In celebration (or something) of NaNoWriMo, I’ve written a series of columns full of writing advice and tips. This is one of them.
I’ve been part of writing groups for a few years now, and one thing I’ve learned is that they’re invaluable in getting people to critically read your work with the goal of you revising it to become the best writing it can be.
The problem is that sometimes revision seems like quite a difficult prospect, especially if you’re writing a long book — or series of them. So, here, have six of the best revision tips.
6. The Lacie Tip: You have to actually revise your work. — Being in a writing group — and, in fact, just being a writer in the first place — is all about making your work the best work that it can be. Sure, some writers say you shouldn’t revise anything (just write it, send it, and move on to the next piece), but that’s like baking a series of increasingly-slightly-better cakes with all different flavors instead of spending time revising what might be a truly amazing peach pie. Whether you’re in a group or not, you need to sit down with your story and work to improve it. Especially if you’re doing something like Nano — your book isn’t going to be great when it’s done, not unless you go back and fix it up some.
5. The Immigrant Tip: Listen to what your revision partners have to say. — This one is specifically targeted at a woman in my first writing group. She was an engineer who immigrated to America when she was in college and, as a professional woman in her 50s, was writing an autobiography. Badly. Her writing wasn’t great, it wasn’t chronological, and it wasn’t interesting (for the most part). She got bogged down in the minutiae of the story instead of telling a coherent tale. I was the only person who had the guts to tell her straight-up — everyone else in the group was trying to be nice… though they were still telling her the same thing. And she refused to listen. Eventually I just stopped critiquing her work. It wasn’t worth my time or energy. Don’t waste your revision partners’ time like that.
4. The Teacher Tip: See the forest, not the trees. — While it can be great to get people to read your writing and tell you where you might improve a phrase or fix a comma, workshopping in groups is more about getting a better feel for the full piece: what’s going to make the plot, characterization, and storytelling work better. It’s not about correcting spelling and grammar. Sure, you can get notes about that on the actual document, but try to surround yourself with writers (and revision partners) who are going to make your story better. Grammar and such can be — and should be — fixed last.
3. The Graham Tip: Try something new once in a while. — Eventually you’ll reach the point in your revisions where you hate your story, where you’ve changed things so many times that you’re back to your original piece and you haven’t made any improvements. You’ll drive yourself crazy trying to get it to be the best story it possibly can be, when really what you need to do is set it aside and work on something different. No matter how much you love the piece you’re working on, you can still grow exhausted with it and your attempts to revise will be steps backward instead of steps forward. Write something else.
2. The Paula Tip: Don’t be the best writer in your group. — You never, ever want to be the best writer in your group. You can be the best at something, but you shouldn’t be the best at everything. If you are, then you shouldn’t be submitting your own work. You always want people who are better than you to tell you where you can improve — and, more importantly, how. Otherwise you’ll get people telling you things that you already know — or, worse, they’ll give you well-meaning suggestions and tell you that your work is super-great when what you really need is something a little firmer.
“Maybe it’s better not to be the best. Then you can lose and it’s okay.” -Josh, Searching for Bobby Fischer
1. The Andy Tip — It’s possible that, in the course of workshopping your story (revising in a group, on your own, or with the help of online resources) you’ll learn something you didn’t know before and you’ll intuit, without a doubt, that it’s something you need to fix in your writing right now. You’ll go back, make edits, and lose the flow of your project. Thing is, once you’re writing, you have to keep writing. Make a note of the thing you need to change, fix it going forward, and don’t stop. Then, when it’s time to revise, make your fixes. Who knows; maybe you’ll come across something that completely contradicts that super-awesome thing you learned, and you’ll have lost your mojo trying to implement it before letting it percolate through your brain.
Quick tips for revising with an eye to grammar and spelling:
- Read it out loud.
- Read it from bottom to top, or backward.
- Change the font on your screen to something big and uncommon.
- Print it out.
- Pay someone to do it for you.
That’s it, really.
Got an idea for a future “Six of the Best” column? Tweet it to me @listener42.