Going the Distance: Stepping Back to Revise your Writing Work

In past blogs, we have stressed how important it is to find a reader for your writing work. A more or less objective eye can help delineate the flaws and the brilliance in your work. But we have also said that the only person who really knows what is right for your work is you. Wouldn’t it be nice if these two people got together, the one with the objective eye and the one with the intuitive knowledge?

Even if you never succeed in becoming your own editor, it is worth making the effort because nobody cares more about your book than you do and you are uniquely qualified to improve it. But stepping outside your work and viewing it objectively is not an easy thing to do.

The advice that everyone gives is to put the piece of writing aside for a period of time between writing it and revising it. This makes a lot of sense. Coming at your work from a new perspective may help you see it more clearly. In the meantime, read other people’s work with a critical eye. What would you do to beef up the plot or clarify a description?  How would you edit this work?

When you come back to your own writing, start by doing your level best to put aside all the love and affection you feel for it. Try to separate it from yourself. While everyone approaches revision in different ways, here are some additional suggestions that may be helpful.

Ask yourself questions – and try to answer them honestly. Is the narrative moving along quickly, or have I gotten boggedWhat have I done!? down somewhere? Is my voice consistent? What was I really trying to say here? Did I actually say it? Is there enough description? Does the dialogue need support?

Read aloud. This is like casting an audio net for awkward phrasing. However, just because a passage sounds good doesn’t mean it makes sense. As editors, we read a lot of mellifluous passages that must have been treasured by their creators, but make no sense whatsoever. So, read aloud suspiciously.

Paraphrase. When you come to a passage that you are particularly in love with, be even more suspicious. Test what you were trying to say here by putting it in plain words. Do the plain words mean the same thing as the original passage?

Eliminate word repetition. This is what your thesaurus is for. Also, be absolutely sure that you know the meaning of the words you have used and have employed them correctly. Enter, dictionary.

Simplify your sentences. This is another place where paraphrasing is useful. See if you can’t re-work some of your more tortured sentences. These should pop out at you, reading aloud.

Experiment with rearranging the furniture, your sentences and paragraphs. See if you can improve the narrative flow.

 Get rid of gratuitous words and phrases, like “well” or “truth to tell” or “as the story goes.” These don’t add anything and they weigh the narrative down.

Make sure your similes and metaphors work. Some comparisons just don’t make sense such as comparing a nearby elephant to a fly on the wall. Also, once you have compared your elephant to Mount Rushmore, you want to make sure you don’t come back and reference him as an eighteen wheeler. That’s mixing metaphors.

Be sure your voice is consistent. If you are going along, telling your story in a nice folksy manner, you can’t just switch to professor-speak to explain the historical background of a certain place. Instead, that information should be woven into your folksy narrative.

Check punctuation and grammar.

 You have probably heard many times from teachers and other writers how difficult and challenging writing is. What they really meant, at least in part, is that editing is challenging.