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Nine Tips to Productive Revision

Nine Tips to Productive Revision
Revision

Without a doubt, revision is the most tedious, irritating, necessary task involved in writing well. The act of taking a finished piece of work, tearing it apart, and rebuilding it is a process that some writers think waste too much time to be worth the process. Nevertheless, writing a piece perfectly on the first try is an extremely rare occasion.

Rather than worrying about whether or not revision is necessary, it makes more sense to focusing on making revision as painless and as useful as possible. Here are a few tips for you to keep in mind while writing.

Try to get what you’ve written on paper. Scanning a piece on a computer makes revision extremely difficult, even though it may seem like the more sensible process. By printing out your computer work, you’re able to get more hands-on with your writing process. For most people, it’s also much easier to look at what you’ve written on paper rather than on a screen. Things you might not be able to see on your computer can show up when you’re marking your piece up with paper and pencil.

Start from the beginning. Many people skip around while they’re editing, going after passages they knew were bad when they were writing. In terms of improving your work, however, it makes far more sense to start at the top and going through your piece line by line. Things you thought were brilliant when you started writing might be too overblown, or might not fit in with the rest of your piece. You can’t tell what you might find in your drafts until you read them over. Why risk skipping anything?

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Save all your drafts. Not every revision is going to be perfect. Often, you’ll find you get rid of bits and pieces you need later on, or you’ll realize that something you wrote earlier on is better than you expected. In that case, you’ll find that it’s easier to look back if you actually have your old work, rather than if you’re forced to write from memory. If you’re printing out your old drafts already, keeping them together with a paper clip (or, if you revise a lot, a binder clip) is a small step that could save you lots of time later on.

The software you are writing on can help with this immensely. Google Docs and Spreadsheets, for instance, immediately saves all old drafts of your work, which can make revision a far faster process than it usually is.

Avoid clichés. When you’re first writing a piece, it’s entirely possible that some hackneyed phrases might find their way into your writing. When you’re revising, it would be wise to remove as many of these as possible. The reason? Clichés are too often-used to be effective, especially when you don’t know your audience. They work very well, which is why they are used so much. When you avoid clichés, though, your work is more likely to sound unique and interesting than if it’s filled with old, boring writing techniques.

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Feel free to experiment. The poet Robert Hayden, former poet laureate of the United States, would alter a poem drastically from its original style in the process of writing. Over dozens of revisions, his poems would change from several lines to full pages to several lines again. Monet’s Waterlilies, one of his better-known poems (it can be found here), was preceded by drafts that looked almost nothing like the final version. Some were more condensed. Some had fewer line breaks. All of them contributed to his final piece.

Don’t fret too much over changing the layout of your piece as you write it. Try adding sections you never had to begin with. Remove paragraphs you don’t want to worry about. The greatest thing about revision is this: if you don’t like what you’ve done with your writing, you can always change it back. And even if you write things you end up not using, everything you consider using will affect your final piece. If you worry too much over preserving your original writing, you won’t be able to write as freely as you need to.

Don’t cherish anything. The worst thing you can do as a writer is to love your writing too much. It constrains you, forces you to do things to go around changing that piece. While loving your own work like this isn’t a bad thing, it can lead you to losing sight of what you’re actually trying to write. Is that one sentence you love really contributing to the piece you’re writing? Could it be reworded to make it more compact? While you may love everything you write, liking it too much risks making it difficult to improve.

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Rewrite if necessary. Sometimes, the piece you’re working on needs a complete rewrite. Quite a few writers shy away from this aspect of revision, but it is often more useful to scrap what you have, and rewrite the entire piece line-for-line, than it is to try and revise a lousy draft of your work.

What you need to remember when you’re wondering whether or not a rewrite is desirable is this: writing something you have already written is far easier to write than something you’ve never written before. You’ve already churned out a draft of this: you know what to put in it and how to lay things out. While it might seem tedious, you’ll find that most of the time, rewriting is much faster than the original writing. And it is often easier to rewrite a piece than it is to go over the piece, line for line, and slowly change it into something you can work with.

Wait before showing anybody. Don’t show everybody around you your original draft when you’re planning revision. Until you feel you can’t improve on your work any farther, there’s no reason to give somebody else what you’re written. Take the time to go over it yourself, and revise until you think your work is at least fairly solid.

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The benefits to doing this are threefold. First, you will find it much easier to take comments from multiple people and incorporate them all into your revision if each person is editing as few things as possible. Second, more people will be willing to really read something of yours over if they’re pretty sure you’re not asking them to rewrite your entire piece for you. Finally, some people who read unfinished writing like rewriting entire pieces. Give them too much room to work in, and you risk ending with something written by somebody else. (Note to high-schoolers and college students: sure, this might sound appealing to you. But it’s a bad thing to do, and you should all be ashamed of yourselves.)

No work is ever perfect. Unless what you’re writing is really important to you (i.e., if you’re trying to publish something you write), don’t worry too much over how perfect your final piece is. Every writer has limits, and every time you go to revise a piece, you will probably be able to find something that needs fixing, something that can be improved. To some degree, this will help you improve your writing and make it far more worth reading. Take it too far, though, and you risk spending too much time on an individual piece of work. It might do you well to focus on writing new things, rather than focusing on one piece obsessively for too long.

Rory Marinich is a graduate of the New Jersey Governor’s School of the Arts. Some of his writing can be found online here.

