Revision is an important part of writing. It doesn’t matter if you are writing a term paper, a textbook, or a novel. You will need to revise your work. It’s actually the hardest part of writing. A good way to ensure that you will have a good experience in revising your work is to start when you write your first draft. An English teacher once gave me this advice, “write as though your reader was an idiot because he/she doesn’t know what’s in your head.” For the most part, I try to keep that in mind while writing. It’s good advice for when you are editing as well. As you edit, ask yourself if your intent is clear. Could there be more than one meaning for each sentence? Yes, you have to go through your work line by line, word by word. It’s a long, laborious process, but you will be pleased with the result. Your writing will be clear with no ambiguity to confuse your readers.
Another thing to avoid using too much is the passive sentence, when writing fiction at least. Passive sentences, like “John had caught the ball,” slow the action down. You want to use them as sparingly as possible, if you use them at all. You want to use sentences like, “Mary ran the marathon,” instead of “Mary had run the marathon.” the first sentence produces a feeling of immediacy, while the second doesn’t. That’s not to say that you should never use the passive sentence. Used in moderation, passive sentences can subtly flavor your work, like a small amount of a spice flavors food. Too much is overpowering, too little makes the work fall flat, just like spices in soup.
Descriptions can do the same thing, but again, you have to be careful. The sentence “John unlocked the door of his light blue, 2013 Ford Mustang, and got in.” is a good sentence, but the temptation is to describe the car every time John gets into it. Don’t. Once is enough. You can vary it by referring the car again as “the car,” or “the Mustang,” or even as “the Ford.” You’ve described it fully once, you only need to do it again if the work is long, like a novel, and the make, model and year of the car is relevant to the plot. Otherwise, it is only padding to the work. Padding makes your work overweight. Remember, obesity isn’t good for either your work or you.
Writing the first draft can be hard, but revising is harder. Write the first draft as though your reader was an idiot and you will find the revision process is much easier than if you had to add in items. This is not a hard and fast rule, but it works for me. It may not work for you. That’s why there are so many how to write books on the market and so few “how to revise your work” books for sale. Just find what works for you and go with it.
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