procrastinating by looking things up on Wikipedia for six hours.
- "As a writer, you have a unique responsibility to know everything." J. Frey
- Read the work of others. Only through reading the work of others and catching their mistakes (on a line-by-line level or the "big picture") will you begin to understand how to critically look at your own work.
- "We workshop [read and critique] in order to read the work of others. We are terrible readers of our own work." - J. Frey
- During workshop--we hone our own critical reading skills through the process of critiquing our peers. The purpose is not for writer's benefit--but for us as a reader.
Just like writing -- no revision process is the same! What works for me (if you figure that out, let me know!), may not work for you, and vice versa. Do you have something not listed on this list? Something you'd like to share about what works for you after a first draft? Or even a 20th? Help your fellow writers out! Share it in the comments, or write your own blog about what works for you!
Or do you have a success story about revision? Someone who really helped you revise critically? Or a revision horror story..? An over zealous editor, perhaps? Tell me a story!
I wrote another blog about revision earlier this year: Revising a manuscript: share your first step. Although now that I look back, that may be focused more on the editing side of revision (more on that later).