Revising and Editing for Creative Writers
Sean Glatch | October 2, 2023 | Leave a Comment
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Although the terms revising and editing are often used interchangeably, stylish writers know the difference between revising and editing. When it’s time to shape a first draft into a polished, publishable piece of writing, knowing how to both revise and edit your work is essential.
So, what is revising vs editing? Revising refers to global changes in the text—significant amendments to the work’s structure, intent, themes, content, organization, etc. These are, in other words, macro-level considerations. Editing, by contrast, focuses on changes at the word, sentence, and paragraph level.
These two concepts require different skills and attentions, but both are necessary to create a finished piece of writing. So, let’s dive deeper into revising vs editing, including a revising and editing checklist you can use for any passage of poetry or prose.
First, let’s dive a little deeper into these two essential skills. What is the difference between revising and editing?
Note: the revising and editing resources in this article are geared towards fiction writers. Nonetheless, much of this advice also applies to essayists and nonfiction writers, too.
Revising and Editing: Contents
- The focus of revision
- The focus of editing
Revising Vs Editing: Venn Diagram
- Revision Strategies
- Editing Strategies
- Strategies for Revising and Editing
Revising and Editing Checklist
What is the difference between revising and editing.
Revising and editing are different types of changes you can make to a text. “Revising” is concerned with macro-level considerations: the ideas of a text, and how they are organized and structured as a whole. “Editing,” by contrast, concerns itself with micro-level stylistic considerations, the words and sentences that get those macro-level ideas across.
Revising is concerned with the ideas and structure of the text as a whole; editing is concerned with stylistic considerations, like word choice and sentence structure.
This revising vs editing chart outlines the different considerations for each concept:
Let’s go a bit deeper into these revising and editing concepts.
Revision strategies focus on:
The text as a whole. If revision focuses on the macro-level concerns for the text, then revision strategies for writing require the writer to think about what the text is accomplishing.
In large part, this means thinking about themes, ideas, arguments, structures, and, if the text is fiction, the elements of fiction themselves. You might also consider how the text is influenced by other writers and media, or what philosophies are operating within the text.
Here are some questions to ask when revising your work:
- Does the writing begin at the beginning?
- Are the ideas logically sequenced?
- How are different ideas juxtaposed? How does their juxtaposition alter the message of the text?
- What messages are present in the text?
- How do the characters of the text represent different ideas and messages?
- What do the different settings of the story represent? How does the setting impact the decisions that characters make?
- What core conflicts shape the plot?
- Who is the narrator? How does their point of view impact the story being told?
- What attitude do I take towards the various themes and ideas? Is that attitude present?
- Does the writing use scenes to showcase important moments, and summaries to glide over less important passages of time?
- What atmosphere(s) are in the text? Does the story’s mood complement the story itself?
- Does the story have a clearly defined climax? What questions does (and doesn’t) the climax resolve?
- What transformation occurs in the story? How are the characters at the end different than at the beginning?
- Does the writing end at the ending? Is the ending a closed door, or (preferably) an open one?
Editing strategies focus on:
The words and sentences. In contrast to revision strategies, editing strategies ask the writer to examine how the text is accomplishing macro-level concerns.
This means getting into the weeds with language. Small decisions, like the use of a synonym or the arrangement of certain sounds, stack up to create an enjoyable story. Moreover, good writing at the sentence level makes it easier to produce good writing at the global level.
Here are some questions to ask when editing your work:
- Is this the right word to describe a certain image, idea, or sensation?
- Do my sentences have enough variation in length and structure?
- Are the words I use easy to understand? If I use jargon or academic language, is the meaning of the text still clear?
- Do I use active vs passive voice with intent?
- Have I omitted any unnecessary words?
- How does it sound to read my work aloud? Does it flow like it should?
- Do I use sonic and poetic devices , like alliteration, consonance, assonance, and internal rhyme, to make the writing more enjoyable? Do those devices enhance the text?
- How does the text transition between scenes and ideas? Do these transitions enhance the logical flow of plot and ideas?
- Do I repeat certain words a lot? Do those repetitions contribute to the text, or do they become redundant?
- Have I employed the “show, don’t tell” rule consistently in my writing? Do I have a good balance of showing and telling?
- Do I use metaphors, similes, and analogies to illustrate important ideas in new and thought-provoking ways?
- Is the writing clear at the word, sentence, and paragraph level?
- Does the dialogue sound like it was spoken by a real person? Does each character have a distinct voice, separate from the voice of the author?
Note: editing does not include proofreading. Proofreading is something you typically do once the final draft is done. It is the process of making sure there are no typos, misspellings, misplaced punctuation marks, or grammatical errors. Do this once you’ve thoroughly covered revising and editing.
Now, let’s take a closer look at each of these skills.
Revising Vs Editing: Revision Strategies for Writing
In addition to asking the above questions, here are some revision strategies to help you tackle the macro-level concerns in your writing.
Revision Strategies: Take a break after drafting
Before you get to revising and editing your work, take a break when you’ve finished the first draft. It is much easier to revise and edit when you can look at your work with a fresh set of eyes.
How long should you wait? It really depends. Some authors give their work 2 or 4 weeks. Stephen King recommends a 6 week break in his book On Writing . Really, you should give yourself enough time to forget the finer details of your work, but not so much time that you lose passion for the project.
Revision Strategies: Write a memory draft
Here’s a crazy idea: when you’re done with your first draft, throw it out.
Right. Don’t save a copy. Don’t reread what you’ve written. Don’t give yourself any access to it. Once you’ve written the final word, delete everything.
Why would you do this? Some writers, called “pantsers” or “discovery writers”, don’t plot in advance, they just write from scratch and figure it out as they go. When you delete this draft, you’re forced to write it again from memory. This “memory draft” will be written from only the most salient parts of the first draft—the parts that were memorable, enjoyable, and essential to the work.
Of course, you can write a memory draft without deleting your first draft. Deleting the first draft just makes it easier to ensure you never go back. This approach is not for everyone, but for some writers, such as our instructor Sarah Aronson , it results in the strongest possible work.
Revision Strategies: Create a plot line
If you’re a pantser, or even if you plot everything in advance, return to your work by creating a plot line.
Go scene by scene. What is every action that drives the writing forward? Who are the characters involved? Are those actions consistent with the characters?
Also give consideration to different plot structures. What plot structure does the story use? Is there a main plot and subplot(s)? How do the subplots tie into the plot as a whole?
Plot lines help you zoom out. Seeing your work at the macro-level is the key difference between revising and editing; to revise your work, you must be able to see it from a distance before zooming in closer.
Revision Strategies: Funneling
Funneling is a process for zooming into the work from a distance. It asks you to get progressively more in-the-weeds with your writing.
First, you need to look at the work as a whole. What are the overall themes and messages? What does the work accomplish, or try to accomplish? How is the work structured? Does the work feel essential?
Then, zoom in, and ask those same questions at the various sublevels of the work. Ask these questions by section, by chapter, by scene, by paragraph, and even sentence by sentence. Evaluating the purpose of each individual component helps you decide what to keep, what to cut, and what to revise and edit.
Revision Strategies: Look for discontinuities
Another way to decide what to keep, cut, revise and edit, is to spend time intentionally searching for discontinuities.
What are discontinuities? These are parts of the text where the writing is not continuous. They can be caused by the following:
- Sections of the text that don’t ultimately contribute to the plot, subplots, characters, character development, setting, etc.
- Plot threads that haven’t yet been tied up, but need to be.
- Subplots that ultimately do not impact the main plot of the story.
- Gaps in plot or characterization that need to be filled for the story to make sense.
Some discontinuities are intentional, and writers should certainly lean into ambiguity and interpretation. But your story should also say everything it needs to. Discontinuities hinder a story’s ability to do this. By snuffing them out and fixing them, you can prepare a text that is much more ready for editing.
Revising Vs Editing: Editing Strategies for Writing
In addition to asking the previous questions we’ve listed for editing your work, here are some editing strategies to help you tackle the micro-level concerns in your writing.
Editing Strategies: Read it out loud
Yes, even if it’s novel-length. Reading your work out loud is essential to honing your prose. (This is also true for writing poetry !)
The way that writing flows in your head is not necessarily how it flows when spoken aloud. As a result, your writing might sound good when you read it, but not when you say it. Writing that sounds good out loud always sounds good on the page; writing that sounds clunky or hard to follow out loud might be read the same way.
In addition to catching opportunities for stylistic improvement, reading your work out loud also gives you a chance to experience your work in a different way. You might gain a new perspective that helps you tackle major revisions.
Editing Strategies: Focus on specificity
Ambiguity has its place in literature. But, when it comes to giving good detail and description, specificity is key.
Take this passage, from The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy:
“Having sufficiently rested they proceeded on their way at evenfall. The dense trees of the avenue rendered the road dark as a tunnel, though the open land on each side was still under a faint daylight. In other words, they passed down a midnight between two gloamings.”
