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Get it Right the First Time Revisions

I’ve had revisions on my mind a lot lately, mostly because I’ve been working on revising some of my writing in a more in-depth fashion than I’ve done in a while. Maybe I should explain that a bit so that I don’t sound as if I’m suggesting that I don’t often revise (that is, that I get it right the first time without much effort at all, which would be a pompous thing to suggest).

For the last year or so, I’ve focused, in my non-blog writing, on short fiction. And for a year, I’ve been writing first drafts pretty much as they came into my head, without a whole lot in the way of revision. Sure, I’ll go back over a piece and find any typos and make a few small structural changes, but by and large, by the time I’ve committed the work to paper, I’ve done enough editing in-line (on the computer screen, I mean) that I feel like it’s ready to send to my writer’s group to then be eviscerated. Even after that evisceration, I haven’t gone back and done any serious revisions of any of the work I’ve written over the last year. That’s not to say that I don’t intend to. For the very few things that I think I could possibly turn into something worth reading, I will revise, but my plan at present is to revisit them after some time away from them. I’ve always read that one of the great Classic writers (was it Horace?) said that you should put things aside for ten years before revisiting them. Well, I’m not quite that patient, but for the past year, I’ve been pumping out work and putting it aside for later revision. It’s easy to be so close to a piece that you can’t look at it impartially (if that’s ever possible), and I just feel like I stand a better chance of reviewing my work honestly if I’ve been away from it for a bit.

Of course, I threw a wrench in the works last week when ย Iย wrote out a draft by hand. It’s harder to edit in-line when doing that, and though I think I benefitted from the process of just forcing myself to put the work down on paper without revising too much onscreen as I went, the result was a more uneven draft than I’ve been accustomed to coming up with these last twelve months. So once my pinky recovered, I typed the thing in, printed it out, and went to town on it with a pen, marking the thing all to bits. Suddenly my own printed copy began to resemble the copy of one of my writing group participants whose work I deface brutally in hopes of helping make it better.

The blog mindset tends to be a bit different, I think, with generally a lower bar (I guess I can speak only for myself here) with respect to the quality of the published piece. I feel like there’s a greater tolerance in the blog world for less perfect, less polished writing. Still, I won’t be surprised if I learn that I’m wrong about this, that many of you do revise heavily before publishing your posts. I was sure surprised to learn how many of you hand-write things, so now I know to be more careful about the assumptions I make.

So, do you revise? If so, what’s your process? Do you stick your work in a drawer for some period of time and revisit it once you have some distance from it? Or do you set right in with the red ink and the ego-killing markup? Are you familiar with some of the standard editorial notations (e.g. the little pigtail thing you attach to a word to suggest deletion)? And how do you know when something’s good enough?

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  1. After reading this, I feel sheepish to say that I barely, if ever, revise at all. It’s the quick spell-check and that’s about it… Oh, my poor readers… perhaps I should start revising… HAHA

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  2. I think that I really need to revise and write drafts for my posts because I looked over some of the old entries yesterday and I was shocked! Re-reading them a 2nd time made me see the flaws. I have been too relaxed with blog posts as opposed to writing for work or formal letters. It really is time to write drafts and for that the beginning is always with pen and paper.

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  3. I generally stick the completed draft in a file drawer for a couple of days before looking it over again, and then I take a red pen to it as though it was my first time seeing it. I generally also have someone else look over it to make sure I catch the really weird stuff that might still escape my notice. Inline marking while I’m writing the rough draft tends to lead to frustration and actually prevents me from getting the whole thing out.

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  4. Enjoyed your post, thank you.
    I revise posts again and again before they are published. In non-blog writing, I do the same level of revising–but I also feel that the time-distance you spoke about is important. I do revise right after returning from writing group–when the comments are freshest–but then I put writing away for a while, so that when I return to it, it’s a bit foreign.
    This is also true when the first draft of a long work is complete. It “goes under the bed” for a couple of months so it gets very, very cold. Then I’m better able to see the weaknesses, and how it might benefit from reorganizing.
    I’m pretty new to WordPress–been here since October 10th, but I have 50 posts under my belt. Just joined post-a-day. Hope that’s offered again in 2012.
    Take care…

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  5. All of my posts are revised to the nth degree. It takes longer to revise them than to write them: I shuffle sentences around, check for spelling, layout, punctuation, grammar, the right pictures in the right place…anything to improve it. I have been known to come across an error in an old post and correct it, even though it’s unlikely to be read again.

    My poetry starts life handwritten, in my notebook. It will go through many drafts before I’m satisfied. I will often come back to poems years later and tweak them.

    It’s not about being obsessive or not feeling satisfied with a piece (I often do); it’s about never presenting less than my best.

