I once spent four years researching and an additional year writing a doctoral dissertation on the writings of Jack London. After all that time, I got to the point where I couldn’t stand the sight of the word London. I would open my morning newspaper and see: “The London gold market opened today at….” I’d rip it out of my paper. Aggghhh!
This is why I can identify so strongly with my writing students who tell me, “I’m going to go nuts if I have to revise my novel one more time.” It can be extremely tedious and laborious to read the same sentences and paragraphs over and over, trying to find a better way to express their meaning. But then, that’s what professional writing really is: rewriting.
Let me offer you six tips on how to make revising your manuscript more effective and less monotonous.
- Try to let your pages rest a while before you take the red pencil to them. If you return to your manuscript after being away from it for two days, you will look at it with fresh eyes. You may find a sentence such as, “The yacht is fast.” When you wrote it, you knew what you meant. Now, two days later, you aren’t sure whether you meant the yacht is tied to the dock (made fast) or that the yacht goes quickly over the water (travels fast). This indicates the need for revision work.
- Check for consistency. If you are writing a novel, prepare a dossier on each of your characters in advance. When your book is completed, check each character’s appearance in the story against the dossier. Correct any oversights. Make sure the villain’s tattoo is always on his left arm, or that the maid always speaks with a German accent, or that the war veteran always limps on the right foot. Trust me—if you make even the slightest error, your readers will catch it.
- Scrutinize your pages from the reader’s viewpoint. Ask yourself, are these comedy scenes really funny, or funny just to me? Is my explanation of how this machine works easy to understand, or is it easy for only a mechanic to understand? Is my story paced well, or is it the kind of writing I would skip over if I were an average reader? Whenever you become bored or bogged down by your story, start cutting, revising and simplifying.
- Read your manuscript aloud. Test it for rhythm, pace, flow, speed, and sound. If the sentences are too long, reduce them. If there are too many th or s sounds close together, insert alternate words. If the words are too big, replace them with smaller ones.
- Check your transitions. Paragraphs should flow from one to the next in obvious harmony. The end of one chapter should prepare the reader for the beginning of the next chapter. Even individual pages should blend together to form a perfect sequence of sentences.
- Examine the details. Are the settings vivid? If not, add color, sound, weight, smells, and temperature. Is the dialogue condensed? If not, remove needless adjectives and adverbs. Is the time well established for the reader? If not, talk about seasons, dates, hours, eras, and holidays.
Revision is never fun, but it’s usually profitable. On May 22, 1940, editor Maxwell Perkins wrote to F. Scott Fitzgerald about a play by Hemingway: “Ernest’s ‘Fifth Column’ was a notable success in its revised form.”
I like that. Just knowing that Nobel Prize-winning writers also have to revise their first drafts somehow encourages me.
But then, Hemingway knew the secret, too. All good writing is rewriting.
Dennis E. Hensley, PhD, is director of the professional writing department at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana, and a Christian Writers Guild board member. His 54 books include:
- Jesus in the 9 to 5: Facing the Challenges of Today’s Business World
- How to Write What You Love and Make a Living at It
- Man to Man: Becoming the Believer God Called You to Be
- More Than Meets the Eye: Finding an Extraordinary God in Ordinary Life
- Alpha Teach Yourself Grammar and Style in 24 Hours
- Surprises and Miracles of the Season: Devotions for Christmas and New Year’s
- The Power of Positive Productivity
© 2014 by Dennis E. Hensley. All rights reserved.