Nine Tips to Productive Revision

By | August 30, 2007
Revision

Without a doubt, revision is the most tedious, irritating, necessary task involved in writing well. The act of taking a finished piece of work, tearing it apart, and rebuilding it is a process that some writers think waste too much time to be worth the process. Nevertheless, writing a piece perfectly on the first try is an extremely rare occasion.

Rather than worrying about whether or not revision is necessary, it makes more sense to focusing on making revision as painless and as useful as possible. Here are a few tips for you to keep in mind while writing.

Try to get what you’ve written on paper. Scanning a piece on a computer makes revision extremely difficult, even though it may seem like the more sensible process. By printing out your computer work, you’re able to get more hands-on with your writing process. For most people, it’s also much easier to look at what you’ve written on paper rather than on a screen. Things you might not be able to see on your computer can show up when you’re marking your piece up with paper and pencil.

Start from the beginning. Many people skip around while they’re editing, going after passages they knew were bad when they were writing. In terms of improving your work, however, it makes far more sense to start at the top and going through your piece line by line. Things you thought were brilliant when you started writing might be too overblown, or might not fit in with the rest of your piece. You can’t tell what you might find in your drafts until you read them over. Why risk skipping anything?

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Save all your drafts. Not every revision is going to be perfect. Often, you’ll find you get rid of bits and pieces you need later on, or you’ll realize that something you wrote earlier on is better than you expected. In that case, you’ll find that it’s easier to look back if you actually have your old work, rather than if you’re forced to write from memory. If you’re printing out your old drafts already, keeping them together with a paper clip (or, if you revise a lot, a binder clip) is a small step that could save you lots of time later on.

The software you are writing on can help with this immensely. Google Docs and Spreadsheets, for instance, immediately saves all old drafts of your work, which can make revision a far faster process than it usually is.

Avoid clichés. When you’re first writing a piece, it’s entirely possible that some hackneyed phrases might find their way into your writing. When you’re revising, it would be wise to remove as many of these as possible. The reason? Clichés are too often-used to be effective, especially when you don’t know your audience. They work very well, which is why they are used so much. When you avoid clichés, though, your work is more likely to sound unique and interesting than if it’s filled with old, boring writing techniques.

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Feel free to experiment. The poet Robert Hayden, former poet laureate of the United States, would alter a poem drastically from its original style in the process of writing. Over dozens of revisions, his poems would change from several lines to full pages to several lines again. Monet’s Waterlilies, one of his better-known poems (it can be found here), was preceded by drafts that looked almost nothing like the final version. Some were more condensed. Some had fewer line breaks. All of them contributed to his final piece.

Don’t fret too much over changing the layout of your piece as you write it. Try adding sections you never had to begin with. Remove paragraphs you don’t want to worry about. The greatest thing about revision is this: if you don’t like what you’ve done with your writing, you can always change it back. And even if you write things you end up not using, everything you consider using will affect your final piece. If you worry too much over preserving your original writing, you won’t be able to write as freely as you need to.

Don’t cherish anything. The worst thing you can do as a writer is to love your writing too much. It constrains you, forces you to do things to go around changing that piece. While loving your own work like this isn’t a bad thing, it can lead you to losing sight of what you’re actually trying to write. Is that one sentence you love really contributing to the piece you’re writing? Could it be reworded to make it more compact? While you may love everything you write, liking it too much risks making it difficult to improve.

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Rewrite if necessary. Sometimes, the piece you’re working on needs a complete rewrite. Quite a few writers shy away from this aspect of revision, but it is often more useful to scrap what you have, and rewrite the entire piece line-for-line, than it is to try and revise a lousy draft of your work.

What you need to remember when you’re wondering whether or not a rewrite is desirable is this: writing something you have already written is far easier to write than something you’ve never written before. You’ve already churned out a draft of this: you know what to put in it and how to lay things out. While it might seem tedious, you’ll find that most of the time, rewriting is much faster than the original writing. And it is often easier to rewrite a piece than it is to go over the piece, line for line, and slowly change it into something you can work with.

Wait before showing anybody. Don’t show everybody around you your original draft when you’re planning revision. Until you feel you can’t improve on your work any farther, there’s no reason to give somebody else what you’re written. Take the time to go over it yourself, and revise until you think your work is at least fairly solid.

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The benefits to doing this are threefold. First, you will find it much easier to take comments from multiple people and incorporate them all into your revision if each person is editing as few things as possible. Second, more people will be willing to really read something of yours over if they’re pretty sure you’re not asking them to rewrite your entire piece for you. Finally, some people who read unfinished writing like rewriting entire pieces. Give them too much room to work in, and you risk ending with something written by somebody else. (Note to high-schoolers and college students: sure, this might sound appealing to you. But it’s a bad thing to do, and you should all be ashamed of yourselves.)

