Pencil to Paper

The Daily Life of a Compulsive Writer

Tips on Revision July 23, 2011

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 4:33 PM
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After completing a large writing project, I like to take a break from first drafts and work on revision. As I’ve produced a lot of low-grade short stories over the past year, it was high time I did so. Through books, websites, and my own common sense, I’ve accumulated some guidelines on how to edit and revise.

1. I use the words ‘revise’ and ‘edit’ slightly differently. For me, editing is the nuts and bolts: fixing spelling, typos, grammar, etc. Revision is making sweeping changes in plot, or tweaking characterization. You get the picture. So my first order of business is to decide if I want to revise, edit, or perform a mixture of the two.

2. After selecting my victim, I usually print it off. If the story is only a few pages long, I may leave it on the computer, but otherwise I like having a hard copy. It gives me something to scratch notes on, and gives my eyes a break from the computer screen. I then find a colored pen (I prefer blue over red, as it’s more soothing) and begin.

3. Revising a large work such as a monster short story or even a novel can be daunting. I often want to just take a cursory glance through it, say it’s fine, and let it go. It’s on super short stories that I really go through each word with a fine toothed comb. However, that attention to detail should be used throughout. Therefore, when the project is large, I look at it one page or chapter at a time. This gives me the illusion of working with a smaller piece and stops me from being overwhelmed.

4. Writing is about words. You use words to inspire emotion, captivate readers, and even sway their opinions. As words serve an important purpose, you must strive to get them right. There are so many beautiful verbs out there, verbs that glitter among the thousands of ‘walked’ and ‘said’s. Whenever you find a verb, look it over to see if you can pick a better one.

5. Kill ‘to be’. The verb is a menace, worming its way in everywhere and filling your writing with weak words. Try to rewrite the sentence to avoid any conjugation of ‘to be’. You can’t always avoid it, but you can cut down on your use.

6. Adverbs and adjectives should be used sparingly. Usually, you can use a more specific verb or noun and avoid modifiers. Instead of ‘said quietly’, try ‘whispered’ or ‘breathed’. Instead of ‘small, energy-efficient car’, write ‘Prius’. You can say what you want with fewer verbs.

7. Avoid clichés, for the most part. Still, remember that they’re cliché for a reason – they work.

These are just a few tricks I’ve discovered. There are many more, and you should find your own.

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4 Responses to “Tips on Revision”

  1. I like how you’ve defined editing and revising as two different monsters. For me, editing is about deciding what stays in and what has to be cut, while revising is about fine-tuning words and sentence structure. I almost want to dig out my reference books and see how the pros define these two terms! 😉

  2. blueghoul Says:

    Lovely tricks and tips! A lot of those methods make so much sense, especially breaking down the pieces to give off the illusion of editing a smaller work. Just the idea of it makes the thought of editing so much less…terrifying, really. Thank you!


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