“When you write well, revision becomes not a chore, but the essence of the writing act itself.”(Tell It Slant by Brenda Miller)
Revision is part of the writing process. You revise your work after you have selected an idea to write about, completed necessary research, organized your information, decided on what to write about, and then written a first draft. The purpose of the first draft is not to write something complete–but to get your ideas on paper. Whether you write poetry, fiction, personal essays, you should revise your work.
Revision can transform an ordinary piece of poetry, short fiction, personal essay, or any form of writing into something memorable. Revision allows you to improve on an initial attempt. It gives you the opportunity to write the best possible poem, fiction, personal essay, and so forth.
Revision is often the most creative aspect of writing, providing you take a break after writing the first draft. The first draft is just a blueprint. Taking a break and then returning to revise your work gives your mind time to see and hear the writing from a fresh perspective. Brenda Miller, author of “Tell It Slant,” suggests that your first draft is just a “discovery draft.” You should write anything you desire. A first draft is never your best work.
The goal of revision is not to make your writing perfect, because you can always revise your work. (Many writers believe that writing is never finished.) The goal is to create something that is your best work. If you write sparse prose, you might have to add content. If you overwrite, you’ll have to delete the excess. Both the sparse writer and verbose writer will have to trim, alter, rearrange their content. They will also have to change language, phrases, sentence structure, paragraphs, and sections. The writer’s goal is always to improve on previous iteration.
When revising a piece of writing, don’t think of making it perfect, revise with the purpose of making it your best work.
In this article, I’ll discuss how to revise your creative writing. The following will be covered:
- Why you should revise your work
- Distancing yourself
- Reading your work aloud and making notes
- Revising your work by doing a macro-edit and micro-edit
The first draft is always a “shitty first draft.” This is what Anne Lamott tells us in the splendid book on the craft of writing called “Bird By Bird.” No writer gets it best the first time. Revision allows you the opportunity to improve. By revising your work after writing the initial draft, you can improve your writing, such as grammar, spelling, punctuation, mechanics, and usage. Revising your work also gives you the opportunity to improve the structure, plot, characterization, point of view, conflict, climax, resolution, theme and so forth of your story.
Some writers don’t include sufficient detail for a first draft; others include too much detail. Revising your work allows you to add, cut, rearrange, and expand the details of your poem, story, articles, essay.
Revising also enables you to see your writing from a fresh perspective–especially if you take a break from writing A break gives you a chance to add simile, metaphor, fresh language, new details, to tap into your imagination. Writer/instructor Jack Hodgins, author of A Passion for Narrative: A Guide for Writing Fiction, writes that: “The goal in revising is to achieve a more powerful whole.”
Distancing Yourself from Your Writing
What approach should you take to revising your work? Some writers write and edit as they go. But this approach blocks your imagination. It stifles creativity. It prevents the free flow of ideas from your mind to the page. Instead of writing what you are hearing in your mind, you are writing and then correcting.
Some writers reread as they go. But this approach slows down the flow of ideas from your mind to the page. It also interrupts the creative process and prevents the imagination from inventing.
Some writers craft their first draft with pen and a notebook, and then type the draft out on the computer. They write a first draft without revising or editing or rereading. It is a complete first draft. When they type out the draft on their computer, they reread and revise. I use this approach, and find it useful.
Author Susan Bell, in ” The Artful Edit,” suggests you distance yourself before revising. Here are a few recommendations she provides in her book:
- Don’t reread as you write. It slows down the writing process and creative thinking.
- Don’t revise as you write your first draft. It slows down the writing process and creative thinking.
- Write your complete first draft of a poem, chapter, section. And then take a break. The break of time allows you to approach your work from a new perspective. How long should you take? It all depends–at least one night. But many writers take a few days off, even a week, or longer, before starting the revision process.
- After the break, reread your work aloud to hear how it sounds.
- Once you have taken a break and reread your work, begin revising your work.
Many beginner writers believe that after writing their first draft they are finished. Furthermore, they believe the myth that the first draft must be perfect, and so they take forever to finish. Many writers become discouraged and abandon their writing. They find that the act of writing is like walking through the woods in the dark without a flashlight.