Look at how the attention to detail in this passage paints such a dazzling image. I can see this picture moving in my mind’s eye. And, the phrase “a midnight between two gloamings” is both poetic and musical, making this excerpt an all around enjoyable read.
What would a nonspecific passage of text look like? Instead of the above, imagine Hardy writing “The road was shady.” Maybe you can picture that in your head, but does the image move? Do you know that the shade is provided by trees, as opposed to buildings? Does it even matter whether the road was shady or not?
You don’t need to make everything specific, but specificity helps draw the reader’s attention to what’s beautiful and important. Through specificity, writers can access something both stimulating and poetic for the reader. Use this tool whenever you want to draw the mind’s eye somewhere.
Editing Strategies: Omit needless words
Omitting needless words is central to the art of editing. If a word isn’t doing important work, or if there is a less wordy way to say something, cut it out of the text. Be heartless!
Your style will always be improved by concision. Not brevity, but concision —where every word does important, necessary work. A sentence can be 200 words long, so long as every word is essential.
Common words to omit include adverbs, undescriptive adjectives, passive phrases that are better off active, and prepositions in place of stronger verbs. For more tips, check out our article on this topic:
Editing Strategies: Turn repetition into variety
Repetition is a useful stylistic device to emphasize the important ideas and images in a text. But, repetition should be used sparingly. To keep your writing fresh and engaging, try not to repeat yourself too much, and call out parts of your text where you do.
This is true at both the word and sentence level. At the word level, keep things visually interesting. If a lot of things in your scene are already yellow, then the building can be green, for example. Also be sure to vary your transition words. If you use “then” to move to every next scene, the reader will catch on and get annoyed, quickly.
At the sentence level, vary your sentence lengths and structures. A series of short sentences will start to sound staccato. Too many long sentences will tax the reader’s attention. Sentences of any length can be used in any way. But, as a quick guide, you can often use short sentences to convey brief summary or information, medium sentences to advance the narrative, and long sentences for moments of introspection or important description. Again, any sentence of any length can do any of those things, but that’s an easy rule to start from.
Even at the paragraph level, try to have a mix of long and short paragraphs, where you can. Also, try to include dialogue at regular intervals. If your characters haven’t spoken for at least 3 pages, let their voices onto the page.
Editing Strategies: Ask yourself, who does your writing sound like?
This is an important question to ask when you’re editing your work. Who does your writing sound like?
It is important to define this, because you want the writing to sound like it’s coming from a real person. If you’re writing nonfiction, then you obviously want the writing to sound like yourself.
When writing fiction, the writing may sound like yourself, but remember, the narrator is not necessarily the author. So, the text should sound like whoever is narrating the story, even if it has some stylistic consistencies with other fiction you’ve written.
What you absolutely do not want is to affect a lofty manner. You can be artful, musical, poetic even, but you absolutely cannot Sound Like A Writer. Using elaborate sentence structures, academic vocabulary, or else trying to write High Literature will only make your writing sound pretentious. Talk to your reader, not above them.
Also, be sure to know the warning signs of when a passage of text is purple prose .
Revising and Editing Strategies
These strategies are useful for both revising and editing. As you revise and edit your work, consider doing the following:
Revising and Editing: Read like a writer
The best way to improve as a writer is to read other writers like a writer yourself. This is invaluable advice, especially for anyone learning how to write a novel . Paying attention to the craft skills that go into a work of literature will help you think about the decisions you make in your own work.
You can do this at both a revising and editing level. How did the author structure their text? Why does the chapter end here? What did they intend to do by using that specific word choice? Why is this sentence so long?
When you make a practice of doing this, it is much easier to bring that practice into your own work.
Learn more about reading like a writer here:
Revising and Editing: Print it out
Most people these days write using a computer. (I say most, because our instructor Troy Wilderson writes her novels freehand.) Whatever medium you use to write, try using a different medium to revise and edit.
So, if you typed your first draft, print it out and mark up the physical pages. If you happened to write freehand or use a typewriter, type up those pages and revise from there.
The point is to think about your work in a different medium. Revising and editing with different technology helps shift the gears in your brain, and it also encourages you to see your work with a different perspective. For whatever reason, you’ll think about your work with a fresh set of eyes if it’s sitting in front of you in a different format.
And, if you don’t have access to a printer, at least put your writing in a different text editor. Move from Microsoft Word to Google Docs, or even use a novel editing software like Scrivener . Anything to get you out of writing mode, and into revising mode, allowing you to see your work from a new angle.
Revising and Editing: Don’t do it all at once
Writing is a marathon, not a sprint. The same holds true for revising and editing.
If you try to tackle it all at once, you will create three problems for yourself.
One, you will rush through a process that requires slow, methodical labor. Trying to tackle everything right away will result in a work that’s fundamentally incomplete.
Two, you will end up ignoring or neglecting important or powerful opportunities for revision. Taking things slow helps you think more clearly about your work. You might miss out on powerful insights by trying to accomplish everything right away. You might also force yourself to avoid the work that needs to be done, such as major revisions or a full scale rewrite.
Three, you miss out on the joy of revising and editing. This is a fundamentally fun experience. It is also an experience central to being an author. Let yourself have it.
Revising and Editing: Read in reverse
Try reading your work from end to beginning. Read each sentence left to right, but read the sentences from back to front.
This might seem a little strange. After all, won’t you lose the meaning of the sentences by doing this? Well, that’s exactly the point—reading in reverse allows you to see the text in a new light. You might notice a sentence that is far less musical when it stands on its own. Or, you might find information that’s been unnecessarily repeated. At the structural level, you might realize that certain passages, sections, or scenes are too close to the end (or middle, or beginning) of the text.
This is another effort to see your work in a new light. Taking as many opportunities as you can to do this will inevitably result in a stronger, more satisfying story.
Revising and Editing: Get feedback
When you’ve reached the limit of what you can accomplish yourself, it’s time to get feedback on your work.
The important thing is knowing when you’ve reached this limit . Most people should not seek feedback when they’ve finished the first draft. Why? Because the work is in a far more vulnerable state. You need to give yourself time to revise and edit using only your own expertise.
In other words, you need to bring the work much closer to your vision for the work before other people see it. Letting people in too early could result in feedback that changes the story as a whole, and brings it further away from the vision you have for it.
Give yourself a few revisions before you start getting feedback on your work. Trust in your own instinct and artistic vision. Feedback should help you reach that vision; anything that alters it doesn’t belong in the final draft.
Here are some things to ask yourself in both the revising and editing stages of your work.
- Does the writing begin where it should?
- Does the juxtaposition of different ideas enhance those ideas?
- Do the characters of the text represent different ideas and messages?
- Do the settings represent certain themes and ideas?
- Do the settings impact the characters’ decisions?
- Is the plot shaped by conflict?
- Is the narrator clearly defined?
- Does the story’s mood complement the story itself?
- Does the story have a clearly defined climax?
- Do certain characters transform by the end of the story? (If not, is that intentional?)
- Is every word the right word to describe a certain image, idea, or sensation?
- Does my writing flow when spoken out loud?
- Do I use sonic devices to make the writing more enjoyable? Do those devices enhance the text?
- Do transitions enhance the logical flow of plot and ideas?
- Have I employed the “show, don’t tell” rule consistently in my writing?
- Do I have a good balance of showing and telling?
- Do I use metaphors, similes, and analogies to illustrate ideas in thought-provoking ways?
- Does the dialogue sound like it was spoken by a real person?
- Does each character have a distinct voice, separate from the voice of the author?
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8 Tips for Revising Your Writing in the Revision Process
Revising your writing doesn’t have to be a long painful process. Follow these tips to make your revision process a fun and easy one. One of my favorite Billy Joel songs is “Get It Right the First Time.” It’s a great song, but an impossible goal, even for someone with as much talent as him….
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Revising your writing doesn’t have to be a long painful process. Follow these tips to make your revision process a fun and easy one.
One of my favorite Billy Joel songs is “Get It Right the First Time.” It’s a great song, but an impossible goal, even for someone with as much talent as him.
As a writer, you are going to need to understand why they call it a “first” draft – there is an understanding that there will be more than one.
Revising your writing is as important as the actual act of writing. It’s where you polish your piece to make it ready for the rest of the world, even if that only includes one other person.
Here are some tips for how to revise your writing:
1. Wait Until the First Draft is Done
That’s right. Wait. Finish writing your first draft before you dive headlong into the revision process. There are a few reasons for this. First, every moment you spend revising an incomplete manuscript is time that could be better spent working on the actual manuscript.
If you deviate from the process of writing, it can be hard to get back into the flow of creation. Don’t deviate from the plan. Stay on course and wait until you’ve arrived at your destination to start editing.
The second reason echoes the first. If you distract yourself from the goal of finishing your manuscript, there is the danger of falling down the rabbit hole of self-doubt. You could make endless tweaks to a single sentence, and that may call into question the whole paragraph. Maybe the page. Maybe the whole section or chapter. Maybe you should scrap the whole thing and just start over?