No work is ever perfect. Unless what you’re writing is really important to you (i.e., if you’re trying to publish something you write), don’t worry too much over how perfect your final piece is. Every writer has limits, and every time you go to revise a piece, you will probably be able to find something that needs fixing, something that can be improved. To some degree, this will help you improve your writing and make it far more worth reading. Take it too far, though, and you risk spending too much time on an individual piece of work. It might do you well to focus on writing new things, rather than focusing on one piece obsessively for too long.

Rory Marinich is a graduate of the New Jersey Governor’s School of the Arts. Some of his writing can be found online here.

No one can live a positive life without failing. However, many people experience a fear of failure, despite its inevitability in life. Failure, as you will see from these 30 success and failure quotes, is the key ingredient for the recipe of success!

Today’s society is obsessed with success and achievement, and failure is definitely NOT part of the equation. Failure and making mistakes is hidden away or seen as a human weakness.

However, if you avoid making mistakes in life, struggle to do everything right, and are obsessed with perfection and order, then living and experiencing a successful and happy life is going to be impossible.

Embrace your failure, whether it is one failure or many failures, because with the right attitude and a willingness to learn from your mistakes, you are guaranteed a lifetime of success. Here are some uplifting quotes about failure and success to help you get started.

1. “Never let success get to your head; never let failure get to your heart.” -Anonymous

This quote is important for those of us who feel downtrodden after every failure, heartbroken, if you will. If you let failure get you down for more than a couple of days, you’re wasting away your chance to bounce back from it.

On the other hand, if you allow yourself to build an inflated ego after every success, future failures may be even harder to cope with. Maintain a sense of humility and gratitude for each success and failure you find.

2. “Just because you fail once, doesn’t mean you’re gonna fail at everything. Keep trying, hold on, and always, always, always believe in yourself, because if you don’t, then who will, sweetie?” -Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe is spot on with this one. The first person who should be there to catch you when you fall is you. You have to be your own best advocate, the person to build you up when it feels like everything is going wrong. The others in your support system are just icing on the cake.

3. “You always pass failure on your way to success.” -Mickey Rooney

In today’s competitive world, it’s hard to understand that almost no one experiences failure before they experience genuine, lasting success. Failure is what forces you to learn in order to achieve that goal you’ve been working up to.

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4. “Failure is not falling down but refusing to get up.” -Chinese proverb

Everyone falls. Those who refuse to pick themselves back up, no matter if it’s after two days or two years, are the true failures.

5. “Successful people don’t fear failure but understand that it’s necessary to learn and grow from.” -Robert Kiyosaki

There are many success and failure quotes on this idea, and that’s because it’s so very important. Learning doesn’t happen when things are easy. It happens when things get tough and you have to find a way through challenges.

6. “The real test is not whether you avoid this failure, because you won’t. It’s whether you let it harden or shame you into inaction, or whether you learn from it; whether you choose to persevere.” -Barack Obama

No one can escape failure. If you let it keep you down and shying away from achieving your goals, you’ve failed again. If you learn from it and continue on your path toward greatness, it wasn’t a true failure but a lesson.

7. “Failure will never overtake me if my determination to succeed is strong enough.” -Og Mandion

Determination is one of the best antidotes to failure. Even if you take two steps forward and one step back, you’re still moving forward with grit and determination. Keep going!

8. “Fear regret more than failure.” -Taryn Rose

At the end of your life, what do you think you’ll feel worst about, failing or never trying?

9. “Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” -Nelson Mandela

If anyone has enough insight to offer us success and failure quotes, it’s Nelson Mandela. He learned that that path to success (and freedom) is full of setbacks. His determination, however, led him to make amazing changes in the world around him. Now that’s success.

10. “The secret of life is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.” -Paulo Coelho

Each time you get back up, it will get easier and easier, and you’ll realize each time that those failures are the greatest lessons life will ever give you.

11. “Most great people have attained their greatest success just one step beyond their greatest failure.” -Napoleon Hill

Unfortunately, many people stop trying after a large failure comes their way. They lose their confidence, determination, and will. However, success usually follows quickly behind these huge failures because you’ve inevitably learned what not to do.

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Don’t stop with the huge failure. Take a few more steps and see if it gets you where you wanted to go.

12. I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” -Thomas Alva Edison

Through his success and failure quotes, Thomas Edison shows us that failures are only truly failures if you don’t learn the lesson they offer.

