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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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The Gentle Art of Saying No

The Gentle Art of Saying No

No!

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

  1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
  2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
  3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
  4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
  5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
  6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
  7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
  8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
  9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
  10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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