On Revision

By Anita Gill —

Making Revision an Easier Process

Ok! You have your draft of a story saved on your computer (and hopefully backed up too). You come back to it a few days later, still feeling that excitement you had when writing it on the first day. But now you’re back. And you see problems. Lots of problems.

Revision is inevitable for any piece. We need revision. Sometimes, we need to put the document aside and write it all over again. I recently did that with a piece I had been working on for the last several years (no joke—it was grueling to do). So, how should we approach revision? And how can we do it effectively without putting it off? Here are some tips I’ve procured over the years to help me with the revision process.

A little everyday

Let’s say you have a whole novel that needs serious revision work. Well, the idea of sitting down one morning to do it sounds daunting, right? It would be for me at least. My mind goes, “I already wrote the whole thing—why should I write any more of it?” And that’s usually when I reward myself with Netflix.

Instead of sitting down to revise the whole thing, aim to revise one scene that day. Can you expand on it? Add more dialogue? Provide more details to make it come alive? Is this a place where you can really develop that character to make him/her likeable?

I find that taking small chunks a day is much more effective than thinking about sitting down to revise a whole piece. Not only that, but sometimes the thrill of making a stronger revised scene will get you going to work on the next scene. In sum, I think you would save a lot more time breaking it down this way than battling that crippling fear of revision, which usually ends up turning into elaborate methods of procrastination.

Read it out loud!

I’m a writing teacher, and I can’t tell you how helpful it is when my students read their essays out loud and identify their errors. There are so many careless errors we make in our writing because of laziness or distraction. If we want to write better, we have to give our writing more attention and care. That means shutting off the phone or putting up blockers on social media (I recommend apps like Cold Turkey or SelfControl). Give yourself a quiet place to sit and read your story out loud. You’ll find a lot of silly errors and you’ll be glad you took the time to fix them!

This also goes for identifying places where your writing might sound awkward or the style changes and it distracts you from the actual content. When you’re reading and you stumble to get the sentence out, stop and rewrite it more clearly!

Save previous drafts

I used to simply make changes on the one draft. I felt that every time I went back to revise, it would be better. But that’s not necessarily true. I’ve read about what many other writers do, and I like their processes. One writer prints a hard copy of his story and writes Draft #2 and the date on the corner. He keeps them in a filing cabinet. Needless to say, he has a rather large filing cabinet with a slew of pieces in different stages, some of them not making it any further from that cabinet. The idea is this—he can write a new draft where he takes things out, and if he decides to change again and add something from a while ago, he can revert to the older hardcopy drafts.

If you are looking to save paper, consider putting numbers on your drafts on your computer. I’ve also known another writer who made a document file on her computer called “Scraps” where she put cut out sections of a story she still liked. She wanted to save them in case she could find a way to add them in again, and while she never goes into that document to take something, it does put her at ease to know it’s there.


Anita Gill was given this name when she was born so that her grandparents could pronounce it, but they called her “Annie” instead. She claims to be from Washington, D.C. because people don’t know where Maryland is. Since then, she has also collected New York, Silver Spring, and Los Angeles as homes in addition to Madrid, Spain. She has taught in Montgomery College, Santa Monica College, and UCLA Extension while writing during every break possible. Her work has been published in Eastlit, FortyOunceBachelors, and the Swirlblog. She writes about books in her blog, Book Hunger. You can also find her on Instagram and Pinterest.

 

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