Good Writing is Rewriting! Learning to Revise
Tuesday, June 18, 2013 Expert Advice
Well, no, not exactly. Getting words onto the page is really just the first step—after that, you still need to turn those words into what you really mean to say. Experienced writers will tell you that the majority of their time is spent reworking, rewording, and reorganizing that first draft. Careful revision is the difference between work that is passable and work that is truly publishable.
As you develop as a writer, your process should grow and change, too. While the one-and-done philosophy may still work for you with drafts of shorter assignments, skipping past the revision process in longer assignments will rob you of the chance to really think deeply about what it is you are saying and what it is you really think. The more time you spend finding the best way to put your ideas into words, the better you will understand those ideas yourself. As you go over your own words, you might even come up with something new you hadn’t thought of before sitting down to write that first draft.
Like writing, revision is a skill you can practice and hone. Here are a few tips for how to make rewriting a bigger part of your writing process:
Adjust your expectations.Yes, it would be wonderful if we could all sit down at a desk and produce a perfect essay or article extemporaneously—however, that’s unfortunately not how writing works. Writing can be a slow, messy, sometimes painful process, and nothing’s going to come out perfect the first time. If you take some pressure off yourself and don’t expect a masterpiece to fly out of your fingers on the first try, it will make that first draft much easier to write. Then, after you have some material written that you can work with, you can set about refining your writing to be the best it can be. Hear another tip from writing instructor Brittany on adjusting first draft expectations in WriteCast Episode 1: The Writing Process.
Make it part of your schedule.Revision takes time, and careful and extensive revision can take even more time than it did to come up with the first draft. Plan ahead and write a draft enough ahead of time so that you can read it over and think about the changes you could and should make.
Go big or go home.A writing teacher once told me that the writing process doesn’t even really start until the first draft is finished. That draft then becomes the raw material you mold into a piece of skillfully written work. Using the first draft as a starting point, don’t be afraid to make big choices. Rearrange every paragraph, delete your introduction—heck, delete the first four pages, see if the final point you make in your conclusion isn’t really your central thesis after all—don’t be afraid to take risks when you’re looking for ways to develop a draft. After all, you can always undo a change if it doesn’t work!
Practice giving feedback.Start a writing group or see if you can exchange drafts with some of your peers. Becoming a careful reader and responder to other people’s work will help you develop the skills to read and revise your own.
Read your work out loud.Whether you read out loud to yourself or to someone else, or if you can get someone to read your own work out loud to you, hearing the words out loud rather than just in your own head is a great way to listen for how the words fit together and hear when your prose gets confusing or convoluted.
As you progress in your scholarship, your ideas will become more sophisticated and your work will become more original. Whereas you may have started out writing summaries and explanations, you will eventually find yourself coming up with original analysis and evaluation, perhaps even developing your own original research. The longer and more involved your written work becomes, the more impossible it will be to capture the entirety of what you have to say about a subject on the first try. Making rewriting a central part of your writing process will give you the room to really think through and develop your ideas, and careful revision may help you realize an idea you didn’t even know you had.
Dissertation Editor Lydia Lunning’s interests include writing pedagogy, literature for children and young adults, contemporary cinema, and cooking.
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