There is a creature in your head that whispers vicious things in your own voice and makes you second guess your ability or your ideas. You want to starve that voice of attention, so get the work of a first draft done first. Then you can say you did it! And that voice will have nothing else to say.
2. The Rule of Two
After you have finished your first draft (and maybe let it rest for a bit – like a fine steak), you need to read through it at least twice.
First, the technical run – spelling and grammar. Fix all those your/you’re/yore and there/their/they’re flops and make sure you haven’t left any incomplete sentences, run-ons, or adverbs (we’ll get to these in a minute). Ensure voice consistency (active, please), and maintain perspective (first person, second person, third person omniscient/limited).
Second, make substantive corrections. Edit out inconsistencies and anything that messes with the overall flow of the work.
See Related Article: What’s the Difference Between Editing vs. Revising?
As you make your runs through the text, keep these other pointers in mind:
3. Take Notes
While reading through the first time (and, for longer works, as you are writing) make notes SEPARATE from the actual text.
I keep a Rhodia Squared dot pad handy for just about everything – sketching out ideas in visual form, writing notes about characters and places (especially how to SPELL their names), and sometimes the alternate ideas that voice I mentioned before comes up with (we may not always agree, but sometimes it has a good idea or two).
Take note as you run your first technical revisions about anything you want to revisit during the second part of your revision process. That will make it easier to come back to, and, let’s be fair, the biggest lie we tell ourselves is “I don’t need to write that down. I’ll remember it later.”
4. Don’t Trust Technology Too Much
Spelling and Grammar checks have come a long way since the first time I installed Microsoft Word back in the mid 90’s. Unfortunately, not far enough. As I write this, Word has highlighted at least a half-dozen grammatical non-errors.
As you build your skills as a writer, put a few tools in your toolbox to help you better understand how language works. English is a fickle mistress, and I will evangelize the Elements of Style until my dying breath. It’s a quick read with loads of great information to help you be a better writer and communicator in general. Get a copy (it’s cheap) and keep it handy. Refer to it for any questions on grammar you might have.
5. Adverbs are the Devil
Lazy writers use adverbs. Period. If you are doing your job well enough, describing the scene and the characters, the reader will understand how an action is performed well enough without any of those -ly words hanging about. Think about these examples below – what sounds better?
“I’ll get you for this!” he said angrily.
He shook his fist, knuckles white with rage, and shouted “I’ll get you for this!”
Same idea, but I think we can agree the second version transmits it with better clarity. Do your best to avoid adverbs. You won’t be perfect – none of us are – but do your best.
6. Kill Your Darlings
This is the hardest part of revising your writing. Sure, it’s easy to know when your writing is bad, and little is more satisfying than culling the weak from your word-herd. But what about those times when you read your own writing and fall in love…and then suddenly realize that this spectacular bit of prose doesn’t actually belong with the rest of the work. Maybe you could make it fit, or tweak somewhere else to force it to work.
It’s a difficult decision, but in the end the best and simplest way to deal with this scenario is to swipe the red pen and take it out. Aside from the mechanical process of fixing your spelling mistakes and revising for voice, your primary concern during the revision process is to remove everything that isn’t the story.
That means sometimes you have to kill your darlings – those bits of work that really sing, but brought the wrong sheet music to choir practice. If you feel terrible about it, cut and paste into a separate document to look at it later.
7. Know When to Stop Revising
Remember when we talked about that voice? It can show up during the regular revision process, too. When you get to the end of your second run through the text, you are going to be tempted to go through again. And again. And again.
If your immediate feeling about concluding the revision process is contentment, then stop. Tell yourself that it is good enough. Fix yourself a coffee or a cocktail or whatever you do to celebrate and enjoy the moment. Kick your feet up and relax. You have earned it, my friend!
8. Open the Door
The last and most stressful part of the whole process is to let someone else have a crack at it. This should be your Designated Reader – a person who knows you; someone you can trust to give honest feedback about your work.
It doesn’t hurt if they have an interest in your genre (and some technical know-how of the craft), but that isn’t totally necessary. If you can watch them read it, don’t. It’s as private a matter for someone to read your work as it was for you to write it.
Give them space and time, and be prepared for feedback of all kinds. If you hit a home run, then great! You’re ready for the next step. If your Designated Reader has some valuable critique, make targeted changes. Remember to know when enough is enough.
Do you have any tips to share about how to revise your first draft? Share your tips for revising your writing in the comments below!
Bill comes from a mishmash of writing experiences, having covered topics ranging from defining thematic periodicity of heroic medieval literature to technical manuals on troubleshooting mobile smart device operating systems. He holds graduate degrees in literature and business administration, is an avid fan of table-top and post-to-play online role playing games, serves as a mentor on the D&D DMs Only Facebook group, and dabbles in writing fantasy fiction and passable poetry when he isn’t busy either with work or being a husband and father.
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Rewriting is the essence of writing well—where the game is won or lost. —William Zinsser
What this handout is about
This handout will motivate you to revise your drafts and give you strategies to revise effectively.
What does it mean to revise?
Revision literally means to “see again,” to look at something from a fresh, critical perspective. It is an ongoing process of rethinking the paper: reconsidering your arguments, reviewing your evidence, refining your purpose, reorganizing your presentation, reviving stale prose.
But I thought revision was just fixing the commas and spelling
Nope. That’s called proofreading. It’s an important step before turning your paper in, but if your ideas are predictable, your thesis is weak, and your organization is a mess, then proofreading will just be putting a band-aid on a bullet wound. When you finish revising, that’s the time to proofread. For more information on the subject, see our handout on proofreading .
How about if I just reword things: look for better words, avoid repetition, etc.? Is that revision?
Well, that’s a part of revision called editing. It’s another important final step in polishing your work. But if you haven’t thought through your ideas, then rephrasing them won’t make any difference.
Why is revision important?
Writing is a process of discovery, and you don’t always produce your best stuff when you first get started. So revision is a chance for you to look critically at what you have written to see:
- if it’s really worth saying,
- if it says what you wanted to say, and
- if a reader will understand what you’re saying.
What steps should i use when i begin to revise.
Here are several things to do. But don’t try them all at one time. Instead, focus on two or three main areas during each revision session:
- Wait awhile after you’ve finished a draft before looking at it again. The Roman poet Horace thought one should wait nine years, but that’s a bit much. A day—a few hours even—will work. When you do return to the draft, be honest with yourself, and don’t be lazy. Ask yourself what you really think about the paper.
- As The Scott, Foresman Handbook for Writers puts it, “THINK BIG, don’t tinker” (61). At this stage, you should be concerned with the large issues in the paper, not the commas.
- Check the focus of the paper: Is it appropriate to the assignment? Is the topic too big or too narrow? Do you stay on track through the entire paper?
- Think honestly about your thesis: Do you still agree with it? Should it be modified in light of something you discovered as you wrote the paper? Does it make a sophisticated, provocative point, or does it just say what anyone could say if given the same topic? Does your thesis generalize instead of taking a specific position? Should it be changed altogether? For more information visit our handout on thesis statements .
- Think about your purpose in writing: Does your introduction state clearly what you intend to do? Will your aims be clear to your readers?
What are some other steps I should consider in later stages of the revision process?
- Examine the balance within your paper: Are some parts out of proportion with others? Do you spend too much time on one trivial point and neglect a more important point? Do you give lots of detail early on and then let your points get thinner by the end?
- Check that you have kept your promises to your readers: Does your paper follow through on what the thesis promises? Do you support all the claims in your thesis? Are the tone and formality of the language appropriate for your audience?
- Check the organization: Does your paper follow a pattern that makes sense? Do the transitions move your readers smoothly from one point to the next? Do the topic sentences of each paragraph appropriately introduce what that paragraph is about? Would your paper work better if you moved some things around? For more information visit our handout on reorganizing drafts.
- Check your information: Are all your facts accurate? Are any of your statements misleading? Have you provided enough detail to satisfy readers’ curiosity? Have you cited all your information appropriately?
- Check your conclusion: Does the last paragraph tie the paper together smoothly and end on a stimulating note, or does the paper just die a slow, redundant, lame, or abrupt death?
Whoa! I thought I could just revise in a few minutes
Sorry. You may want to start working on your next paper early so that you have plenty of time for revising. That way you can give yourself some time to come back to look at what you’ve written with a fresh pair of eyes. It’s amazing how something that sounded brilliant the moment you wrote it can prove to be less-than-brilliant when you give it a chance to incubate.
But I don’t want to rewrite my whole paper!
Revision doesn’t necessarily mean rewriting the whole paper. Sometimes it means revising the thesis to match what you’ve discovered while writing. Sometimes it means coming up with stronger arguments to defend your position, or coming up with more vivid examples to illustrate your points. Sometimes it means shifting the order of your paper to help the reader follow your argument, or to change the emphasis of your points. Sometimes it means adding or deleting material for balance or emphasis. And then, sadly, sometimes revision does mean trashing your first draft and starting from scratch. Better that than having the teacher trash your final paper.
