Because our world is so fast-paced, it can be difficult to make time to look at your writing again before you submit it. However, using a one-draft approach to writing is a mistake that many of us have to make simply because we don’t have time to work on more than one draft by ourselves.
And while sending your first draft off to an editor for them to fix your glaring errors may work, it doesn’t produce your best writing.
What is a revision?
I think Rebecca Alber’s writing process makes the most sense:
- Brainstorm (come up with what you want to write)
- Draft (write it)
- Revise (improve what you wrote)
- Edit (proofread and correct grammar)
- Publish (make it public)
The word itself is important to the process. After you’ve written your draft, you need to come back and re-see your writing through fresh eyes so that you can make improvements.
Revision’s goals are to improve your writing in many of the following ways:
- Add detail
- Clarify your main point
- Cut the fluff
- Rearrange points to make your argument (plot) clearer
- Focus on transition sentences
- Focus on making it readable
For fiction, it is often hard to put in the right details the first time around. Because the details are what makes the story come alive, in your revision you should take a careful look at which details you are emphasizing and which details really make your writing pop.
If your reader doesn’t know the purpose of your writing, then why should they read it?
Just like you don’t have time to do multiple drafts, your readers don’t have time to read useless information. If it doesn’t contribute directly to your purpose, cut it.
Sometimes the flow of your argument makes more sense if you change its order. If you are writing an essay, the perfect way to make sure your logic flows is to read your transition sentences and see if the argument still makes sense. If not, fix those sentences until it does.
While your paragraph-long sentence might be the pinnacle of good writing, if it’s hard for your reader to follow then you have disconnected them to your purpose and should fix the sentence to keep them with you.
Why should you revise your writing?
The goal of a revision is to ensure that your writing is readable. Without readers, your words are just scribbles against a white background, lifeless, dead. For your words to mean something, someone has to read it. Therefore, you need to be sure that your writing is readable.
It is possible to write a readable first draft. However, pumping out content without revising it is like having a child and not raising it. Sure, it might turn out okay. Or you will have missed out on an awesome opportunity to impact and influence.
Revision is what makes writing an art, a craft. Revision takes the raw material of the first draft and shapes it into something actually useful, something actually readable.
And because it is revising that produces a polished final product, revision is the most important writing you do. Yes; producing the raw material of the first draft is important. But taking okay writing and making it good—the process of revision—that is what distinguishes an average writer from a good one.
How to revise your writing
In most of the writing tutorials on this site, the last step in each process is revising. So now that you know why this process is so important, how should you revise?
These are the tips and tasks that I’ve acquired over the course of several creative writing classes:
- Take some time away. Whether that’s an hour or a week (a day being the recommended minimum), don’t finish your rough draft and try to turn around and revise it. In order to re-see your writing, you need to un-see it.
- Do one task at a time. If you want to add detail, go through the whole draft adding detail. If you want to cut the fluff, go through the whole draft and cut it. You can do this process in chunks (this is helpful for longer manuscripts), but focus on one thing at a time so that the work is consistent across the draft.
- Rewrite your whole piece. Or don’t. Some writers find that it’s easier to do their revision if they simply open a new file and write the piece again, copying/pasting chunks of writing that they liked from the original draft and filtering it through fresh writing.
- Make sure your point is clear! Whether it’s an essay or a short story, an important part of revising is making sure that your argument is clear. While you may not want to be heavy-handed, make sure that your details contribute to your point.
What do you think? How do you revise? Why do you revise? How do you make time to revise? Share in the comments!