Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Writer’s Block: Editing & Revising

In yesterday’s post, I mention that there is more to writing than simply writing every day. There are times when you won’t have fresh ideas to help you start a new piece or even continue an older one.

Instead of worrying about writer’s block, one recommendation is to turn to editing and revising. This is one of the most important, and perhaps most challenging, aspect of writing. The first step to editing and revising is to let some time pass between drafts. Give your mind some time off from the piece at hand so you can approach it with fresh eyes. For example, if you write a paper in one night, you may read, reread and read the paper yet again and decide it is perfect. In the morning, you’ll notice errors and inconsistencies. If you are experiencing writer’s block, then you probably haven’t been working on the piece at hand and are ready to start editing and revising.

Not sure how to “re-enter” the piece to start the editing and revision process? I highly recommend using outlines for your writing. This will help you to remember the various turns the piece takes and notice if something no longer fits. You’ll also notice if you need to expand upon a certain area. The outline works as a legal cheat-sheet; you can keep the outline by your side as you edit and revise. Remember to revise your outline as your piece shifts form.

You might be surprised to learn that an outline works well for not only longer pieces, but also short pieces. For example, narrative poems often have shifts in the narrative. Something surprises the reader (and hopefully the author) in the poem. If you are writing a short, more image-driven poem, your poem moves through the various images. While this movement isn’t a plot-driven narrative, you can still outline the poem’s path.

Sometimes your work might become too long and wander through too many ideas. Here is a good trick: Put it away and then take out a piece of paper. Write down the main points you remember. It is likely that the parts you left out aren’t necessary. Then, go back to the original piece and notice what you didn’t remember. Those are the sections you might want to consider deleting.

Regarding mechanical errors in your paper, you will often catch them if you read your work aloud. I always recommend this to my students. If you are reading your work aloud (slowly and carefully so you really read each word on the page instead of skimming through what you think it says), and you stumble on something, you should give that stumble another look. It is probably a hint that your sentence structure or word choice needs to be edited.

For more information on editing and revising, please see my recent post on the subject.

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