I’m a vocal proponent of revision as an essential part of writing craft.
And I support using multiple strategies depending upon the genre and topic. For example, when writing technical manuals, curriculum, and other fact or procedure-based nonfiction, I’ll usually create a rough outline before I begin. But when writing memoir or personal essay, I’m not always clear about the direction I’m going. Then, I engage in a very messy process of journaling, making lists and clusters, pre-writing, writing, and lots of bad writing before I even get to the real writing and revision stages. This might be true for you, too, whether you write fiction or nonfiction. Whatever process you use, revision is going to be a necessary part of it.
As a teacher, it always surprises me when beginning writers resist the revision process, because that’s often when the best writing takes place. I think of the first draft as a kind of rough sketch—the bones of the piece. It’s during the revision process that the skeleton acquires muscles and flesh and features. And I often have to do major surgery, restructuring the skeleton, before I can write what needs to be said.
Best suggestion: write first, review, rewrite, proofread, rinse and repeat. But there are, in my mind, two types of revision or editing. There’s the big picture revision—where you craft the structure, organization, tone, pace, and meaning of a piece. This type of revision still involves that creative, intuitive part of your writing brain. Then, there’s editing—what I call “polishing”—your writing. This is where you tighten and strengthen your prose, edit for consistency, and proofread for grammatical and punctuation errors. Polishing requires a more logical, systematic approach, and—while still a very important part of the writing craft—meets the most resistance from impatient writers.
Good writing takes patience, diligence, attention to detail, the ability to identify and solve problems, and—oh, yes—desire. Lots of desire. And lots of creativity.
I’d love to hear from you. What’s your attitude toward revision, and how has it changed (if it has) over time?
Photo Credit: Matthew C. Wright