It's easy to equate revision with failure. “If I knew what I were doing, I'd get it right the first time,” many writers think.

Revision is the best friend a writer can have. The trick is to use revision as a tool to make your writing clearer, sharper and more powerful. Here are some approaches to revising your work:

  • Write earlier in the reporting process. This teaches you what you already know and what you need to know. Maybe that hole you thought you needed to fill was already complete, but you might see other gaps more quickly.
  • Hit the print button as early as possible. Computers are wonderful, but they give the illusion of perfection. Use a printout to cross things out, write in questions and examine your writing (which sentences hold up, which need re-tooling, etc.).
  • Put it away, even if only for a few minutes between assignment and deadline. Any attempt to put a story out of your mind will give your unconscious mind the chance to work on it. (Have I really supported my lead? Should I move that quote higher up? Do I need to make a quick call to check a fact?)
  • Break revision into manageable tasks. Sometimes the sheer enormity of revisions is overwhelming. Make separate printouts — one for names and titles, another for verb constructions, a third to trim the fat from quotes.
  • Read aloud. Listen to your story and you can hear where it flags, where a quote runs on or echoes the previous phrase.
  • Diagnose, then treat. As you read, make quick notes ("cut," "move up?" "boring?" "stronger evidence?"). Then go back and make the necessary changes.
  • Test your story against your focus. If it's about a young woman's fight against cerebral palsy, why does it begin with an anecdote about her grandfather's experiences in the California gold rush?
  • Find a first reader. Editors are our first readers — and our last line of defense. Show your draft to an editor or a colleague. Ask them to tell you what works and what needs work. Better to have someone help you find the path to a clear, concise, readable story than let the whole world see your mistakes.
  • Develop patience. Good writing will come if you keep at it.

Taken from Get Me Rewrite: The Craft of Revision, a self-directed course by Poynter affiliate Chip Scanlan at Poynter NewsU.

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