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The Rationale behind the Practice of Revising

Posted by CW64 on March 24, 2010

Simply put, revising is writing. That is when the work takes shape and comes to life.

It is for this reason that the ‘first-shot masterpiece’ (i.e. ‘perfect’ right out of the gun) is a myth. Every work requires some revisions, whether grammatical, morphological, semantic or structural. When a writer creates a rough draft, s/he merely delineates the basic idea or premise of a work from the beginning to the end—that’s it. The first draft is called the rough draft for a reason.

A serious writer’s number-one requirement for successfully conducting revisions is to be open-minded and realistic. That means s/he must be honest and objective with herself/himself regarding her/his work. No work is perfect, just as no writer is perfect (of course, what is ‘perfect’?); each work reflects the skills of its writer. Still, the presence of aberrations within a draft doesn’t mean the writer in question is a bad or unskilled writer, only that the work requires development. Revising determines and enhances that skill.

That is another reason why revising is important—so that each writer sees where strengths and weaknesses lie and then initiates improvements in the area of the latter.

One writer, for example, sees that s/he has issues with run-on sentences. Since shorter, simpler sentences are preferable for the sake of clarity, the writer applies time to breaking down run-on clauses to form a cleaner and a more coherent sentence structure.

Let’s take a look at the following illustration:

Janice is by far the most attentive and meticulous person in the office, and she goes out of her way to show this in her everyday work, such as in the case with executive memos and the weekly promos, which are submitted to her company’s various affiliates, like Wash-All Detergent, Inc., because she also considered their needs just as important as those of her own company.

Okay, this run-on sentence consists of at least two smaller sentences, and even contains information that isn’t necessary at all to clarify the point of the overall passage. The revision below casts the above example into a new light:

Janice is the most attentive person in the office; her memos and weekly promos are extremely detailed. Such an attribute reflects the importance she places on her company and its affiliates.

Here, everything is concise and fluid, and one sees the point of the passage quite easily. Note, too, that every sentence is active (more on this later).

In this way, the revision process not only improves the quality of the work by making it readable and more engaging, but provides said writer with (1) the practice of writing short sentences as a matter of routine, and (2) the insight into effectively editing her/his own work.

That brings me to the next requirement for conducting revisions: developing editorial and writing style. Quite often, a work insists upon various phases or stages (what I call ‘sweeps’). Rarely do writers catch everything on a single ‘sweep’. Writers tend to miss things, even forget, especially when they are in a certain mindset at the time. That is why I dedicate each ‘sweep’ to addressing a particular issue or writing feature (e.g. grammar, vocabulary). The development of the piece has a better chance of reaching its destination when the writer focuses on one feature at a time.

For example, one ‘sweep’ eliminates grammatical errors, while the following ‘sweep’ places emphasis on vocabulary choices and phrasing. This works best, although each writer, and each piece, is different and revision styles are contingent on the particular writer’s comfort and sensibility. Rest assured, though, that taking on all issues at once (i.e. in a single ‘sweep’) is likely to extend and create further problems.

Sometimes revising one point in a text simultaneously resolves one or two others, such as the case when rephrasing a passage to accommodate vocabulary eliminates a misplaced semicolon and removes a dangling modifier. Focusing on one thing at a time need not extend the revision process; skill and forethought allow seasoned writers to devise strategies to facilitate multiple enhancements at one time, even within the context of one-feature ‘sweeps’.

Patience is a virtue, and that is oh-so true; as far as writing is concerned, it is crucial! Haste makes waste, as goes the saying.

Honesty and objectivity push writers to apply due attention in certain areas of text development. Revising becomes easier because problems stand out, such as spotting unnecessary or redundant passages (and, believe me, this happens all the time with every writer). Seasoned writers think about expressing only what needs to be conveyed and stick right to the point, even in fiction.

One analogous reference per description or idea is all that is necessary; more is overkill. The following sample below illustrates that point:

The two-hundred-pound boxer appeared as a large rolling bolder when he walked. His wide, round frame instilled spine-chilling fear in those around him.

This passage provides at least three references to the man’s immense size. Yes, all of the references might sound appealing, but only one is required to produce the desired effect; the other two should be deleted. As a result, many great analogies, metaphors and other descriptive modifiers require frequent omission. That is unfortunate, true, but it is an unavoidable fact; as tough as that is to do, it is necessary. Common-sense supersedes flare, although both are essential.

As for words like large, wide, rolling and spine-chilling, the next segment discusses trimming modifiers and the various reasons why this is important in effective and quality writing . . . .

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