You’ve just had an amazing idea. Like a good writer, you jotted it in your notebook and later wrote about it. Trouble is, your piece didn’t turn out nearly as brilliant as you thought it would. Before you “Delete” or toss your handwritten draft into the round file, try revision on it.
How do you revise? Here are some suggestions.
- You need a first draft and a little time.
You already have that with the piece you’ve just written. It also helps to take a little time between writing and revising to gain distance and objectivity from what you’ve written. Overnight is good.
- Start with the big picture.
Just like there are different levels of professional manuscript edits, so there are different levels of revising your own work. Before you tackle the typos and the punctuation, check that your article, story or poem’s structure is strong. Ask:
– Does this piece have a captivating introduction / hook / first line or sentence?
– Do the ideas flow logically?
– Does the ending wrap up the piece in a satisfying way?
Get these things right before working on the finer points.
- Consider one aspect of the piece at a time (not necessarily in the order given, but in the way that makes sense for your piece):
– Voice: Check that you’re consistently using the “I” voice (first person singular), “you” voice (second person), or “we voice (first person plural). Though it’s sometimes necessary to switch voices, that can be jarring for the reader so try to stay in one voice throughout.
Look to replace adverb-modified, colorless verbs with active verbs.
E.g.: “He walked home slowly and dejectedly,” could become “He trudged home.”
Check that you’re using verb tense correctly and consistently.
– Word and image choice:
Look for clichés and tired idioms and replace with fresher metaphors or similes.
Eliminate words like “very,” “really,” “quite” and others that weaken your piece.
Substitute simple words for stuffy learned ones where you can.
Divide overlong sentences into two.
Vary the sentence length within your piece.
Avoid passive sentence construction whenever possible.* (Passive construction occurs when the object of the action occupies the place normally reserved for the subject. E.g. “The dog was chased by the cat” is passive construction. “The cat chased the dog” is active construction. I find the word “by” a flag that helps me spot passive construction.)
- Read your piece aloud.
You might want to do this several times and at various stages in the editing process. I have found that reading aloud helps me spot many faults, from problems with idea flow to typos.
- Focus on punctuation.
When you’re satisfied with the piece, go through it once again looking solely at the punctuation, especially the placement of quotation marks and commas.
Pay extra attention to poem punctuation, making sure that you’ve been consistent in stripping all end punctuation if you’re going that route, or putting it in place if you’re following normal punctuation rules.
The above process may take a while. Give yourself time between revising sessions to gain distance and be objective about the changes that you’re making
- Give it one last check.
By now don’t be surprised if you’ve become fond of the piece on which you’ve lavished so much attention. You may even want to share your baby with the world. If so, print it or view it in “Preview” mode (if you’re planning to publish it online) to check it one last time for typos and formatting errors before sending it on its way.
All the best as you use revision to sharpen and shine your writing!
* There are times when passive construction is valid. This article explains when:
Violet Nesdoly lives near Vancouver B.C. and has been active in freelance writing for 20 years. She has had articles, stories, poetry, reviews, and devotions published in a variety of print and online publications, has published two books of poems, Calendar (2004) and Family Reunion (2007), and the novel Destiny’s Hands (2012). She has recently discovered Bible Journaling and will be blogging about it weekly at http://violetnesdoly.com/blog