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  6. I usually write all posts in longhand -probably I am used to working that way -it seems simpler to scribble points with a pencil on paper and keep on elaborating wherever required.Its very subjective I think -some people can type while thinking -I seem to have limited capabilities in that direction!!Also, it becomes more convenient to just revise as you type-another edit happens spontaneously.:))

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  7. I like to use the preview function to check mine over. For some reason it’s easier to spot typos in a different font and layout, so I’m glad of this function. That’s usually all the revising I do for a blog post, as they seem so ephemeral. Except of course, they’re not really, often lurking around the internet even after being deleted… So technically I ought to care as much, if not more, about their content than some obscure academic stuff that only a few (albeit incredibly picky) people will ever see…

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  8. I revise, a lot. First, I read or decide on the topic, a couple of days before I post. Then, not quite sub-consciously, I let my inner writer kick it around, while my inner critic listens. Finally, on the day of the post, I enter the post into the computer, and then the slashing begins (heehee.) I read it over and over, working on the content, not the grammar, etc. Then I go do something else for about an hour. When I come back, I cut and add until the content really says what I want to say. (I have done anything, from a word or two to trashing the whole thing, and writing it the way it should have been written in the first place. Content finalized, I proof for grammar, spelling, sentence structure — whatever else needs to be done. I leave it for another hour. And then, just before I post, I re-read five to ten times, usually catching something I’ve missed in all the other proofs. I preview it, and read it to myself. And then, finally, I press “publish.”

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  9. I revise over and over until I feel satisfied with what I’ve written. Im a weekly blogger and I usually start my first draft on a Monday and go back to it at least 3-4 times before I post it the following Monday.
    I do the same thing with my articles. After I’ve written an article about a specific topic, I get insights for days after that I know belong in the article.

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  10. I usually write my posts in Word because I feel the interface is better for drafting. When I’m done, I copy and paste the text to WordPress. Then I revise the preview before publishing. Many, many times until I think it’s perfect. I revise everything, including comments (like this one), Facebook posts -anything. I am a translator by trade, and often work revising other people’s translations, so I’ve developed a keen eye for errors and bad writing style. When I write and translate, the first draft is nothing but a first stroke. The real work begins after that.

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  11. I make numerous revisions. I start with a draft and revise as I go. Once I’ve finished I preview so that I can make additional revisions. I may also handwrite a draft. I always want to publish a quality piece, even if the finished blog is informal. I write as part of my profession, so editing is crucial. This carries over into my blogs. I’ve also posted stories that I wrote years ago. Taking another look at them, I made revisions as certain references would not have made sense to a wider audience. It’s good for me to admit that changes are needed to something that I’ve produced. This keeps me sharp and hopefully keeps my writing fresh.

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  12. I write a draft in Word (similar to figthorn), or else on my ipad using “My Writing Nook”. I revise as I go; once my first ‘good’ draft is done, I let the item sit (preferably overmight), and read it again fresh – doing so lets me see how it *really* reads, and helps me identify areas that aren’t clear and/or need more work. In the second read-through I make edits; and if they were extensive I let the item sit a few more hours, do a final read-through, fix/tweak, then publish. I do this entire process no matter how many posts I write – I find it just makes the items better. (And since I have friends, family, work peers, strangers, etc. all reading my blog, I want to make sure I create product that I am proud of.) ๐Ÿ™‚

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  13. Revision is like burning a CD, not in the sense that its obsolete, but that it requires me to cut all these things I think I like only to realize that what I am left with is what I really love. How you do this is unimportant – if it needs to get cut you’ll know and every writer has their own style. I’ve found for me I write the “perfect” piece, wait a few days, then cut about a third. Now blogging is no holds barred.

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  14. I liked your post. Yes I do revise. Sometimes it is adding as well as taking away. Sometimes I change the way things are done while still sticking with the original idea. There are times when I have tucked it away for some time. As I sometimes have to take things in to get photo copies made I do a bit of revising on the computer. I find it is easier to get away from the computer and do revisions on the hard copy and then put them onto the computer. It gives the eyes a bit of a break. I keep revising and editing until I am satisfied and don’t feel the urge to put red marks on the page.

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  15. It may be the same for writers as it is for fine artists – changing a medium [handwriting vs computer] can be unsettling but in the end it may shake things up creatively. When I change mediums it takes me a while to settle in to the way it affects my work – this can be a bad thing if you stop just because the medium is awkward. Each medium or venue has advantages – use the things that work but never force the one to do what the other does best. I sketch best off the computer but I still do rough expressive things there that are messier to do in the studio. Personally I love the computer as a writing tool – my handwriting is so bad some days it is unreadable + I enjoy the way I can cut & paste whole sections. Perhaps you need a tablet.

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  16. I’m with you on the relative quality of blogs versus other things. When you’re trying to crank out a blog-a-day, there’s not a lot of time for a piece to sit on a shelf and wait for a revisit. Like you, I do a lot of in-line editing as I go with the blog posts, and I also read them several times and re-read them aloud, as I do with other things I’ve written. The only real difference, I suppose, is the rest time. I guess if I were organized enough I could work way ahead of the post-day and allow this settling in time. But, no. At least not yet.

    To be truthful, I kind of like the spontaneity of the blog.

    When I first started writing, I couldn’t type a draft on the computer, I needed to feel the pen in my hand. With time, I have overcome that, although there are occasions I revert back to a pen.

    Good post. Thank you.

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  17. I don’t revise much of what I write, although I should. I tend to be wordy so my posts/other writing tend to be long. I’ve never been very good at editing.

    I do revise when I care enough about a piece to perhaps submit it for publishing. This process for me needs to start by having someone else critique my writing. I’ve attended summer writing workshops which are a great place to get feedback from other writers. I always come away feeling inspired, and a head start on revising!

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