by Karolina Gajdeczka

Intern Karolina blogs about her five-step revision process.

You’ve done it!  You’ve navigated the difficult process of writing and came out with a poem, short story, essay or novel.  And you think it’s brilliant.  So why revise?  Besides the likelihood that your first draft is far from the perfect manuscript you envisioned, revision is important to help you clarify your thoughts, iron out kinks in transitions, double check continuity from beginning to end, correct spelling or grammatical errors you may have missed, and the list goes on.  There’s always room for improvement.  This blog alone went through four drafts!

Personally, I struggle with this aspect of the writing process.  I spend too much time trying to make my first draft perfect, which leaves me depleted and unwilling to put forth enough effort for editing.  As a result, my writing can suffer.  For any writer, the task of improving or changing a piece you’ve spent countless hours on can be daunting, unpleasant and preferably avoided.  When I got basically the same advice from a few experienced writers about how to make the most of revision, I decided to give it a try.  Once I got the hang of the process, I actually started focusing less on my first drafts and more on my revisions.  I would even say I enjoy the process of revision much more! Here’s how to get past the mental block that’s keeping you from making any changes:

1)    Familiarize yourself with your work.  That means read it.  Yes, again.  No skimming.  Make any changes to glaring technical problems.

2)    DO NOT LOOK AT YOUR WORK!  Put it away.  Take a nap.  Go running.  Write something else.  Take that trip to visit your sister in Ohio that you’ve been meaning to take. Whatever you do, do not look at or think about your work for at least three days.  Chances are you’ve become a little too comfortable with your masterpiece, and you two need to take a break for a while.  At this point, you can no longer objectively or critically examine it—so put it down!  This step is the most important.

3)    Read it once without looking for anything to change. Once you have spent three days to a week avoiding eye contact, dodging around corners, and otherwise generally ignoring what you have written, it’s time to muster up some courage and meet with your writing face to face for an honest conversation over your beverage of choice.  Yes, it’s time to read it again, but this time, you’ll have a fresher perspective.

4)    Then read it again, this time looking for places to revise.  Try to find at least three. Then, fix them.  A few things to keep in mind as you read this time:  Does the sequence make sense for the overall message you are trying to convey?  Do you spend too much time creating the setting or not enough?  Does any dialogue sound realistic or contrived? (Read the dialogue out loud!)  Does the beginning connect to the end?  Does it need to?  Is your ending where you stopped writing or really a little before or maybe after?  Are your transitions smooth?  Is there anywhere you could add more concrete descriptions?  That’s just a starting point, but chances are, by now you’ll be able to find several places to improve.

5)    Workshop your writing.  When you finally think you’re done, you’re ready to call on the bookworms, literary nerds, writers or English professors that you may know—basically anyone that reads a lot and can give you helpful feedback.  Let them read it, and remind them not to be too nice.  Tell them you want at least three pieces of criticism.

Repeat these steps until you feel your writing is at its best.  Okay, now your ideas are just as brilliant as when you first wrote them down— but your writing is a bit more polished. Congrats on finishing the revision part of the writing process!  Now you’re ready to start submitting your work.  Got cold feet?  More on that in another post.