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Word Matters: Don’t Go Out of the House in Your Underwear, or the Importance of Revising

By Mary Vitcenda, Senior Editor
How many times do you revise your first drafts? Once? Twice? Never? Whatever your answer, consider this: Very few writers say exactly what they want to say on their first try, even the great ones.

Evgeny Chirikov at his desk by Ivan Kulikov, 1904.
“Revising” is a part of writing we often don’t hear about. Instead, we hear more about the “creating” part of writing — the initial act of putting words on paper or entering them into a computer. Movies like to show that part of writing with images of the inspired author, hands flying over the keyboard late at night, capturing every “brilliant” thought that comes into his or her head.

And that depiction isn’t entirely wrong. When you start writing something, you do want to let your thoughts flow freely. But that’s only half of the writing equation. The other half? Revising.

Revising is important for many reasons, including correcting factual errors, typos, and bad grammar. These are the things that prompted this quip from author Patricia Fuller: “Writing without revising is the literary equivalent of waltzing gaily out of the house in your underwear.”

But more than saving yourself from embarrassment, revising is how you organize and clarify your thoughts. And clarity is essential to engaging and retaining your audience members, who don’t have the time or patience to hang in there if your writing is confusing.

Revising might sound like drudgery, and I won’t lie: It is hard work. But as a blogger I read recently said, revising is “where the magic happens.” I find the process of trying different words and approaches, reorganizing sentences and paragraphs, adding information readers need to know and cutting out what they don’t, invigorating. Inspiring even.

Maybe you’ll never be that enthusiastic about revising. But I urge you to make it part of all the writing you do at FD. I also urge you to ask someone else to look over your writing after you’ve revised it. Why? Because as much as you try to catch all your mistakes and missteps, you probably won’t — you’re too close to your subject. What’s more, you may lack the will to “kill your darlings”— to delete those words and phrases you love but don’t contribute to the greater good of your creation.

Naturally, I prefer that the “someone else” you ask to review your work is an experienced editor. But if that’s not possible, at least ask someone with fresh eyes and an objective mindset to look over your work after you have revised it. This final step will help ensure your audiences are well served, and that you don’t go out of the house in your (literary) underwear.
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