Dina Friedman's Monthly Writing Advice

Vol. 1 # 2, June 2001 - Revision

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Words are often golden-especially if you wrote them yourself. However, they're not always right. How do you revise without cutting out the life juice of your original thoughts? How do you know what's already good and what could be better? Revision, like writing, is a process that can improve with practice. Here are some tips for getting started on this important phase of your writing journey

(1) First and foremost, think of revision as "re-vision", seeing something again rather than correcting it. This works best if you give yourself some distance from the original draft. If possible, wait a day or more before revising. If not possible, wait at least a few minutes. Try not to wait too long, because then you might lose your original train of thought.

(2) Look at "big picture" issues first. Ask yourself what is the purpose of the piece you are writing? What is the message you want to get across? Then read to determine how well you've done this. Where did you go off on irrelevant tangents? What needs to be clarified or expanded? Revision in this context is a process of adding or subtracting material, rather than changing a word or a punctuation mark here and there. If you need to cut something you absolutely adore, make a new computer file for it. Perhaps it will find a home in a different piece of writing.

(3) Be ruthless, but loving. To the extent possible, think of your work as someone else's, and you as their reader or ally. What would you do to help them? Look at revision as an opportunity to employ your best wisdom, rather than beat yourself up for not being perfect on the first go around.

(4) Save old drafts. Sometimes, we become overzealous in our effort to revise, taking out an essential piece of clarifying information, an illuminating character trait, a metaphor that holds a whole poem together. Some writing theorists suggest writing several drafts of a piece without looking at the previous ones, then taking what's best in each of them and compiling them into a whole.

(5) Pick one revision issue to pay attention to at a time: character, plot, argument, meaning, language, tone, etc. Yes, this does mean you have to go over something until you're absolutely sick of it, but it also means the final product will shine. For more information, read Donald Murray's, THE CRAFT OF REVISION, an excellent resource.

(6) Save the sentence-level errors for last. This is really editing, rather than revision, and we'll address it in the next tip sheet.

Once a month, Dina Friedman sends out a Writing Advice Tip covering some aspect of writing: overcoming writer's block, grammar and usage hints, vocabulary builders, etc.
A prize-winning fiction writer, playwright and poet, she teaches in the Speaking, Arguing and Writing program at Mount Holyoke College. She is available for individual consultations either in person (western Massachusetts) or online.

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Dina Friedman, M.S.W., has worked with individuals and groups on issues for thirteen years. A published fiction writer, poet, playwright, and journalist and winner of several awards and honors, she coordinates academic writing workshops for Mount Holyoke College. She has taught rhetoric, English Comp, and creative writing at the University of Massachusetts, Holyoke Community College, and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

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