REVISION — writer’s BFG
December 26th, 2016
No good thing is ever written — it is rewritten. Such obvious truth you might’ve heard or read a couple of times while searching for some useful writing advice. It’s true. While it’s a bit bland and outright preposterous — after a couple of years of constant practice — you understand that it is indeed accurate.
Writing something really good right in the first bout is a miracle of sorts — it happens, but not too often. Rarely, in fact. Just never in my case.
Usually, you write the thing down, then read it, look at what works and what not and start to revise certain parts or even the whole text to make it click. That’s how the thing works.
In one way or another, revision is inevitable in the writer’s work. If you ignore it — you will get just another half-baked something-something. You’ll get only another possibly OK-passable text that no one will care about. When you are writing the text — you want to express your best thoughts, feelings. You want to show your skills — but you can’t do it on the fly. It takes time and effort — not only a gust of inspiration.
Great Jeffery Allen once said that “art might be the only thing in life that men have full control over” — you need to use to your benefit.
And here’s another thing. Doing “what is best for the text” before the text got done is delusional. You don’t know what is best for the text up until you have it some finished form. “Feels right” or “feels wrong” is not an argument. Good intentions are a rather bad thing in the case of writing — that why you need to write the draft first. When you have the draft — you have the foundation for the things to evolve.
Blessed Three Drafts Way
In my practice, I apply Blessed Three Drafts way. That’s my theory. I’ve made it up for this text. Why not?
There are three stages of writing and revising the text. Holy First Draft is the place where you let everything spill out. In a raw form. It may also stink a bit; it happens sometimes.
Here’s one crucial thing to remember. For text to be really good — you need to let the first draft be a mess. Trust yourself — you need to make it flow hard, to flush it over, to flood everything — up to the point you will feel that’s you’ve reached the line. Let your head burst with variations, let yourself include every little detail even if it makes no sense. Without that, you will be unable to proceed reasonably.
After you’ve finished Draft 1 — you move on towards Sacred Second Draft, where you can reconsider some stylistic choices, add something you forgot, fix grammar and spelling mistakes, and many other gorgeous issues that may come up with the text.
You scale it back to a consistent form. You make it coherent. Leaner and simpler. You cut the fat. You bring justice to the text and leave only those parts that can justify its being on the page. Consider that every paragraph must move the thing forward and contain at least one unique idea that resonates with the others. After that, you can go to the main event — #3.
Divine Third Draft is the point when you can play big. Imagine yourself a general planning a battle — you know the state of things; you know what you need; you know what you have.
You need to make those two meet on your terms. And you’re doing it step by step. The first step is to mend the structure. The next step is making it dense. Then you get the pacing right. After that, you put some fancy chiaroscuro on the reasoning.
And then, you can change the shape of the sentences that contain your ideas, adding some color with some ties and knots here and there that summarize the thing and grab the reader’s attention. You polish the sentences — make them ring and shine.
After that — the only changes you can make are cosmetics. In fact — after that, you deliver the text.
Dangers of Text Revision
While revising the text on any stage, you have to be aware of several undercurrents that may prevent you from performing a legitimate revision and will stealthy force you to play a cowardly read-through instead.
Usually, it happens because you get used to the text after spending some time doing the research, shaping its structure, and writing it. It’s ok — to get away from that, you need to take some time off the text.
After some time — you will see it differently — flaws will jump in your face, and you will eliminate them with no mercy, sentiment, or, sometimes, reason. Unreasonable cuts may also happen occasionally. Because “less is more” and stuff. But simple keeping in mind “what adds to the big picture and dangling” will make it easier to follow what must and must not be in the text.
Remember that there’s a line between making the text better by eliminating the flaws and making the text blander by removing any trace of its personality.
There’s no point in a simple recounting of the facts without any personal perspective or colorful word use. It makes the reading of the text pointless to the potential reader.
Sometimes clumsy sentence structures can tell more about the subject than the words inside them. Sometimes off-kilter use of obscure words can evoke a very different perception of an otherwise mundane subject. You need to keep that in mind.
Commonly such things are considered as flaws, but hey — rules forbid many things that make the text enjoyable. But they make sense — since without them everything will be an incomprehensible mess. A little bending of the rules is what makes the text interesting.
The last sentence
Revision is the chance for the text to achieve perfection. There’s no point in neglecting it.