(Revise: re = again, anew; vise = to see)
Having worked with your story adding, cutting, rewriting, choosing specific vocabulary, you now have a good sense of the story’s arc, its sense of movement. A beginning, a middle, and an ending will be evident. The characters will have evolved—learned, grown, or changed in some way.
Check back with the three-sentence summary you wrote earlier. Does it still fit? Or does it fit better? Or does the summary need to change?
Use Other Senses
Allow your ears to help with revision. Read your story aloud or let your computer read it to you. Record yourself reading it or enlist someone else to read it aloud to you. Listen for the rhythm of sentences and paragraphs. Notice places where you or the reader stumble or stop and later see how you might smooth out those places. It might be a word change or a sentence reorganization that helps. Hear discrepancies or places where the action shifts in a way that doesn’t fit.
Manipulating by hand can be helpful when revising. I like to print my story using a large font with extra space between paragraphs. Next, I cut the story into paragraph pieces and rearrange them. I find the act of physically moving the paragraphs around and reordering easier to see than trying to figure out rearrangement of large chunks of writing using the computer’s cut/paste feature. Then I can cut and paste the paragraphs into the new order.
Additional Helpful Options
Writer and teacher Julia Green recommends several other revision tactics. I’ve tried most of these:
- Put it in the drawer. Give the piece time to settle and yourself time to step back from the work to see it more clearly. It’s been 18 years since I wrote that first version of “Mom’s Story.” You don’t need to wait that long, but a couple of weeks might work to provide enough distance.
- Get feedback from folks you trust. And not necessarily writers; it’s good to know how your intended audience reads the piece.
- Play with sentence length, structure, and language. Vary your sentence length and sentence patterns and use more specific language.
- Try cutting to get your word count down. Chopping the word count can result in a more cohesive piece. The 900-word article I submitted to a local magazine was so much better after they returned it to me, and I cut it to the 750 words they requested.
- Highlight everything you think is working well. Delete the rest and go from there. This is one tip I’m eager to try.
If you have revision tips to share, please feel free to do so in the comments. I’d love to see what other writers do in this stage of the writing process.
There’s no one-size-fits-all revision process. But anything you do will make a difference in the piece. So be unafraid to dive in and work with your writing to shape it into what you’re after and to satisfy the writer in you. One thing at a time. “Bird by bird.” ~ xoA
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“[T]he first draft is the down draft—you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft—you fix it up. You try to say what you have to say more accurately. And the third draft is the dental draft, where you check every tooth, to see if it’s loose or cramped or decayed, or even, God help us, healthy.”
—Ann LaMott in Bird by Bird.