Writing is a process. It begins with an idea, followed by research or personal reflection. Next, the writer jots down a few points or makes a more formal plan of what he/she intends to write about. Then the writer crafts the initial draft. Once the draft is complete, the writer takes a break. The break allows the writer time to see his/her work from a fresh perspective. When the writer returns from the sojourn or hiatus, he/she begins revising the draft. The purpose of revision is to improve on the initial attempt, to make it better, to make it the best the writer can, to polish, to convert chaos to order, to make the piece of writing shine.
In “You Can’t Make this Stuff Up,” writer Lee Gutkind, states the following: “Writing is Revision. Almost every sentence, every paragraph, every page we write we will revise and rewrite a number of times.”
All great writers revise their work over and over before publishing. Raymond Carver rewrote his short stories many times before publishing. D. H. Lawrence rewrote the novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover three times before it was published. Ernest Hemingway wrote the ending to Farewell to Arms 39 times.
All writers can learn how to revise their work. The first thing to remember is that the first draft is just an blue print. It is not your finished piece of work. By revising your work, you improve your first attempt. Often you’ll need to complete several revisions before you submit it for publishing.
How to Revise
Many writers revise as they write. They’ll write a sentence or paragraph or section, then reread it, then revise. But this is a slow and tedious process. And it prevents you from getting to the finishing line quickly. Moreover, it interrupts the free flow of ideas from the mind to the page. A better way to revise is to write the entire draft, take a break of a day or longer. Why take a break? It allows you to see your work from a fresh perspective or point of view. It’s like looking taking a photograph of a building from different perspectives. From each viewpoint, you’ll see something different. The goal of writing, like taking photographs, is to capture the best image. When you return to your writing, you’ll read it aloud and make notes of things you don’t like. Then you’ll conduct a macro-edit and micro-edit of the entire draft. Often you’ll need to revise your narrative several times before submitting it for publication. Your approach to writing and revising should be to get it down, and then work on getting your poem or story or essay or article right—making it the best you can.
Revision is about rereading your entire piece of writing, find errors, omissions, things that requirement improvement or deletion. Revision is about rewriting. You’ll approach the process of revising from a high level, which involves the entire document, poem, story, article. Editors call this a “macro-edit.” Once you have completed a macro edit of your piece of creative writing, then you’ll complete a line-by-line edit or copy edit. Editors and instructors call this a “micro-edit.”
What to Revise
After writing your complete draft, take a break for a day or more. The break from writing will enable you to see your work from a new perspective. Once you have taken the break, reread your work aloud, and make notes for improvement as you go. After reading your work aloud to yourself, you’ll complete a macro edit. All types of creative writing requires a macro edit, whether you write a short story, novel, personal essay, or literary journalistic article. Once you’ve finished the macro-edit, you’ll also complete a micro-edit, which is a line-by-line edit or copy edit. Not all of the items on this list will apply to every genre.
Macro-Editing. What does a macro-edit involve? For a macro-edit of a personal narrative essay or fictional story, you’ll do the following:
- Ensure that the beginning tells the reader what the story is about and why they should reader it. And also ensure that the beginning grabs the reader’s attention.
- Ensure that your story has a setting. It is shows the time and place of the story. It can be a backdrop, antagonist, or the mood of a story. Does your story, at the minimum, have take place at a particular time and place?
- Revise to enhance the central character. Does the central character have a motive? Character flaws? Have you develop the character with dialogue, behaviour, appearance?
- Revise to improve the structure. Is there a beginning, middle, and ending? Is there an inciting incident? Problem? Setbacks or obstacles? Climax or turning point? Resolution to the story?
- Revise for dialogue. Does the dialogue reveal character? Move the story forward? Sound like real people talking? Does each character speak differently? Is dialogue included in important events or scenes?
- Revise for style. Do you use a consistent voice? tone? diction? Sentence variety?
- Ensure that the story has a correct and consistent point of view. First person (I)?, Second person (you)? Third person (He/she)?
- Ensure that you have included concrete and specific and significant details and descriptions.
- Ensure that you have used imagery, language that appeals to the reader’s sense of sight, smell, hearing, taste, touch.