But I work so hard on what I write that I can’t afford to throw any of it away
If you want to be a polished writer, then you will eventually find out that you can’t afford NOT to throw stuff away. As writers, we often produce lots of material that needs to be tossed. The idea or metaphor or paragraph that I think is most wonderful and brilliant is often the very thing that confuses my reader or ruins the tone of my piece or interrupts the flow of my argument.Writers must be willing to sacrifice their favorite bits of writing for the good of the piece as a whole. In order to trim things down, though, you first have to have plenty of material on the page. One trick is not to hinder yourself while you are composing the first draft because the more you produce, the more you will have to work with when cutting time comes.
But sometimes I revise as I go
That’s OK. Since writing is a circular process, you don’t do everything in some specific order. Sometimes you write something and then tinker with it before moving on. But be warned: there are two potential problems with revising as you go. One is that if you revise only as you go along, you never get to think of the big picture. The key is still to give yourself enough time to look at the essay as a whole once you’ve finished. Another danger to revising as you go is that you may short-circuit your creativity. If you spend too much time tinkering with what is on the page, you may lose some of what hasn’t yet made it to the page. Here’s a tip: Don’t proofread as you go. You may waste time correcting the commas in a sentence that may end up being cut anyway.
How do I go about the process of revising? Any tips?
- Work from a printed copy; it’s easier on the eyes. Also, problems that seem invisible on the screen somehow tend to show up better on paper.
- Another tip is to read the paper out loud. That’s one way to see how well things flow.
- Remember all those questions listed above? Don’t try to tackle all of them in one draft. Pick a few “agendas” for each draft so that you won’t go mad trying to see, all at once, if you’ve done everything.
- Ask lots of questions and don’t flinch from answering them truthfully. For example, ask if there are opposing viewpoints that you haven’t considered yet.
Whenever I revise, I just make things worse. I do my best work without revising
That’s a common misconception that sometimes arises from fear, sometimes from laziness. The truth is, though, that except for those rare moments of inspiration or genius when the perfect ideas expressed in the perfect words in the perfect order flow gracefully and effortlessly from the mind, all experienced writers revise their work. I wrote six drafts of this handout. Hemingway rewrote the last page of A Farewell to Arms thirty-nine times. If you’re still not convinced, re-read some of your old papers. How do they sound now? What would you revise if you had a chance?
What can get in the way of good revision strategies?
Don’t fall in love with what you have written. If you do, you will be hesitant to change it even if you know it’s not great. Start out with a working thesis, and don’t act like you’re married to it. Instead, act like you’re dating it, seeing if you’re compatible, finding out what it’s like from day to day. If a better thesis comes along, let go of the old one. Also, don’t think of revision as just rewording. It is a chance to look at the entire paper, not just isolated words and sentences.
What happens if I find that I no longer agree with my own point?
If you take revision seriously, sometimes the process will lead you to questions you cannot answer, objections or exceptions to your thesis, cases that don’t fit, loose ends or contradictions that just won’t go away. If this happens (and it will if you think long enough), then you have several choices. You could choose to ignore the loose ends and hope your reader doesn’t notice them, but that’s risky. You could change your thesis completely to fit your new understanding of the issue, or you could adjust your thesis slightly to accommodate the new ideas. Or you could simply acknowledge the contradictions and show why your main point still holds up in spite of them. Most readers know there are no easy answers, so they may be annoyed if you give them a thesis and try to claim that it is always true with no exceptions no matter what.
How do I get really good at revising?
The same way you get really good at golf, piano, or a video game—do it often. Take revision seriously, be disciplined, and set high standards for yourself. Here are three more tips:
- The more you produce, the more you can cut.
- The more you can imagine yourself as a reader looking at this for the first time, the easier it will be to spot potential problems.
- The more you demand of yourself in terms of clarity and elegance, the more clear and elegant your writing will be.
How do I revise at the sentence level?
Read your paper out loud, sentence by sentence, and follow Peter Elbow’s advice: “Look for places where you stumble or get lost in the middle of a sentence. These are obvious awkwardness’s that need fixing. Look for places where you get distracted or even bored—where you cannot concentrate. These are places where you probably lost focus or concentration in your writing. Cut through the extra words or vagueness or digression; get back to the energy. Listen even for the tiniest jerk or stumble in your reading, the tiniest lessening of your energy or focus or concentration as you say the words . . . A sentence should be alive” (Writing with Power 135).
Practical advice for ensuring that your sentences are alive:
- Use forceful verbs—replace long verb phrases with a more specific verb. For example, replace “She argues for the importance of the idea” with “She defends the idea.”
- Look for places where you’ve used the same word or phrase twice or more in consecutive sentences and look for alternative ways to say the same thing OR for ways to combine the two sentences.
- Cut as many prepositional phrases as you can without losing your meaning. For instance, the following sentence, “There are several examples of the issue of integrity in Huck Finn,” would be much better this way, “Huck Finn repeatedly addresses the issue of integrity.”
- Check your sentence variety. If more than two sentences in a row start the same way (with a subject followed by a verb, for example), then try using a different sentence pattern.
- Aim for precision in word choice. Don’t settle for the best word you can think of at the moment—use a thesaurus (along with a dictionary) to search for the word that says exactly what you want to say.
- Look for sentences that start with “It is” or “There are” and see if you can revise them to be more active and engaging.
- For more information, please visit our handouts on word choice and style .
How can technology help?
Need some help revising? Take advantage of the revision and versioning features available in modern word processors.
Track your changes. Most word processors and writing tools include a feature that allows you to keep your changes visible until you’re ready to accept them. Using “Track Changes” mode in Word or “Suggesting” mode in Google Docs, for example, allows you to make changes without committing to them.
Compare drafts. Tools that allow you to compare multiple drafts give you the chance to visually track changes over time. Try “File History” or “Compare Documents” modes in Google Doc, Word, and Scrivener to retrieve old drafts, identify changes you’ve made over time, or help you keep a bigger picture in mind as you revise.
We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find additional publications. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial . We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.
Anson, Chris M., and Robert A. Schwegler. 2010. The Longman Handbook for Writers and Readers , 6th ed. New York: Longman.
Elbow, Peter. 1998. Writing With Power: Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process . New York: Oxford University Press.
Lanham, Richard A. 2006. Revising Prose , 5th ed. New York: Pearson Longman.
Lunsford, Andrea A. 2015. The St. Martin’s Handbook , 8th ed. Boston: Bedford/St Martin’s.
Ruszkiewicz, John J., Christy Friend, Daniel Seward, and Maxine Hairston. 2010. The Scott, Foresman Handbook for Writers , 9th ed. Boston: Pearson Education.
Zinsser, William. 2001. On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction , 6th ed. New York: Quill.
You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
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7 Questions To Ask Yourself During Creative Writing Revisions | Writer’s Relief
by Writer's Relief Staff | Creative Writing Craft and Techniques | 1 comment
Review Board is now open! Submit your Short Prose, Poetry, and Book today!
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Self-editing is a tricky skill: Not only does it require technical know-how, it also demands that writers understand their own emotional obstacles. Writer’s Relief has written countless articles about craft and technique for revisions: Today, we’re looking at the way a writer’s state of mind can affect the revision process.
7 Questions To Ask Yourself When Revising Your Writing
Does the writing authentically reflect my interests and values? Some writers are pulled in different directions by a desire to write for the market (and sell their work) and a desire to follow their muses. Are you comfortable with the way the work in progress meets your personal goals?
What are my goals for this revision? Many works go through multiple rounds of revisions. Some rounds address big structural issues; others focus on finer details like grammar and typos. Stick to one type of revision at a time. By trying to revise sentence structure and dialogue and enormous issues of plotting and pacing all at once, you run the risk of not adequately examining any individual element.
What’s my revision methodology? Once you have a better sense of where you are in the revision process, you can clarify the focus of your work. For example: During an early phase of revision, you might want to hone in on big picture issues and ignore proofreading problems, sentence structure, phrasing, etc. In subsequent revisions, you might want to focus on mood, emotionality, and dramatic tension. Finally, for a last pass, you might look for typos and other grammar tweaks.
Am I flexible or inflexible about revising? Consider your true feelings about the revision process. Do you love revising or hate it? How important is it to you? How much work are you willing to put into revisions? Are you prepared to be an objective self-editor?
Could putting this aside for a while and then coming back to it be beneficial? Many writers recognize the value of stepping away from a work in progress in order to come back to it with fresh eyes and a new perspective.
Am I listening to my inner critic? Some writers’ instincts scream at them. But other writers only hear whispers. If you’re feeling even a little bit unsure about some element of your draft, listen to that voice—don’t brush it off. Ignore the temptation to settle for “good enough,” and trust that your instincts—however quietly they make themselves known—are right.
Could I benefit from a beta reader or critique group? Before the final editing and proofreading phases of the revision process, a writer may benefit from sharing his or her work with peers. But keep in mind that the more professional experience a reviewer has, the more likely you’ll be able to get professional-quality feedback. Learn more about how to find a freelance editor for your writing.
