I’ve been asked to do a workshop on revision for the local Friends of Literacy group. So I’ve been thinking of Revision Tactics I Have Used. I remember my first creative writing teacher, Miss Vincent, repeating: “You can always revise something. But you can’t revise nothing.” That has been a life line so many times. Just get something down!
When you’ve got something but it doesn’t seem to do what you want, when, as another teacher of mine said, “It’s not close enough to the bone, it doesn’t draw blood,” you might try:
1. Finish this sentence: The main point of this piece is . . .
2. Put away what you’ve got. Get a fresh screen or piece of paper and rewrite the whole darn thing in 10 minutes of non-stop writing. If you go blank, just keep writing a character name or major image. Finish, shake out your hand and read what you wrote. Your mind may have taken you to the bedrock. In any case, you only invested 10 minutes, but more often than not, a window opens.
3. If the story is being told from the point of view of someone who is not the one with the most at stake, change the point of view to the one who does have the most at stake. “Friend of main character rarely works” unless, as in The Great Gatsby, Nick becomes the main character.
4. Try writing for 10 minutes straight from the antagonist’s point of view. See what you get. This may be uncomfortable, close to your own dark side, but you’ll see what you hadn’t seen before.
5. If the writing itself drags, try this. Print out a page. Highlight every form of “to be,” “to have,” or “to seem” when these appear as the principle verb of the sentence. For example: The elephant is large. He had no teeth. It seemed like summer in January. Revise each sentence using a verb with action. Get rid of “seeming.” Get rid of “looked like” too. This is an amazing process. As one mercenary student put it, “worth the price of tuition.”
6. Go in a quiet room, close the door and read your work aloud. What comes up? Where do you get tired of hearing your own words? Where did you pull back and not go to the bone?
7. And finally, most powerful of all, give your work to a good reader. Listen, just listen to the reactions. Don’t explain yourself. Don’t think “yet” how you’ll fix a problem. Just listen. It’s amazing. Where you once saw a wall, thinking, “this is the best I can do,” a door may open. It may not be easy to go through, but it will take you to a new room.
8. Limit the adjectives and adverbs. They’re way overrated. Go for the nouns and verbs.
9. Other ideas? What works for you?