Monday, June 19, 2017

On revision

For this week's prompts, I'd like to share some wisdom from a book I'm working through at the moment: Naming the World, and Other Exercises for the Creative Writer, edited by Bret Anthony Johnston. It's an edited volume, with many different writers and writing instructors contributing writing prompts and exercises.

We've mostly been talking about generating new ideas, making sense of tough concepts, and the like. This week I'd like to focus on revision. I've always said that I hate revision, but I think I haven't had great tools for it until now. I'd love to start a discussion with folks about what, precisely, you do when you revise.

For now, here are some ideas from John Smolens's chapter, on shortening a piece while you revise:
Be ruthless with the usual suspects, adjectives and adverbs; retain only those that are truly necessary, those that so dramatically alter the noun or verb they are modifying that the sentence would be significantly different without them.
Take one paragraph and distill it until you've said the same thing in one sentence. 
 Combine sentences (in particular, by using subordination which often allows connecting words and entire phrases to be dropped).
 Employ the active voice as much as possible. (pp. 303-304)
 If you use writing as a way to figure out what you think, as I do, then inevitably your first draft (and potentially many drafts after that one!) has a lot of extraneous material. It can be a great idea to shorten while you revise.

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