Writers Workshop: Revision Nirvana


There are two basic techniques that lurk behind the art of revising your work. The first is the revise-as-you-go way of doing business. The second is to keep that red pen in your back pocket until the first draft is finished, then go ahead with ruthless determination.

I prefer the second method, and here’s why.

When you’re working on that first draft there is a hidden but powerful undercurrent on your shoulder. It’s called “momentum” and it’s wise to heed the subtle imperative. As a writer, you’ve felt this kind of thing before, this sense that you are “on a roll” in your writing project. This kind of momentum is not only a fantastic feeling but an essential part of your craft. Seasoned writers heed this feeling and use it to their advantage.

Our minds work much faster than our pens or keyboards. So rapidly, in fact, that you will never be able to keep up (in the physical sense). The trick is to capture as much of this mental process, this flow of creativity, as possible. Accomplishing this “capture” technique translates into the “don’t stop” method of getting words on the page.

When you’re in the groove, when the winds of creativity are blowing from your backside, stop for nothing! Keep the momentum going and the words flowing. Don’t worry about syntax, lousy sentences, or blunders of construction. Just keep on writing, writing and writing. Do this for as long as possible, with as little distraction as possible.

Now, try to apply this same approach throughout your entire piece of work, whether it’s a short story or a full-blown novel, fiction or nonfiction. In other words, don’t look back at what you’ve written. Not a sentence, not a word, not yet. Just keep pushing ahead.

At the end of this process, you may have a junk pile of dramatically flawed word bundles, but that doesn’t matter. You have the raw material of a good, solid piece of writing. There may be treasure in that junk pile and you have all that is needed to ferret it out.

Now, take a few days off, if you can. Put your creation away for a while and amuse yourself in other ways. Then, go back to it and begin the first revision. You can make corrections along the way, fill in the blanks, add or delete as you see fit. When you’re finished with that first revision, stow the work away once again and give your brain another rest. Repeat as necessary until you have that piece of work shining like a Christmas bell.

Make sense? There are probably as many opinions about this part of the writing process as there are writers. If you have something to share about your unique way of revising, please shout it out.


2 thoughts on “Writers Workshop: Revision Nirvana

  1. Once again I find myself tackling the task of getting my first novel done, only this time I have a secret weapon: a friend to ruthlessly stand behind me. However, as thankful for a friend like that I am it makes the writing of my first draft particularily difficult. Being a young(er) writer, I’m still learning that lesson on how to “just write” and not worry until the end. I thought a friend would help me with “just writing” but now it seems I can’t get a paragraph written without reading it a 1000 times. Do you have any expierence in terms of writing with someone else, or having a co-writer with you?

  2. Two of my books had co-authors. The rest were solo. In those two cases, I did almost all of the writing and the co-authors were more like major contributors along the story line. Personally, I like to write alone. As to the editing/review process, I learned early on to not rely on those close to me. It puts a burden on them and on the relationship. When it comes to editing, I like someone objective, someone whose work I respect. Over the years, I’ve collected a few really good editors. I had no personal relationship with them but I sure respected their work.

    In the end, you’ll get lots of opinions and advise. The advise may be OK but the opinions are not too valuable. What we do, as writers, will impact every reader differently. It’s the nature of the beast, so it’s best to just plow on ahead and go deaf to most opinions. Just stay the course, move forward, and don’t look back too much.

    Glad you stopped by.

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