- Ensure that you have used figurative language, such as simile, metaphor, personification, symbolism.
- Ensure that you show the reader what happened with dialogue, action, setting, imagery when writing about important events, such as the inciting incident, crisis, climax, resolution.
- Ensue that the story has a theme. What is the implicit meaning of your work?
- Ensure that your story has an ending. And is the ending correct? Open? Closed?
If you are writing a piece of creative nonfiction, you’ll want to also ensure that you have written into a structure. For instance, if you are writing a theme-based personal essay, you’ll want to make sure that you have a variety of sections, which supports central idea.
If you are writing a collage essay, you’ll want to ensure that your “found objects,” such as a quotation, anecdote, vignette, poem, and so forth, support the central idea.
If you are writing a braided essay, you’ll want to be sure that your structure adequately reveals a comparison between two ideas or people or things. For more information, read “The Writer’s Portable Mentor: A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life” by Priscilla Long.
If you are writing a poem, your macro-edit will consider the following:
- Form–narrative, meditative, surreal, image, prose….
- Line break–for emphasis, enjambment, rhyme
- Diction or word choice
- Figurative or poetic language such as simile or metaphor or imagery
- Concrete and significant details
- Grammar and syntax and punctuation
- Right voice and style
- Sound, such as alliteration or assonance or rhyme
- Rhythm and meter
- Point of view-first, second, third person, invented persona
- Theme–meaning of the poem
Micro-editing. After completing a macro-edit, you’ll complete a micro-edit. Whether you write poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, you must complete a micro-edit. It is a line-by-line edit of the following:
- Grammar. Ensure that you are using correct grammar, such as Correct usage, such as subject verb agreement
- Spelling. Ensure that you are using correct spelling.
- Punctuation. Ensure that you are using correct punctuation-period, comma, dash, exclamation point, question mark, quotations
- Scenes. Ensure that you have shown and told your readers. You must write in scenes for all important events. Do you show your readers what happened? For things that are less important, do you tell your readers?
- Diction/word choice. Ensure that you have chosen the best language. What is the connotation and denotation of each word?
- Sentence variety. Ensure that you have used sentence variety, such as long and short sentence, fragments and climactic sentences, simple, compound, and complex sentences.
- Melody. Ensure that your prose have melody. Have you used alliteration? Assonance? Rhyme? Repetition?
- Rhythm. Ensure that your prose have rhythm? It refers to the patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables. It also refers to the use of repetition? And it refers to the use of parallel structure of your prose?
- Lyricism. Ensure that you your prose are lyrical? Have you used imagery? Metaphor? Simile?
- Usage. Ensure that you have used the active voice, concrete nouns, action verbs. Ensure that you have used adjectives and adverbs sparingly.
A few Suggestions about Revision
If you intend to revise and to publish, you must have a good understanding of grammar, punctuation, spelling, usage, and writing style. If you are not sure about any of these topics, I strongly recommend you read and learn the suggestions, guidelines, and recommendations presented in the following:
- The Elements of Style by Strunk and White
- On Writing Well by William Zinsser
- Woe is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English by Patricia T. O’Connor
- The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Magical and Mystery of Practical English by Roy Peter Clark
- Sin And Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose by Constance Hale
Revision is part of writing. All great writers revise to improve their work. The best writers conduct a macro-edit and micro-edit (a line-by-line edit) of their work. Revising your work enables you to correct mistakes and oversights, to add, to delete, to alter, to move, to improve and polish a first attempt. Revising your work gives you the chance to create your best work, which improves your odds of publishing it.
Resources. For a more detailed explanation on revising a poem, short story, personal essay, and more, read the following:
- The Artful Edit: On the Practise of Editing Yourself by Susan Bell
- The Story Within: New Insights and Inspirations for Writers by Laura Oliver
- Tell It Slant: Creating, Refining, and Publishing Creative Nonfiction by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola
- Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide from New York’s Acclaimed Creative Writing School
- Writing Your Way: Creating A Writing Process that Works for You by Don Fry
- The Writer’s Portable Mentor: A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life by Priscilla Long.