Saturday, October 15, 2005

Revising to Make It Outstanding

Saturday Writer: Revising

All writers know what revising is. Or do we?

Effective writers understand revising as the keystone in the writing process. If we approach revisions as cleaning up what’s there, then the revision stage provides less, much less, than it could contribute to the work.

The revision stage in the hands of a writer who has really thought through the purpose of revising is an opportunity to turn good work into an outstanding work. In the hands of one who doesn’t understand it, revising becomes one more step of surface changes to clean up mistakes.

Revising can be so much more than making changes.

Done well, revising is decision making. Revising is when adept writers determine which changes suggested during content editing both serve the work and support the reader. Some of those suggestions come from self-evaluation. Hopefully, some come from feedback. Serious and effective writers step back from their personal investment in the words and consider the impact each change will have on the reader’s experience. They use that long view to determine what to keep, what to delete, and what to rearrange.

The expression of the message has been set forth during the drafting stage. It has been fully challenged for structure during content editing. While revising, the two—expression and structure—are blended together. The writer revisits words, revamps sentences, rearranges ideas to make sure that the message is clearly expressed and holds together as a cohesive whole. The underlying goal is to make certain that the message is informative, meaningful, and accessible to the reader.

Experienced writers test and validate their revisions as they make them. They invite feedback from their colleagues. They read the work aloud to listen for the sound of the words as they fall upon the ear. For more important works, they might do a reverse outline, actually outlining the structure after a work is written to check the logic from the outside in.

Like clay in the hands of a sculptor, written ideas for a writer take time, patience, and energy. Working through the process until it is complete can make the best of us want to be done. It’s human to crave that feeling of accomplishment that comes with finishing a piece. But do you want it done, or do you want it done well?

Readers won’t know that a piece took a little longer, but something left unattended will be there to nag you until you fix it.

Spare the reader not the reviser. It will make the work stronger.
—me strauss Letting me be


Jeff said...

What great advice...I never let anyone else help me revise my material, so the responsability falls on me. This means that I usually have to write things a few days before I want to post them, then take a break, and look at my words again with fresh eyes. I find that this gives me a great objective view.

ME Strauss said...

Hi, Jeff,
Glad you stopped by. This is a weekly feature. Right now we're going through the writing process.

It does take the load and deepens your involvement to bring others into your process. They can act as your surrogate audience. From where they sit, they are more like your audience than you.

I have deal with a friend who rises early. She reads my posts first thing in the morning when she can.


Jennifer said...

idghdunOne of the first things I was told was writing was 10% of the work and revising 90%. That your best work came during revising not writing, for writing was just a means of getting your idea on the paper, that the first words you write are never the last.

I took that to heart. What comes out of my brain is usually underlying inspiration that I'll see and take hold of when I go back and start to read and fix. I just had to get the idea down on paper first for me to see the potential that could be found in it.

Jennifer said...

I know I'm late! Saturday is my morning where I sleep in :) I need one day (not that 8pm is late for most people but I cherish those 2 extra hours!) and then I got side tracked this morning.

easywriter said...

Timely advice. I've got lots to revise. :o)

ME Strauss said...

Glad to be of service.

garnet david said...

I so agree with your last sentence. I revise constantly, and almost never consider something done forever. But I also worry that I might mess up some innocent clarity with too much self-consciousness. That's a risk worth taking, and I get better at leaving the good stuff alone.

Also, it's hard to see something, hear something with new eyes/ears. I'm often impatient and don't let it rest before rereading. Note to myself: let it rest. (I'm especially impatient with the blog, since I want to get things up and off)

These writing tips are so helpful. Thank you.


ME Strauss said...

Hi Garnet,
Have I ever said how much I enjoy that picture? No, of cours not. I do.

Thank you for saying so much so clearly. I identify completely with everything that you're saying, especially the part about worrying about accidently removing some clarity in a quest for improving things.

And the blog!! Who doesn't want to keep it up and running, running, running!!

Your words are worth as much as anything I have written here.

fineartist said...

Another fantastic teaching tool here ME. Thank you for taking the time to share your knowledge, and for having the inclination to share. You ARE quality Liz.

ME Strauss said...

Hi Lori,
Thank you.
It's nice that I can help you out. You're the teacher. :)

Janus said...

I usually write it out, use the spell checker, the grammar checker, write it out again, read it, go to sleep, read it again, fight the tempt to delete it, put it up, and cross my fingers

ME Strauss said...

Hi and thanks for your contribution to the discussion of how important revising is to making the project totally outstanding. Your piece yesterday is a great example of how strong a well worked piece can be. Come back and leave a link here so everyone can see.


Gone Away said...

Is it okay if I don't comment on these, Liz? I'm sure they're all very good advice but I just don't fit the mold and find myself wanting to defend the way I write (which is nothing like the way you do - but I believe in diversity!). That would only lead people astray - I don't recommend my method to anyone... :D

ME Strauss said...

I know that you read this only as the Co-founder of the WBA and that you have plenty of training in what works for you. You don't need to comment on them. I'm flattered that you ask.

These are really for those who wonder how the process is taught and why it is taught the way it is. But we talked about that when I started the series.

So feel free to pop in or out as you see fit.


Janus said...

Happy to leave a link when asked to =) thank you much Liz

ME Strauss said...

janus the piece you wrote was excellent I think I'll put it in the sidebar as well. Folks should have a chance to read it.