Monday, 06 February 2017 20:21

Revising with a Smile

Written by Anne Dubuisson

It’s a huge accomplishment to come to that last sentence of a novel, a memoir or another book of nonfiction and any writer who does so owes themselves a hearty pat on the back, a smile, a vacation. But after the beach towel is rolled up and the bows are taken, it’s time to get back to work. Whether you have been heeding Ernest Hemingway’s advice to “every day go back to the beginning and rewrite the whole thing” in order to complete your manuscript, or you have simply “filled your basket” haphazardly with everything you wanted to include, revision is in your future. A lot of it. Some writers relish this process (as Hemingway must have in order to revisit every word, every day) and others would much prefer to continue basking indefinitely. Whatever your inclination, here are a few tips to make the process easier and enjoyable.

1.Step back for a while. Yes, that relishing your accomplishment part is vital. It’s impossible to see, really see something that you’ve been staring at for months or years. In most cases, unless for instance you are writing a book whose publication must be directly timed to a particular event, there is no rush. Take the time to think about your characters, experience new things that may add to your main points, live your themes, but don’t sit back down in front of your manuscript until at least 2 weeks or, even better, 2 months have passed.

2. Throw away the hankies.. Revision should be a practical, not an emotional process. It almost always includes cutting, and writers, like all of us, tend to hold tightly and passionately to things they feel they can’t live without. If you recognize that a sentence, a section, the whole first half is not serving its purpose, delete and don’t look back. (Trust me, you’re better off without it.)

3.Strengthen your editing muscles on someone else’s work. I often hear writers lament that while they can easily see the flaws in others’ writing (“I can’t believe they got that published!”), they are unable to discern the improvements they must make with their own. This isn’t some irreversible character trait, but a matter of being out of practice. The more you read things with a critical eye, the easier it will become to spot where problems occur, anywhere. (Again, distance helps here, you won’t see your work with a critical eye, or any other eye, unless you step back from it.) Lend your services as a second reader to a friend.

4. Focus on the fun. You know what feels really great? A perfect chapter, a perfect sentence, a perfect word. If your work requires big picture changes, there is no getting around it, you need to do the heavy lifting to change a character, introduce a new plot, revise your thesis. But when that is accomplished, and even before, take time to focus in on the lines, the sections, that are working and buff them to perfection.

5.Read every line that you have written out loud. This is my own little editing trick. Anyone who has worked with me recognizes my notation “something else” or simply “this doesn’t feel right to me” when I want them to revisit a particular line. But first, I read the troubling line out loud; once, twice. The dissonance becomes clear. If something doesn’t sound right to your ear, it won’t read well, or true, either. Reading out loud will also help you catch and correct that common problem of overusing the same word. You’ll hear the repetition, even if you don’t see it.

And perhaps most importantly, think of your revision not as an act of toil but as an act of kindness.

“Throughout the revision process, remind yourself that revising proves your care for the reader.”- Mary Karr


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