Back to Basics: Revision

By CM Strawn 2-8-20

            There are as many articles about revision as there are writers. I want to add my insights to all the sage advice. So, here’s my half-a-cent worth.

Revision is…

            Everyone starts somewhere. The first attempt is ugly. But the start of something is not how it will be in the end. Revising is what brings out the beauty of prose.

            The first draft is where you get your thoughts written as quickly as possible. It is going to be bad, but it’s a draft. Don’t expect a masterpiece.

            Using the first draft, organize your thoughts and choose words carefully. Shaping and molding has begun. Give the reader’s mind the resources to produce pictures from your prose.

My experience

            Recently I started blogging. It started as an experiment but became something more. Wanting to be taken seriously, I knew that regular posts were necessary.

            The first few posts came easily. But it wasn’t long before I was scratching around for something original (there is no such thing). I got anxious about posting every week and thought about just throwing something up without revision.

            With the need for speed comes the temptation to put something up that is not properly revised. Fortunately, I realized that this is amateurish and just bad writing. True writing comes with the revision.

Resources for writing

            For years I have been writing odd bits of various ideas and tucking them away in sundry places. I started reviewing some of these scribblings and realized they were horrendous. Bringing them to the light-of-day was anathema.

            Then I made a startling discovery. All these musings are first drafts. A first draft is a first writing, not the final product. The happy realization is that all these thoughts are fodder for my blog.

            So, all the stuff that I have stuck in nooks and crannies are the stuff of regular posts. My life has just become easier. I have reams of first drafts that languish – waiting to be revised, edited, polished and published.

The first writing

            The first draft is the thinking-through process. An idea has started to take shape. It starts to jell in the first writing. As the words appear on paper, or screen, it’s easier to see where the prose needs to go.

            I have read that the greatest writers all start out with a rough draft. Some have revealed that their first drafts are beyond ugly. But the magic happens when they begin revising.

            The first draft is not supposed to be pretty. It is the ugly in need of a makeover. This is where thoughts are transmitted from cranium to wood pulp – or keyboard.

            (Personally, I like the way a number two pencil feels gliding over paper. Also, I can make corrections with an eraser. Then I transfer the scribbles to a word processor, revising as I go.)

            Writing is re-writing. Nothing is perfect the first time around. Revising, editing, polishing and publishing is the work of a true scribe.

First revision

            After the first draft has been written, the real work begins. If possible, get away from the first draft for a day or so. If time is a factor, take an hour and do something else.

            After returning, revise the glaring problems. Then go back and move sentences and paragraphs around until they fit and feel natural. This is the first revision.

Second revision

            Let the first revision sit for at least a day. If that’s not possible, take another break and come back to it after an hour.

            With fresh eyes, you may want to disassemble, then reassemble the piece so there is flow. This second revision transforms the first into something easily read. Random thought is taking on order – shape and form are emerging.

            It may take several times reading through and changing the article to get it right.

Make it shine

            Now the polishing begins.

            Carefully read through each sentence and paragraph. Make sure everything moves naturally from beginning to end. Smooth out any areas that seem to lag or cause the reader to pause and stumble.

            Correct any misspelling, punctuation and grammatical errors. Use the built-in thesaurus and spell checker of the word processing program for convenience.

            Revision is like putting on clothes. The better the revision the better the clothing. Some writers are dressed to the nines while others walk around in rags. The reader will decide.

Importance of revision

            Nothing is ready for public viewing before it has been revised and edited many times. Then proof-read for grammar and punctuation errors. Before it is published it should be read by several people, to get their opinions.

            For bloggers in a rush to post one or more times per week, extensive revising and editing may not be possible. But nothing should be posted as a first draft – no matter how little time is available. Everything must be self-edited at least twice before publishing.

            This shouldn’t be a problem because the word count is low. We’re talking five hundred to a thousand words. It should be possible to revise, edit and proofread that amount of words in one day.

Final thoughts

            The first draft is the raw material for any piece of writing. It may feel right after it is first penned, but a second look will reveal problems that need correcting. Revision is about fixing problems.

            There are very few writers who submit their work after their first writing. Usually an outline is being followed and they revise as they go. This is very difficult and not recommended.

            Revision is the paint and polish of prose. Editing is where writing becomes compelling. Polishing transforms it into a page-turner.

            It is better to miss a deadline than to submit unrevised material. Ask for an extension or post late, but never release less than adequate work.

            The written word reflects the writer. Present the best possible image by properly revising every first draft.

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