Today I’d like to welcome Bob Sanchez to the blog. Bob, a retired technical writer, has published two novels, When Pigs Fly and Getting Lucky. His blog is http://bobsanchez1.blogspot.com and is the webmaster and frequent reviewer for the Internet Review of Books at http://internetreviewofbooks.com.
Elizabeth asked me for a post on revising—not necessarily how to do it, but how I do it. Writing and revising aren’t separate processes, but are closely bound together. Revising is writing. Before my fingers first hit the keyboard, a debate begins in my head about where to start. That doesn’t last long, because finding the right beginning and ending aren’t essential yet. It’s really okay to begin anywhere.
Yet this next paragraph comes slowly. For one thing, I am already second-guessing my opening sentences and wondering how to write this piece without overusing the first person singular pronoun. But after a few fixes it’s time to read it over, maybe even aloud, forcing me to notice every word. If the passage sounds okay for now, it’s time to move on.
Usually this messy approach continues throughout a rough draft—writing, proofing, reading, then writing some more. Commas become em dashes, typos disappear, words get shuffled or replaced. I’ll delete most adverbs and passive constructions.
Eventually, I have a series of paragraphs representing the bulk of the message. Now come a series of important questions:
- Does the draft make the point I want to make? If not, I still have a lot of work to do.
- Does it flow well? Maybe rearranging or adding paragraphs will make the sequence more logical.
- Does everything fit? This may be the time to delete entire paragraphs.
- Does the tone sound consistent and appropriate? The first draft of this essay had a joke that didn’t feel right, so it’s gone.
- Does the piece have a strong lead and conclusion? If not, now is the time to write them.
Once a draft is complete, I try to set my work aside for awhile and come back to it later. Here’s an example of what can happen when you don’t. I’m an admin on a writing list and felt the need to send out an admonition. This is what I sent:
Okay gang, please remember that this list is all about the craft of writing. Please let's stick to that. The plight of your favorite bookstore, however interesting, is off topic.
And please note that the old "I know this is off topic, but..." ploy doesn't justify a post. If you know you shouldn't post, please don't.
Five sentences with four pleases? Oh, please. Here is a better version:
Okay gang, remember that this list is all about the craft of writing. The plight of your favorite bookstore, however interesting, is off topic.
Note also that the old "I know this is off topic, but..." ploy doesn't justify a post. If you know you shouldn't post, then don't.
There, that’s better. My early drafts may still contain infelicitous phrases, repeated words and ideas, clichés, misspellings, passive constructions, and unclear pronoun references. Not to mention incomplete sentences. I once asked a good friend, who is an excellent writer, how he makes his work so smooth. He replied, “I just go over it and over it”—and that, I think, is the key.