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Last Updated on December 3, 2019

10 Life Lessons You’d Better Learn Early on in Life

10 Life Lessons You’d Better Learn Early on in Life

There are so many lessons I wish I had learned while I was young enough to appreciate and apply them. The thing with wisdom, and often with life lessons in general, is that they’re learned in retrospect, long after we needed them. The good news is that other people can benefit from our experiences and the lessons we’ve learned.

Here’re 10 important life lessons you should learn early on:

1. Money Will Never Solve Your Real Problems

Money is a tool; a commodity that buys you necessities and some nice “wants,” but it is not the panacea to your problems.

There are a great many people who are living on very little, yet have wonderfully full and happy lives… and there are sadly a great many people are living on quite a lot, yet have terribly miserable lives.

Money can buy a nice home, a great car, fabulous shoes, even a bit of security and some creature comforts, but it cannot fix a broken relationship, or cure loneliness, and the “happiness” it brings is only fleeting and not the kind that really and truly matters. Happiness is not for sale. If you’re expecting the “stuff” you can buy to “make it better,” you will never be happy.

2. Pace Yourself

Often when we’re young, just beginning our adult journey we feel as though we have to do everything at once. We need to decide everything, plan out our lives, experience everything, get to the top, find true love, figure out our life’s purpose, and do it all at the same time.

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Slow down—don’t rush into things. Let your life unfold. Wait a bit to see where it takes you, and take time to weigh your options. Enjoy every bite of food, take time to look around you, let the other person finish their side of the conversation. Allow yourself time to think, to mull a bit.

Taking action is critical. Working towards your goals and making plans for the future is commendable and often very useful, but rushing full-speed ahead towards anything is a one-way ticket to burnout and a good way to miss your life as it passes you by.

3. You Can’t Please Everyone

“I don’t know the secret to success, but the secret to failure is trying to please everyone” – Bill Cosby.

You don’t need everyone to agree with you or even like you. It’s human nature to want to belong, to be liked, respected and valued, but not at the expense of your integrity and happiness. Other people cannot give you the validation you seek. That has to come from inside.

Speak up, stick to your guns, assert yourself when you need to, demand respect, stay true to your values.

4. Your Health Is Your Most Valuable Asset

Health is an invaluable treasure—always appreciate, nurture, and protect it. Good health is often wasted on the young before they have a chance to appreciate it for what it’s worth.

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We tend to take our good health for granted, because it’s just there. We don’t have to worry about it, so we don’t really pay attention to it… until we have to.

Heart disease, bone density, stroke, many cancers—the list of many largely preventable diseases is long, so take care of your health now, or you’ll regret it later on.

5. You Don’t Always Get What You Want

“Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” – John Lennon

No matter how carefully you plan and how hard you work, sometimes things just don’t work out the way you want them to… and that’s okay.

We have all of these expectations; predetermined visions of what our “ideal” life will look like, but all too often, that’s not the reality of the life we end up with. Sometimes our dreams fail and sometimes we just change our minds mid-course. Sometimes we have to flop to find the right course and sometimes we just have to try a few things before we find the right direction.

6. It’s Not All About You

You are not the epicenter of the universe. It’s very difficult to view the world from a perspective outside of your own, since we are always so focused on what’s happening in our own lives. What do I have to do today? What will this mean for me, for my career, for my life? What do I want?

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It’s normal to be intensely aware of everything that’s going on in your own life, but you need to pay as much attention to what’s happening around you, and how things affect other people in the world as you do to your own life. It helps to keep things in perspective.

7. There’s No Shame in Not Knowing

No one has it all figured out. Nobody has all the answers. There’s no shame in saying “I don’t know.” Pretending to be perfect doesn’t make you perfect. It just makes you neurotic to keep up the pretense of manufactured perfection.

We have this idea that there is some kind of stigma or shame in admitting our limitations or uncertainly, but we can’t possibly know everything. We all make mistakes and mess up occasionally. We learn as we go, that’s life.

Besides—nobody likes a know-it-all. A little vulnerability makes you human and oh so much more relatable.

8. Love Is More Than a Feeling; It’s a Choice

That burst of initial exhilaration, pulse quickening love and passion does not last long. But that doesn’t mean long-lasting love is not possible.

Love is not just a feeling; it’s a choice that you make every day. We have to choose to let annoyances pass, to forgive, to be kind, to respect, to support, to be faithful.

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Relationships take work. Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s incredibly hard. It is up to us to choose how we want to act, think and speak in a relationship.

9. Perspective Is a Beautiful Thing

Typically, when we’re worried or upset, it’s because we’ve lost perspective. Everything that is happening in our lives seems so big, so important, so do or die, but in the grand picture, this single hiccup often means next to nothing.

The fight we’re having, the job we didn’t get, the real or imagined slight, the unexpected need to shift course, the thing we wanted, but didn’t get. Most of it won’t matter 20, 30, 40 years from now. It’s hard to see long term when all you know is short term, but unless it’s life-threatening, let it go, and move on.

10. Don’t Take Anything for Granted

We often don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone: that includes your health, your family and friends, your job, the money you have or think you will have tomorrow.

When you’re young, it seems that your parents will always be there, but they won’t. You think you have plenty of time to get back in touch with your old friends or spend time with new ones, but you don’t. You have the money to spend, or you think you’ll have it next month, but you might not.

Nothing in your life is not guaranteed to be there tomorrow, including those you love.

This is a hard life lesson to learn, but it may be the most important of all: Life can change in an instant. Make sure you appreciate what you have, while you still have it.

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Featured photo credit: Ben Eaton via unsplash.com

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