One Important Warning About The Revision Process
While revising is necessary, some writers fall into the trap of revising endlessly . Others can become so hypercritical of their own writing that they lose confidence. Every writer has an ever-evolving relationship with his or her inner critic. Follow these steps to make sure your revisions (and your writing career) do not fall prey to vicious self-critique.
Question: Which of these questions do you believe is the most challenging?
I think your points are well taken. For me, the idea of thinking about what I want to accomplish with my revisions, and revising one level at a time are particularly important. Also, trusting my gut is something I’ve found very important. Good artIcle.
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How to Write and Publish Children's Books
Creative Writing Revision Exercises
Here are some creative writing revision exercises that’ll help those of you wondering how to rewrite a novel . Grab your red pencil and r ead on!
Creative Writing Revision Exercises to Strengthen Character
100 declarative sentences.
This is a great brainstorm tool, and it’s really hard . This creative writing revision exercise works best with a character or a setting that’s giving you difficulty. Maybe your critique group thinks it’s thin or flat or unconvincing, or it just doesn’t feel right to you. Concentrate on this place or this person and write 100 declarative sentences about her, him or it. Sounds simple, right? Well, it really calls into question how well you know what you’re writing about. A declarative sentence is just an informative sentence that states a fact. Let’s say I have a character called Claire who isn’t working for me. I would start my list:
- Claire plays JV tennis.
- Claire likes to eat ice cream but only after she wins a game.
- Claire wishes she had long hair like Abby does.
Etc. etc. etc. A lot of it will feel like you’re just riffing. You’re making things up. You’re improvising. But you’ll come up with some great surprises, like quirks of a character that you never thought of. Then, around sentence 80, you will feel like you will never finish this stupid exercise. And you will hate me. And you will probably give up and watch some TV. So it goes. But the point here is that you’re thinking of the place or person as something real. Declarative sentences are simple and informational. It will force you to think about things you haven’t been considering yet.
Who knows if you will use all of the 100 things you come up with? But the truth and beauty of fiction always lies in the specifics. Here, you have an opportunity to come up with specifics, quirks, tidbits and other things that will flesh out your character or setting and make them seem more real, more significant. Some of my favorite details about a character or place, the ones that stick with me long after the book is over, are small things like this. That Claire has the purple nail polish chipped off the big toe on her left foot. That Bellmeadows, the town where Claire lives, has three car dealerships but no gas station. Character and setting are in the details. Force yourself to come up with some. You’ll get maybe 10 or 20 new things to add throughout your manuscript.
Creative Writing Revision Exercises to Strengthen Prose
Cut boring and ambiguous words.
In my slush pile, I get a lot of queries that use boring and ambiguous words. What do I mean? Here’s an example (an amalgamation of all that is bad, one it has pained me deeply to write):
Johnny learns a mysterious secret at the beautiful Temple of Adventure that will change his life forever. Shadowy conspirators push him into a meaningful choice — and there’s no going back. When Johnny is faced with the truth, dangerous circumstances propel him to a thrilling and exciting climax that will leave readers begging for more.
Huh? What? What is this book about? All I have are general words that are meant to hype me up but they’re all fluff. Just like a booming announcer’s voice during a movie trailer that’s trying to tell me a story, it’s all dazzle and no substance. There are some words that are so general that they mean nothing. Or they mean different things to different people. What one person finds “beautiful” or “thrilling” isn’t the same across the board. Using some in a query or manuscript is okay, but I’m seeing a lot of paragraphs that resemble the above. If I read a paragraph full of generalities and ambiguous words, I really have no idea what your plot is. Plot is made up of specific events, not hot keywords. Avoid these words in your query and in your manuscript. Specifics are key. What does “beautiful” look like to this character? How does that character react uniquely to something “exciting”? ( Here’s a handy list of character reactions .) Use instances where you’d normally use a boring or ambiguous word as an opportunity to show us something about the characters you’ve created. Striking out these blah words also goes a long way toward adding to voice.
Filters are phrases like “I think” and “I see” and “in my opinion” that dilute your prose. They’re most noticeable in first person but appear in third person, too. For example, it’s a lot more wordy to say, “I saw a dog bounding across the lawn,” than, “A dog bounded across the lawn.” Obviously, the narrator saw it, or they wouldn’t be describing it for the reader. Same with, “I thought her hair looked stupid.” That’s weak compared to, “Her hair looked like a skunk had set itself on fire.” The “I thought” and “I saw” just lessen the impact of what follows. Of course, you’re allowed to say things like, “I thought I saw a ghost,” if they’re important to your plot, but try and weed filters out of your ordinary prose. Tangentially, one of my biggest pet peeves is when writers put: “… blah blah blah , I thought in my head.” Yes. Obviously. What else do you think with? Your elbow?
As many readers have mentioned in comments, a nifty trick for how to rewrite a novel is reading your manuscript aloud. Yes, it’s tedious. Yes, you sometimes lose your voice doing it, but you catch so many things you never would’ve caught before. My favorite thing to do — during workshop and critique sessions — is to actually have another person (or, you know, if you’ve got such a patient person at your disposal at all times) read your manuscript or parts of it to you. This is extremely instructive. You hear it in another voice (one that’s not inside your head) and you get to see where you reader stumbled or seemed to get caught up in certain sentences. You get to see if another voice makes the prose come alive (which means it has voice of its own) or if it lies flat on the page and makes your reader start droning. Very useful stuff!
More Resources for How to Rewrite a Novel
The above are just a few creative writing revision exercises that you can use. There are literally millions of writing exercises, books, methods and other authorities that you can study on the subject. I’ll name some of my favorites in my next post (and the last for Revision-o-Rama, boo!).
In the meantime, you can find more creative writing revision techniques in previous blog posts. Here’s a post about how to avoid writing cliches , and here’s another post about a nifty novel revision tip . Feel free to leave your hot tips and brainstorming ideas in the comments.
Feeling stuck on your WIP? Need help with how to rewrite a novel? Hire me as your novel editor and I’ll offer a fresh perspective on your work.
47 Replies to “Creative Writing Revision Exercises”
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I just discovered your blog and feel like I’ve landed on Treasure Island. Can’t wait to explore. Thanks
Really useful post, Mary. I loved writing out declarative sentences for two of the characters in my WIP, but others were proving a nightmare to get done. Then I discovered another great way to get inside my characters’ heads – I go to Google image search and find photos that match their personality (people they’d like as lovers/friends, art they’d like/dislike, places they’d love/hate) and, if I’m lucky, photos that look how I imagine them to be. I save them in a file so I can refer to them at a later date. It’s also a good way to take a break from writing those declarative sentences!
I liked the “fooling yourself” tip. Definitely going to give that a try (the font version).
Another tip is to use your computer’s text-to-voice feature. If your ms sounds great with that monotone voice, then you know your pose sings. Plus it’s works well for finding typos and awkward sentences, and you don’t lose your voice.
I’ve done a number of different exercises to discover the ins and outs of my characters, but I’ve never heard of the declarative sentence one. Sounds like a great idea, especially for developing the setting.
It is the standard procedure of the critique group I’m in to read each others’ works out loud. It helps SO much in finding awkward sentences and discovering those sneaky little typos that you miss over and over.
As for characters–I do like the list of 100 idea! Another thing I’ve found very helpful is to write short stories about my characters, focusing on turning points in their lives that occured before the time-line of my novel. It helps me get into their heads and see where they are coming from, what events in their lives shaped them into who they are. And the bonus–I can publish those stories in magazines and get a little extra exposure (and maybe even a bit of money, too!).
I really love the idea of the declarative sentence brainstorm. I’m definitely going to use that one on a secondary character who’s been giving me trouble. Thanks for some new ideas!
I am looking forward to trying out the 100 sentences with a character that has no character. I’ve been fighting with her for a while. Thanks for the tip!
I found your site thanks to your interview with “Guide to Literary Agents”. This is a wonderful post! Thank you for the tips. I’ll be returning to this post again and again.
Happy Monday, Jen
Great tips! I’m going to try the declarative sentences. That could be a really useful exercise.
Okay, so I tried this with a character who was giving me issues and for the record, I started hating you around sentence 32. This hate then transferred to me, to my character, the construction crew that begin hammering at 7:16am this morning, then, finally, back to me. I’m going to down a latte and then come back to it. You’re an evil genius.
I love all these tips! I can’t wait to try the declerative sentence brainstorm. I have some characteres that need some help.
Fantastic! I have a crit group where we read chapters aloud. It’s amazing what you catch! Especially when someone ELSE reads your work. LOVE it.
Great tips, thanks! I admit recording myself reading outloud helps me pick out the rough spots and repeat words, I just hate listening to my own voice–it’s like Michael Jackson’s pet chipmink narrating. I’ll have to see if I can railroad someone into reading for me. And the declarative sentences? Totally going to try it.
Marvelous interview on the GLA blog, by the way!
I hope you had a great holiday as well. I love the declarative sentences idea – I sat down with one of my characters during the revision process and began a similar process but realized I didn’t need her at all – so I killed her. Figuratively of course. I’m starting my final read aloud revision tomorrow so I’m stocking up on throat lozenges.
