by Chris Cameron
Published at 2016-02-18
An editor is an expert at revising collections of written words. In fact, one French term for editor is "réviseur." As a professional editor, revising someone else's text is part of my job. But as a writer, I love revising my own work, and all writers should learn to do this.
The American journalist Ambrose Bierce said that a saint was a just sinner who had been revised and edited. On the strength of this, I submit that the path to heavenly prose is through careful revision.
And all revisions start with a first draft.
Writers either love or hate revising, but there are two things everybody will agree on: 1) There has to be a first draft, and 2) It is usually lousy.
Why is this? Why can’t our golden prose spring fully formed from our heads ready for typesetting? Well for one thing, if we had to produce work that was publication worthy on the first attempt, no one would ever write anything at all; we’d all be stuck in permanent creative gridlock, scared to write a word. The first draft is our way of incarnating our thoughts, of converting them from twinkle in the eye to word on the page. If we don’t write something, we will never write anything. So we write. After all, it’s only the first draft.
After you get your first draft written, you will read it over and realize that it is not quite as brilliant as you thought it was when you got out of bed at 3 a.m. to get it typed before you forgot it all. But this is not the time to press DELETE; you had a good idea, and it is still good. You just need to tweak it. You have entered The Revision Zone.
Truckloads of books have been written containing tips for revising. Here are a few of mine:
Revising is more than just rearranging the furniture; it can be a complete makeover. Typically, my final product scarcely resembles what I started out with (almost none of my original draft of this essay survived revision). But I end up saying what I wanted to say in a way that is easier to read, and this should be the goal of all writers.