Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor

Making Revision Enjoyable

By Robert Dorr
2003, Robert Dorr


think many authors fear revising their work. Writing the story has, hopefully, been fun. Why isn't the editing as enjoyable? Most of us remember turning in first and second drafts in school. Each draft had to be written out and the teacher always found things that were wrong with those drafts. In hindsight, we know the teacher was helping us make our own writing better. But emotionally, we remember the embarrassment of seeing papers covered with red ink; our own writing, that we had thought was well composed, marked with that same red ink.

If memories or attitudes like this are making you dread revision and editing, I have some suggestions. They will, at least make revision bearable and even enjoyable.

Imagine getting ready for a date. You shower, shampoo, and dress better than usual. You take time to pamper yourself and get excited. You have fun.

That is exactly the right attitude to take into revision and editing. You are trying to guarantee the best possible impression of your work. You would not go on a first date if you were not cleaned up and dressed well; do not send out your work without doing the same for it.

If that does not motivate you for editing, try warming up for it instead. I take a book I read that I disliked and I type a thousand-word snippet from it. This is my victim. I print it out and then tear it apart. I make sure to point out what works, and fix what does not. Clutter and extra words are removed, ruthlessly. My goal is to turn that snippet into something I would be proud to call my own. This exercise gets my adrenaline going and motivates me. You can do the same thing. Use that adrenaline, tiger, and attack your own writing. Your story will be better for it.

Small sections are easier for me to revise; a novel's worth of rough draft is too big and too intimidating. So, before I begin writing for the day I take what I wrote the day before and revise it. When I'm done, I take the marked up pages and put them in a folder with the rest of the story. I have each section with all its notes ready, so it will not be any effort to find everything and retype it, when I am done.

This takes just a few minutes, a half-hour at most. That is all the time I allow for the work before starting new material. If I have a section that bothers me, that I can't easily correct, I draw brackets around it and keep going. I am doing a rough revision at this point and I'm not looking for perfection, just improvement.

When I'm revising, I look for areas that need strengthening and sections that could foreshadow future events, and I ruthlessly remove unneeded words. What was a section of a thousand words yesterday may turn out to be only seven hundred words when I'm done. On a very bad day, they may turn out to be only three hundred words. That's discouraging, but okay, because those fewer words are better, they express my thoughts more clearly. If I need to, I can add details, improve dialogue or expand descriptions later.

Revising the previous day's work also reminds me where I left off and where I need to go with the story. My new writing is cleaner and more focused, and I need to delete less of it the next day. Revising every day improves my writing and makes it more enjoyable.