Four Steps to Successful Revision

Four Steps to Successful Revision

Revision can be scary. It means taking an honest look at my own writing – searching out loopholes in the story; examining character, setting, and plot for credibility; cutting unnecessary words – even whole paragraphs; making sure each sentence is as fine as I can make it. It means reading my own work until my eyes cross, then reading it again. Writing groups are a big help, but, in the final analysis, revision is a lonely business.

One night, I sat alone at my desk, struggling with a particularly difficult scene. I took words out and put words in. I rewrote sentences, trying to give them a life of their own. I lifted whole paragraphs and moved them to more credible locations. I searched my brain (and sometimes the thesaurus) for nouns that spoke volumes and didn’t need explanatory adjectives. Finally, it occurred to me that I was doing four things. Only four! Here they are – the steps all good writers take to improve their work:

1. add

2. subtract

3. substitute

4. rearrange

That’s it! That’s what revision is all about. By judicial use of these four steps, we edit words, sentences, paragraphs, pages, and chapters. Our sentences are of varied length and rhythm. Our language is fluid. Our vocabulary enriches. We create settings that are believable and invite the reader to step into the story. We turn so-so beginnings into attention grabbers, develop plot lines that sustain reader interest, and create exciting and satisfactory endings.

Revising can be scary, but knowing that all I can possibly do is add, subtract, substitute, and rearrange makes the task more manageable and my efforts more effective. Sometimes I even feel that a paragraph sings! That’s what successful revision is all about.

-Contributed by Marilyn Donahue


4 responses to “Four Steps to Successful Revision

  1. Sherri Crawford

    Marilyn, this is wonderful! Thank you for these clear instructions. You’re a great teacher!
    Love you, Sherri

  2. gloriastockstill

    Thanks, Marilyn. Great info.


  3. Shirley Shibley

    A great insight, Marilyn. This should go to a writers’ magazine. I bet you are the first to put things in this perspective.


  4. Marilyn,
    Thanks for the insight. Writing is often about re-writing until it sings. I’m learning so much from you.

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