When Do I Revise?
No matter how often I write, I still find it difficult to know when and how to revise my work. Sure, some changes are easy to settle on, but many alter the text in consequential ways. This idea – that revision matters – sounds obvious to me as it write it. It reads as a virtual tautology. But it feels less obvious, less easy, less tautological when I’m writing.
Take this last sentence, for example. The construction I favor – which repeats “less ___” thrice in parallel – was chosen, at least aspirationally, to achieve an effect. Would the effect have been lessened if I added a fourth “less” to the series? After all, three often seems like a rhetorical magic number – a pattern of repetition we might adopt out of habit, out of tradition, out of … you get the picture. Would a series of five or six, by virtue of far exceeding expectations, be read as humorous, or as ungainly? (Or, considering that the repeated word is “less,” would an arguably excessive repetition scheme be taken as appropriately ironic?) By contrast, would a series only of two – a parallel pair – be preferable for its comparative brevity? Would less be more? Thinking through these possibilities is enough to make my head spin.
WriteLab can help draw attention to some of these questions and dilemmas – can even, through its feedback and guide, afford readers with options for revision they might not have otherwise considered. Yet the questions and dilemmas remain the writer’s responsibility to address. I cannot claim to have any perfect answers concerning how best to proceed when writing and revising.
However, I find it helpful to learn about the processes other writers draw on when composing, and in that spirit, I would like to briefly sketch out two of the primary guidelines I employ when revising my work:
If it is true that our decisions when writing have consequences, it follows that there may be multiple impactful ways to write a sentence, a paragraph, or a paper. Remaining open to feedback, and to options for revision, seems to me an appropriate approach for maximizing the likelihood that my writing will say something (perhaps multiple things) that I want it to say. Few things are as precious to me as the opportunity to reimagine what I’ve written from a different perspective. Feedback provides this crucial reimagining, and helps me to consider how my work might be read in new contexts by new readers.
Being open to the feedback provided by others requires a kind of resiliency and courage; resisting that feedback takes a different, yet I think equally important, strength. It is possible, even probable, that different writers will hold different perspectives about what constitutes quality in writing. As a result, the feedback others provide us might vary widely: Some might wish we wrote about a different thing; others might wish we wrote about a thing differently. All feedback is value-laden. As I keep an open mind about new ways to alter what I’ve written, I also keep my mind open to criticize the feedback I’m provided, and to imagine the limitations of any changes I might make.
I have run this blog post through WriteLab, and as I prepare to press "submit," I am confident that I have enacted both of my primary guidelines for revision. Some of WriteLab's suggestions prompted me to change what I had written. Some did not. The comments most valuable to me have been those that called attention to choices I made – often unconsciously – as I wrote my first draft. When you write your next paper, attend closely to the feedback you receive and critically consider the kinds of revisions you are inclined to make. When do you revise?