Hi Mary Not sure why I haven’t found your blog before – great stuff! I have been doing that declarative sentences things without having something fancy to call it, so thank you!
I looked at your previous post about the word “suddenly” and suddenly I realized why the word “suddenly” has been bothering me so much. I don’t use it much but when I do I suddenly feel like something is wrong with my manuscript. I will add it as number 46 on my revision “to do” list. Maybe one day, before many more years pass, I will suddenly be finished with my story and be able to send it your way.
I am writing and illustrating picture books, and I am always amazed how much story I have to write in order to get to The Story! I haven’t thought of it as writing declarative sentences, but I guess that’s what I am doing, in a round-about way. Sometimes I just close my eyes and really try to wander around in the shoes of the character I am imagining..and if the character is anything like I was as a child, well, then it is a little easier to feel what the character is feeling. Your blog is really wonderful…thanks for being so generous with your knowledge.
Thanks so much. Your blog is like taking a children’s writing course. I love it!
I’ve signed up for peer critiques at the NESCBWI conference the last two years. Those are the only times that someone has read my work aloud to me, and since it’s the opening pages (which are the most vital), I get a better sense of what’s working and what needs work. I probably get more constructive feedback from hearing my words than the pats on the back from my peers (Though I like that too).
Now I’ll have to find a volunteer/victim to do that when I think it’s all flushed out and ready to submit.
The declarative sentence exercise sounds fun. It also sounds like something I can do while my kids are still home from school on winter vacation. I’m going to try it today! Thanks!
Amazing information! I wish I had been pointed to this blog a long time ago.
I’m going to use the declarative sentences exercise and keep an eye out for those pesky filters. I have a computer program that reads my work to me (to help me spot errors), but I never thought of using a real person to see if the prose has a life of its own . . . I’ll have to see if I can beg/bribe someone to do this for me. =D
Thanks for this! Angela Ackerman recently brought some of the fillers I used in my ms to my attention. The difference it made was incredible.
It’s interesting, when I was in film school we always read our screenplays out loud in class to see if they sounded authentic, but it never occurred to me to try this with my book. I will definitely be giving this a try. Also you’re the fourth or fifth person who has recommended Bird By Bird in the last few weeks. I’m going to have to pick this book up soon. Thanks for the great revision posts!
Great insight. Sometimes I forget the simple things, like the ‘duh’ moments. Off to finish revisions with some awesome ideas.
A hundred sentences. A hundred sentences? Oh, God, a hundred sentences. But I can see that it would work….
Okay, a hundred sentences. Drat.
And that about the boring and ambiguous words– so often, what the writer is trying to do is to tell the reader how to feel. It doesn’t work. You have to show them something, and trust them to get it.
Bonita — That is a GREAT way of putting it. In fact, I have saved that and will use your quote (attributed, of course) in an upcoming post. Writers have to trust their readers and realize that a genuine emotional reaction is SO much more real than anything they try to force on a reader.
Wow, so much helpful info. here! I’d made a bio for my main character, but the 100 sentence excercise sounds like a fabulous way to really dig deep. Having someone else read my manuscript out loud to me is also extremely helpful. I’ve tried recording myself reading aloud, as well. Thanks for all the great advice.
Thanks! I especially love the 100 declarative sentences exercise.
I spent the holidays on vacation. Before I left, I’d built up some good momentum with my revision. I didn’t want to lose that, but I was traveling through some remote places, and it wasn’t possible to bring my laptop or spend long hours writing. Instead, I kept a journal in my main character’s voice. In the process, I learned a great deal about her, as well as about her mom and her best friend.
I was able to write an average of 1,000 words per day over the course of the ten-day trip. 10,000 words equal 1% of a Million Bad Words. Not too shabby for ten days off.
Oooohhh! I LOVE the 100 declarative sentences challenge! What a great idea. With my new WIP I’m in the planning stages for both character and setting, and this will be a terrific tool. Thanks!
Mary, thanks for taking time to post such helpful info on your blog. My website (www.cprofiri.com) has a list of weak/vague words compliled from several sources. Yes, “suddenly” made the list!
These are all great points, Mary. I could particularly relate to your ‘filter’ suggestions. I write first person YA, and I always think that the reader knows that ‘I’ am the one telling the story, so that what is being seen and heard is from my point of view so it’s not necessary to state this.
To tighten up boring bits, I also do word searches to try and minimise the use of ‘was’ and ‘started’, and try to eliminate words with ‘ing’ constructions because these seem to slow the pace down.
These are some great revision tips, esp. the filter suggestions and the “suddenly” suggestion.:)
I love the ‘100 declarative sentences’ tip — so often I read these little tidbits and pass them over without real thought, but that one definitely seems like a keeper.
Mary, This is not just a great post, but it’s one of my favorites you’ve done. Any chance you’d consider “Brainstorms and Tips” as a recurring post that you build on over time? I’d love to keep learning from your ever-expanding tool kit.
Bryan — Aww, thanks. I sure can put that in the idea bucket and see if I can’t make it something of a regular feature.
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I enjoyed this article…it gave me that extra “umph” I needed to flesh out my middle-grade novel. I appreciate the tips and how they all work together in the building of character development, creating the sensory details of the setting and also word economy. This article has given me a sense of direction and now I know what things to target in my novel. Thanks for sharing.
Okay, I absolutely love the 100 Declarative Sentences tip – that is just the kind of thing that I know would jumpstart ideas, if I were stuck. And since I’m stuck right this moment, I may have to go try it out! 😉 I’m also another one who finds reading aloud very helpful when revising. There are always little words left out or awkward sounding sentences that I don’t notice with just a read-through.
Thanks for the tips!
Thanks for all the information here. As soon as I return home to my computer, I’ll be sure to interrogate my character like crazy. As for the word choice, I guess I can do my best to edit that. 🙂
Like one of the earlier comments, I use photos to help me. I had changed a boy character to a girl in my book and I just couldn’t figure out her character traits. After poking around on google, I found her! I was so helpful to give her a face.
Something else that helps me is http://www.cul.co.uk/creative/ranword.htm It’s called the random word technique. When you’re stuck on a plot issue, you write down that problem. The site gives you a key word (or pick out a random word from a dictionary). Write down anything you can think of related to that word. Then, work to tie your problem with your free associations. Sometimes it really gets me thinking outside the box and gets me going again.
I’m new to this site but I’m finding it entertaining, helpful and comprehensive in info. The descriptive character exercise above is so simple, but I can see the value in pushing past the ‘usual’ stuff to what lies beyond… Reading about the importance of details i.e. “That Bellmeadows, the town where Claire lives, has three car dealerships but no gas station.” makes me want to go and revise my work now!
Love the idea of declarative brainstorming. I’m going to go put a link back to this article on our blog post right now. Thank you for sharing!
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Great post! Very true, all of it.
“Shadowy conspirators push him into a meaningful choice — and there’s no going back.”
This part made me LOL so hard. I see stuff like that all the time, drives me crazy.
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The Art of Revision: Black Box
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“I decided that I would write one story about each thing that I knew about.” “Write the truest sentence that you know .”
If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.
Skills: Revision Techniques
Re- vision is about needing to re- see your text, even if you’ve already spent hours conceptualizing and drafting it. Experienced self-editors know that they need to create some distance from their papers and complete proof-read in multiple stages, each time paying attention to just a handful of specific issues.
Get Some Distance
Set your paper aside for a few hours (or even a few days) and read it with fresh eyes. Imagine yourself in your reader’s shoes (whether that be a professor, an employer, or an admissions committee member). Would you understand everything? Did you provide enough explanation? Is the order of ideas clear?
A reverse outline is where you summarize each paragraph based on what you actually see there. Ignore what you meant to write; instead, make notes on what you actually wrote.
Some people reverse outline by making bullet points. Other people use notecards or sticky notes so that they can play with the structure afterwards.
Train Your Attention
Our minds benefit from attending to only one or two things at a time. Plan on making several focused passes through your paper where you pay attention to one thing as you read.
Spend a focused pass paying attention to one thing that you know you need to work on: topic sentences; citing sources; comma splices; verb tense; concision; etc. Read your paper aloud Use ctrl+F (or command +F) to search for repetitive words in your document.
As you can see, the editing process takes time, so block off time to read and re-read your text. Writers improve their writing techniques one thing at a time.
Share your paper with another person.
They can provide the fresh perspective you may need. Our writing center consultants are available for this very purpose! Check our schedule!
OWL Purdue: Where to Begin (with Proofreading) : this handout walks a writer through some general strategies for proofreading. Be sure to check the related pages in the sidebar for more strategies about how to locate patterns.
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12 Contemporary Writers on How They Revise
From joan didion to kelly link to george saunders....