13. “It’s fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” -Bill Gates

Celebrating success feels good, but learning the lessons of failure is where growth occurs[1], which can lead you to even greater successes.

14. “The only thing that separates success from failure is one last attempt. Try one more time and you will get lucky.” -Apoorve Dubey

Every success comes from an attempt. If you don’t try one more time, you’ll never know if it could’ve been your big chance at big success.

15. “Failure is a detour; not a dead-end street.” -Zig Ziglar

Many people get impatient with failure. They feel that it’s a stopping point, or a road that’s too long to walk. However, the patience to take that new road is exactly what’s necessary to find success. If success is easy to find, it likely won’t last very long.

16. “In the real world, very smart people fail, and mediocre people rise. Part of what makes people fail or succeed are skills that have nothing to do with IQ. Also, the idea that intelligence can be gauged by an IQ test is erroneous.” -Camille Paglia

Failure is not a sign of a lack of intelligence, as Paglia suggests. Failure is a sign of great intelligence and great courage. She also points out the important point that intelligence takes many forms, and it’s often the grit and maturity to accept failure for the temporary setback that it is.

17. “Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is another stepping stone to greatness.” -Oprah Winfrey

Queens will always be queens, no matter if they experience success or failure. And you will always be you, so use that to your advantage, and take the risk of failure in order to reach success.

18. “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.” -J.K. Rowling

Living a life free of failure generally means you have lived a boring, uneventful life. Is it really worth it?

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19. “You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.” -Richard Branson

If you’ve ever watched a child learn to walk, you know that Branson’s success and failure quotes are true. Children are determined. They fall, and they get back up. And then they learn, and soon they’re running.

20. “Success or failure is caused more by mental attitude than by mental capacity.” -Walter Scott

Scott knows that intelligence is less of a determining factor in success than determination or ruthless optimism. Set yourself up for success by cultivating both.

21. “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again. That is why I succeed.” -Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan knows failure, and yet we know him as an incredibly successful person. Why? Because he never let the failures stop him from moving on.

22. “There comes a time in your life, when you walk away from all the drama and people who create it. You surround yourself with people who make you laugh. Forget the bad, and focus on the good. Love the people who treat you right, pray for the ones who don’t. Life is too short to be anything but happy. Falling down is a part of life, getting back up is living.” -José N. Harris

The secrets to success are pretty simple, and living a full life is only possible once you learn that getting up after a failure will bring a great sense of satisfaction and joy.

23. “All people fail at certain instances in their lives, the only thing that makes them different is how they manage to stand up or how they choose to fail again.” -Unknown

If you fail, you’re like the vast majority of the world. What makes you different is how you choose to respond.

24. “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” -Robert Kennedy

If you aim high, even if you fall short you’ll still likely be ahead of the majority of people. Take the time in life to fail greatly because that’s where you’ll find your true self.

25. “Failure is good as long as it doesn’t become a habit.” -Michael Eisner

If you continue to make the same mistakes, you’re not learning from your failures. This is when it becomes a destructive habit instead of a moment to propel you toward success.

26. “If you are afraid of failure, you don’t deserve to be successful.” -Charles Barkley

Only those who are willing to accept the hard emotions that come along with failure will be those who will enjoy the good feelings of genuine success.

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27. “Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. It is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead-end street.” -William A. Ward

In his success and failure quotes, Ward points out something important. Failure is often seen as a death stroke, something that stops our success. If we shift our perspective and look upon failure as a teacher instead, we will likely feel very differently about those moments in our life and see that failure is delay, not death.

28. “Courage allows the successful woman to fail and learn powerful lessons from the failure. So that in the end, she didn’t fail at all.” -Maya Angelou

We’ve been here before. Failure is only failure if you don’t learn from it. Let yourself get a bad grade on the test; you’ll study differently next time. Let yourself fail at a relationship; you know how to build a healthier relationship next time.

Every failure brings a lesson. Learn it and move on.

29. “Good people are good because they’ve come to wisdom through failure. We get very little wisdom from success, you know.” -William Saroyan

If you think of the moments you learned and grew the most, were they easy times or hard times? Challenges make us better, smarter people[2]. You don’t get wise through an easy life.

30. “Don’t fear failure—not failure, but low aim, is the crime. In great attempts it is glorious even to fail.” -Bruce Lee

If you try to achieve something great, even a failure feels like a success. At least you had the courage to try. That’s more than most can say.

More Inspirational Quotes

Reference

[1]Harvard Business Review: Strategies for Learning from Failure
[2]Psychology Today: How Greater Challenges Help You Grow