Friday, March 6, 2020

Micro-Revision in a Macro-World

It’s no secret that a great way to become a better writer is through revision. But in a world where we’re constantly bombarded by information that requires a response, it might be less obvious that slowing our writing down to do concentrated revision can be an even bigger help.

Whether you write fiction, nonfiction or hybrids, if you’re on deadline for a story, you may not have time right then to focus on the details of your writing. But taking time to self-consciously tinker with your prose can yield more progress than hours at the keypad. Why? Because you’re not just paying attention to the before of your writing; you’re also paying attention to the after.

If you’re like me, you enjoy watching makeovers. Whether it’s a living space, a person or a business, it’s encouraging to see change for the better. It gives us hope. But when we watch a makeover, we rarely see the details of each individual step in the process. As writers in charge or our own work, we can learn how to improve our writing style and structure simply by paying attention.

For example, taking time to add sensory details to a descriptive paragraph can make the difference between a lifeless picture and one that rises from the page. If we pay attention to the effects of our changes as we go, we can learn what works and what doesn’t and do it in real time. More importantly, we can learn why the changes work. Once we learn this, we’ve learned technique, and what we learn becomes part of our experience. When this happens, we’ve gained a repeatable skill that can remain in our writing toolkit.

Here’s an example of the tinkering approach:
  • Before: The highway to the beach was bathed in sunlight, and the temperature in the car was getting hotter and hotter. Carlo wiped his forehead and rolled the window partway down. He couldn’t see the shore from here, but he could feel it.
  • After: The road to the shore shimmered in the sun as the temperature in the Fiat rose like a kiln. Carlo wiped his forehead with the back of his hand and rolled down the window. He couldn’t see the sea from this flat strip of asphalt, but he could feel its heat and the pull of it like an outgoing tide.
Tip: To tinker with your prose, select a descriptive paragraph, and revise it slowly, word by word, sentence by sentence. Then do the same with a short scene. An added benefit of this technique is that it helps settle the mind for improved focus.