The Writing: What's your favorite revision technique?

The Writing: What's your favorite revision technique?

Hi everyone,

Today’s The Writing will be the last one to run for everyone. I originally started this series as an opportunity to discuss practical concerns and questions about the writing industry and writing practices. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity of getting to know so many of you through a series on the MFA (#1, #2, #3, #4, #5), facing writer’s block and uncertainty, getting tips for useful writing apps, and what you wished you learned in your first writing class, to name a few.

The Writing is meant as a place to engage more deeply outside of Sunday’s letters. It’s also meant to be a place for actively practicing writers to ask questions or share insights with each other, beyond just me. So, to come: starting next week, I’ll be expanding my reply time to 24 hours after the post, for those who can’t make the usual slot. I’ll also be piloting some new offerings there soon. I hope to see you there!

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Revision is one of the more thwarting processes of being a writer. Sure, I may say fancy, lofty, things like “make the piece more like itself,” but this is a highly personal process for many writers.

This week’s question: What’s your favorite revision technique?

I’d love to know what you do. I’ll share my own below. Here for the next 45 minutes!

Image: Day 322, Survey U, Sectors 15 and 16, NASA / United States Geological Survey (1967). Polaroid prints of the moon, each neatly labeled in white chalk or ink at their bottoms, are stacked in overlapping patterns on a yellow sheet of paper. The Polaroids create a black streak at the top of the image; a white streak in the middle with what looks like an ice cream scooper, perhaps a lunar probe part, and a black streak below. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.

My favorite technique is applicable to both generation and revision. It's the principle of writing out of order.

What, prithee, do I mean by this? First of all, most of the time, the only thing getting in the way of you writing anything and nothing has to do with the editor inside you revising away while you're just trying to get things out. The inner editor loves to use order (e.g. start with the introduction only!) as an excuse: don't listen. Write what you are most excited to write first and write it all into a heap. Start wherever you want. Organize it later.

Revising "out of order" is the process of putting your current work *out* of order. This does a couple of things: if you wrote a poem, read it line by line, backwards, and see if it still makes sense. Even better, scramble the order of lines or parts entirely and read them that way. If you've been working on a piece for a while, especially a poem, I like to look away from the draft entirely and try to write the whole thing from memory a month or so later. Whatever you don't remember probably doesn't matter. Whatever you do probably matters a great deal to you.

You'll find new combinations of what works, first of all, but you'll also learn about what is essential to the beginning, the middle, and the end of what you're making. Most of all, the best revision process will help you discover your intention.

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