“Writing is rewriting,” says everyone all the time. But what they don’t say, necessarily, is how . Yesterday, Tor pointed me in the direction of this old blog post from Patrick Rothfuss—whose Kingkiller Chronicle is soon to be adapted for film and television by Lin-Manuel Miranda, in case you hadn’t heard—in which he describes, step-by-step, his revision process over a single night. Out of many, one assumes. It’s illuminating, and I wound up digging around on the Internet for more personal stories of editing strategies, investigating the revision processes of a number of celebrated contemporary writers of fantasy, realism, and young adult fiction. So in the interest of stealing from those who have succeeded, read on.
“Every writer has their own way of doing things. I can only talk about *my* revision process, because that’s the only one I know.
Still, you aren’t the first person to ask about this. So I decided to take some notes on what exactly I did over the course of a night’s revision.
Here’s what I wrote down: (And don’t worry, there aren’t any spoilers below. I don’t go in for that sort of thing:)
1. Changed a curse to be more culturally appropriate for the person using it.
2. Looked at all instances of the word “bustle” in the book to see if I’m overusing the word.
3. Considered modifying the POV in a particular scene. Decided against it.
4. Added paragraph about the Mews.
5. Changed the name of a mythic figure in the world to something that sounds better.
6. Spent some time figuring out the particular mechanisms of sygaldry to prevent consistency problems.
7. Reconsidered changing POV in same scene as before. Decided to just tweak it a little instead.
8. Trimmed two excess paragraphs.
9. Looked at my use of the word “vague” to see if I’ve been using it too much.
10. Removed about 20 instances of the word “vague” from the book.”
[ Read more here ]
“Most short stories go through a couple of drafts and a polish—I’ll write a first draft, then (if it wasn’t typed) I’ll type it up, and then I’ll email it to friends and find out what didn’t work, or puzzled them. (I miss Mike Ford. He was the sharpest of all of them—saved me from making a fool of myself half a dozen times.) And then, if I can, I’ll put it away for a week or two. Not look at it. Try to forget about it. Then take it out and read it as if I’ve never seen it before and had nothing to do with its creation. Things that are broken become very obvious suddenly. I’ll go in and polish it up, and possibly keep playing with it a little—it’s on the computer: everything’s malleable until it’s printed. I’ll try and read it aloud the next time I do a reading, in order to find out what I can about it, including places where what I wrote was not what I meant, and I’ll fix what I find. And then I’ll go on to the next thing.
Personally, I think you learn more from finishing things, from seeing them in print, wincing, and then figuring out what you did wrong, than you could ever do from eternally rewriting the same thing. But that’s me, and I came from comics where I simply didn’t have the liberty of rewriting a story until I was happy with it, because it needed to be out that month, so I needed to get it more or less right first time. Once I disliked a Sandman story on proofreading it so much that I asked if it could be pulled and buried and was told no, it couldn’t, which is why the world got to read the Emperor Norton story, “Three Septembers and a January,” although I no longer have any idea why I thought it was a bad story, and I’m pleased that Tom Peyer ignored my yelps.”
An object lesson:
[ More and transcript here ]
Patricia C. Wrede:
“I’ve been a rolling-reviser since my earliest writing, back in the Jurassic Era before computers and word processors (and believe me, it is No Fun At All being a rolling-reviser when “cut and paste” means spending half an hour physically cutting your pages apart and then taping them back together with the paragraphs in a different order). It is part of my process because my backbrain simply will not cooperate if it isn’t really, really sure that what I have already written is a solid foundation for whatever is currently at the leading edge of the story.
For instance, in the current WIP, I started a new scene in Chapter 11 and a piece of unexpected backstory showed up for one of the characters. I realized instantly that a) this was a really cool idea and fit right into the story and solved a bunch of plot problems, and b) if this backstory was true, a character back in Chapter 2 should have reacted very differently during their conversation. Theoretically, I could have made a note to “Change Ch 2 conversation between A and B to reflect backstory from Ch 11 p.1” and gone on working on Chapter 11…except that I couldn’t . Oh, I could force myself another couple of sentences forward, but none of them felt right.
So I went back and spent ten minutes fiddling with the conversation in Chapter 2, so that the reactions and the dialog were consistent with the backstory in Chapter 11 (not revealing it, but also not something that a reader would hit on their second time through and go “Hey, doesn’t it turn out later that A knows B’s secret? So why is A talking and reacting as if he/she doesn’t know it?”). And then I could go on. While I was back there, I tightened up some other parts of the conversation and added some stage business, neither of which was strictly necessary to get that bit of backstory in, but as long as I was there and saw the opportunity, I just did it. I did not go over the whole scene looking for other potential revisions, and the whole fix didn’t take more than ten minutes to do and get back to work on the leading edge of the story.
Most of my rolling revisions are like this: they’re matters of plot, characterization, setting, or backstory that I realize are inconsistent with what I am currently writing, and that I have to fix before I go on. I can let everything else go (I didn’t have to tighten the rest of the conversation or add the stage business). Or there was the time when I called a character Andrew for three chapters, then switched to Anthony and didn’t realize it until five more chapters were done. There was no reason not to do a quick search-and-replace, so I did. I will take quick fixes if the opportunity arises, but I don’t go looking for them…unless I’m stuck.”
“Before I start to write, the night before—I mean, when I finish work at the end of the day, I go over the pages, the page that I’ve done that day, and I mark it up. And I mark it up and leave it until the morning, and then I make the corrections in the morning, which gives me a way to start the day… I can have a drink at night. And the drink loosens me up enough to actually mark it up, you know. While you’ll just kind of be tense and not sure. Marking up something is just another way of saying editing it. Because you don’t edit very dramatically when you’re—you’re not very hard on yourself, you’re not very loose with yourself most of the day. Really, I have found the drink actually helps.”
[ Hear more here ]
My process has changed tremendously since I’ve had my children. I once had long, languid days that unfurled in one fluid gesture of creation. At night, I shared my ideas with other writers or friends and that would give life to other poems. These days, after I have fed, napped, entertained, bathed, changed, and put my children to bed, I have my dinner, put on my shoes, and head to the rented office around the corner.
Nowadays, my creativity is summoned within a two-hour time span. In this way, my writing has become more efficient. I will keep mental notes during the day as I run around playgrounds and do the laundry. Those notes will then find their way into poems by evening. I then type furiously. The objective is to keep my hands moving and if my hands are moving my mind is working.
I sometimes have many pages of text. In subsequent visits or drafts, the poems will come into fuller form. Over the course of the next couple of months I’ll see a relationship among my poems and I’ll ask them what they are saying to one another. Once I sense some answers, the poems will develop their own identity and the theme/obsessions of my work will rise to the surface in more realized poems.
I don’t think poems are ever finished. I have been known to cross out words and add lines to my books of poetry. If I am not happy with a line before a reading, I’ll gladly edit the text in my book so that I’ll feel comfortable reading it to an audience. Text and language is alive so it’s always changing. To me, there is no end point and that is a joy.
“I redraft as I go—whenever I get stuck in a short story, I go back to the beginning and revise my way down to where I left off. Usually I’ve reworked the first couple of pages anywhere from twenty to over 100 times by the time I get to the ending.
It’s hard to figure out how much I eliminate—often it’s more that I’m switching out or reworking phrases or sentences or paragraphs (rarely scenes).”
“It takes me a very, very long time to write a story, to write a piece of fiction, whatever you call the fiction that I write. I just go about it blindly, feeling my way towards what it has to be. Things undergo many, many, many revisions. So, I don’t make a conscious decision that, ‘This is the effect that I want.’ I slowly, slowly, slowly go about making something the way that it insists on being made.
Often, I’ll have a scene of people having a conversation in a room. Then it turns out it’s either the wrong people or the wrong room, and I just have to keep going about it until I find the right people and the right room. It’s true that I’m oftentimes dealing with a crowd, and that’s extremely inconvenient for a writer, but there’s nothing I can do about that. … It’s hard to discuss, because it’s always sort of an exploration, and I usually don’t even know for a very long time, what it is that I’m exploring. So there’s a tremendous amount of exorcising that I do, carving away. These are very, very long stories that I write, but you could also call them extremely condensed novels. I feel like I start with a tremendous amount of material and just keep boiling it down. But yes, I want to get as close as possible to the inexpressible, and yet still communicate.
“In a first-draft situation for me, it’s a visceral rather than an intellectual process. Though I’ll generally have a vague outline in mind, I’ll feel it through rather than take a pre-planned course. I don’t think, “Okay, I need a scene to do X.” And while trying to be as efficient as you can, you generate a great bulk of material. In revision, you begin a kind of creative destruction. If you’ve written three scenes and each of them does a different thing—explores a different facet of a character, or shows her in relation to different people, or whatever it is—well, if you could have one scene that would do everything at once that those three scenes are doing, then that would be better. To have a more efficient and more intense fragment is going to be better. So you compress, the same way that to make something very tasty you might reduce a sauce.
You hope that as you boil down what you have seen and known into your writing, you reduce the best of yourself, too.”
