“Throw up into your typewriter every morning. Clean up every noon.” – Raymond Chandler
While this quotation is perhaps a bit graphic, it captures a truth about the writing process. Writing – the process of drafting – involves the production of the verbal version of vomit: a large
amount of information that is not necessarily arranged into an easily identifiable form. Revision, on the other hand, is often where the real magic happens.
The point of drafting is often just to get your ideas down, but the point of the writing process as a whole is to communicate. In order to help your audience understand exactly what you mean, you need to review and rewrite your work, often multiple times.
During revision, you should ensure that what you wrote expresses what you want to express in a clear, complete, and elegant manner. These four techniques can help you get the most out of your revision process.
1. Ask for feedback. In most cases, you want your writing to communicate something to someone else. Therefore, during the revision stage, it’s especially important to get input from people other than yourself – this is the best way to know whether what you’ve said makes sense outside your own head.
2. Reread your work from start to finish. Get a sense of how well your piece works as a whole. If something’s incoherent, mark it and make it better.
3. Read your paragraphs in backwards order. This will help you figure out how well your paragraphs flow individually and in what ways they could use some reorganizing.
4. Refer to style guides. If you notice stylistic issues in your work, look up (and apply) ways to fix them.
5. Use mentor texts. Sometimes, it’s easy to pinpoint parts of your writing that aren’t so great, but difficult to decide how to improve them. In these cases, it helps to have mentor texts – texts that are similar to what you’re trying to write. Reading them can provides you with models, and analyzing their strengths helps you to enhance your work.
6. Remember that this is not a linear process. It’s unlikely that you’ll ever implement the above techniques (or any revision techniques) in a rigid order. Revision requires flexible thinking. If you’re going from looking at a mentor text to reorganizing a paragraph to tinkering with a sentence back to reorganizing a paragraph, then you’re likely doing an effective job. The key is to keep thinking about what will make your draft more effective at expressing your ideas.
The writing process is very personal, so not all of these techniques will be the best ones to apply for every situation. However, they do come in handy in a wide range of situations, so if you find yourself having to clean up some verbal vomit, following these suggestions is a great place to start.