“It’s easy to say “write truthfully about experience.” But how to actually do it? The only way I’ve ever known is to try it, over and over again, until I can’t think of another way, or a clearer way. I write each draft, each scene, over and over again until I can’t think of a better way forward. My novel Hello to the Cannibals was almost 1,000 pages in manuscript—the exact count was 967. But I wrote it five separate times. There are scenes and chapters I wrote dozens of times, more, too many to count. And it isn’t the way people sometimes paint it—it’s not like you’re at your desk, tearing your hair. It’s just: I’ve got to do it again. This is what I’m doing today. And you do it.
The impulse, of course, is try to be faithful to what you initially had in mind—but the process, instead, calls for you to let go of all of your opinions, and all the things you think you think. You’ve got to go on down, as Robert Penn Warren used to say, into the cave. (James Dickey used to call it “the cave of making.”) You enter the cave of making without any opinions, without any preconceived notions, and tell the story as clearly as you can. You must not bend your characters according to some idea you have about how they ought to behave; you’re just letting them be themselves, whatever that is. If you do that, and you’re faithful to it, you’ve got a shot at writing something true. This is the only way it works for me.”
“I try to base my revision on a re-reading of what I’ve done so far, imitating, so far as it’s possible, a first-time reader. That is, I try not to bring too many ideas about what the story is doing etc, etc. Just SEE what it’s doing. In other words, read along with a red pen, reacting in real-time as I go along, deleting, adding, etc. When the energy drops, then I know that’s where I have to really start digging in, i.e., turn away from the hardcopy and go to the computer. Repeat as necessary?”
“I tell these students there’s no use in revising something that’s bad. I believe that, for short stories. It’s brief, very brief, from four to twelve pages, getting something done. I don’t believe in rewriting this one goddamned story. If the first draft is no goddamned good, it’s no good. It’s stupid to revise it, to me. The first draft has got to be loaded with most of it. Does it not? It can’t just be a shell of what’s going to be. I think it’s got to be exciting.”
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- Apr 30, 2019
Creative Writing | GCSE English Revision Tips | General Advice
Updated: Aug 5, 2021
How to revise for Creative Writing in GCSE English Language.
With the GCSE language paper coming up, the creative writing element is one that can easily be overlooked. Perhaps you wonder whether you can really learn how to do well in this part of the section or if it is simply down to talent. However, the key to excellent creative writing exam answers is imagination – using your creativity to come up with things to write.
A struggle that students I teach often find with creative questions is that the prompts are typically broad, and image prompts can be sparse with little detail. Sometimes they might spark inspiration, but sometimes you might be looking at them in despair, wondering what on earth you could write about.
Now, one huge advantage of these open-ended questions is that they allow you to have the prerogative to take the answer where you want it to go; there is no way for them to catch you out for not knowing any information. The broad question or image should not be restrictive: for instance, in a description you do not have to stick exactly to describing what you see; using poetic licence to imagine what might be there is strongly encouraged.
General Hints and Tips for Creative Writing at GCSE
A general piece of advice that I give to my students is to plan the structure of your answer. When you hear “creative writing”, you may not think that a plan would be necessary. However, in the mark schemes of all exam boards, the phrase “well controlled paragraphs”, and “well-structured answer” almost always features in the top band. Of course, you do not need to plan out all your similes and metaphors, but setting yourself out a basic structure of what to say in each paragraph will help it to read more clearly.
A key way to make it clear to the examiner that you know what you are doing is through consistency . Ensure that you have the same tone throughout your creative piece, and that your narrative style and tense remains the same. This way, you can show to the examiner that your narrative choices have been deliberate, and based on the purpose and audience of the brief you have been given.
Each GCSE syllabus has a different way of assessing for the creative writing element. Find your exam board below for some tips on how to tackle the specific exam questions you will be presented with.
How to write a description or a short story - AQA exam board
For the AQA creative writing section in particular, you will be asked to write either a description based on an image, or a short story. For the image description, as well as having a good standard of language, your marks will lie within your ability to use a wide range of language techniques: think metaphors, similes, sensory language, imagery, alliteration etc.
A description of this kind requires you to be very imaginative. If you are stuck on where to begin, look at the image and think about what mood you could extract from it. Does it look spooky? Does it look dangerous? Once you have identified this, try to reflect this mood in the tone of your description.
Some advice that was offered in the November 2017 examiners' report was to ensure that your writing is not too formulaic. For instance, try not to write “I can see… I can smell…” just to ensure you are filling in sensory language: this applies to both the short story and the description. This is perhaps the hardest element of the AQA creative language question: fulfilling all the criteria while making it flow and work as a creative piece.
My advice would be to read over your work after you have finished and try to imagine you are just reading this for fun, outside of the exam context. If it works as a piece of creative writing rather than just as an exam answer, you should be on the right track.
How to answer prompt-based questions - Edexcel exam board
The imaginative writing section of Edexcel requires you to take on a broad prompt, such as the 2017 question “write about a secret” with the aid of an image provided.
For this question, the mark scheme is fairly open as to the approaches you can take. It allows writing in the form of a description, an anecdote, a speech, or a narrative. The image is also only there to provide inspiration – you are not required to reference it directly in your answer if you do not wish to.
A good revision strategy for this question would be to pick a couple of forms that you want to focus on, and practice them before the exam. Then you could pick the form most suited to the question you chose in the exam, and you will be an expert in writing for this form: something that will immediately boost your marks.
A large part of fitting in with the mark scheme is “using appropriate techniques for creative writing”. This may include using a wide vocabulary, imagery, alliteration, similes and metaphors in order to describe and explain.
How to write for purpose – OCR exam board
For the OCR specification, the focus is on writing for purpose and audience . This is a large part of what you are being tested on, so you must always ensure that you identify these two things before you start writing.
In 2017, the options were to write a blog post describing how you successfully overcame a challenging situation, and to write a letter to an employer applying for a job you have always wanted. These two tasks clearly have significantly different purposes and audiences. A blog post would be for the general population, and the tone will need to be readable and informal, whereas the letter to the employer will need to be formal and tailored to the individual reader.
The mark scheme for these questions require you to cover the following areas: tone, style, register, and organisation. The first three in this list will need you to adapt for the purpose and audience. While going over past paper questions, if you’re unsure on how you should write, look up examples of that form online. For instance, looking for a letter to an employer online should give you some good examples, as would looking up examples of newsletter entries or blog posts.
My best piece of advice for OCR’s questions is to practise. Ask a parent or friend to come up with some different forms and audiences for you to write in, and practise adapting your tone, style and register for the different audiences.
OCR have also provided some helpful resources for creative writing (GCSE English Language 9-1 syllabus) .
Blog Post Crafted by Genevieve
Genevieve is currently working towards her bachelors in English Literature at the University of Warwick .
Born in Coventry, she now tutors English SATs and GCSE in her free time, as well as working for the university as an outreach ambassador in local schools.
She also enjoys playing piano and flute, and often performs as a backing singer at local gigs.
Whenever she has a moment to spare, you might find her driving to the beach or catching up on her reading!
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Creative writing Short stories
A short story usually centres around a significant moment in the lives of the characters, told either by one of the characters (first person) or by a narrator.
A short story is a type of prose close prose A straight piece of writing, not poetry. fiction.
Prose simply means it is written in sentences and paragraphs, and is not a poem or play script.
Fiction means the story is made up, though of course you can base your story on something that has really happened.
A short story is not a cut-down novel. In a novel the author has time to develop characters and show us many events in their lives. A short story takes characters at an important point in their lives and gives us a snapshot of a significant moment.
The best way to understand what is required in short story writing is to read short stories by different authors. There are many good anthologies of short stories available in libraries or bookshops. Ask for a recommendation if you are not sure where to start.
There are no rules with short story writing but this guide contains some suggestions that should help most people to improve their writing.
More guides on this topic
- Personal reflective
- BBC Skillswise
- BBC Writers Room
- SQA National 5 English
- Skills You Need - Presentation
- Writing a Descriptive Essay
- Scottish Poetry Library
- BBC 500 words
Parents Are Welcome
No one cares about your academic progress more than your parents. That is exactly why thousands of them come to our essay writers service for an additional study aid for their children. By working with our essay writers, you can get a high-quality essay sample and use it as a template to help them succeed. Help your kids succeed and order a paper now!
Orders of are accepted for more complex assignment types only (e.g. Dissertation, Thesis, Term paper, etc.). Special conditions are applied to such orders. That is why please kindly choose a proper type of your assignment.
What is the best custom essay writing service?
In the modern world, there is no problem finding a person who will write an essay for a student tired of studying. But you must understand that individuals do not guarantee you the quality of work and good writing. They can steal your money at any time and disappear from sight.
The best service of professional essay writing companies is that the staff give you guarantees that you will receive the text at the specified time at a reasonable cost. You have the right to make the necessary adjustments and monitor the progress of the task at all levels.
Clients are not forced to pay for work immediately; money is transferred to a bank card only after receiving a document.
The services guarantee the uniqueness of scientific work, because the employees have special education and are well versed in the topics of work. They do not need to turn to third-party sites for help. All files are checked for plagiarism so that your professors cannot make claims. Nobody divulges personal information and cooperation between the customer and the contractor remains secret.