I have been a writing coach for over twenty years. During that time, I have spent countless hours working with students, editing and revising their work. As I often say to them, “We first take your rough draft and make sure it’s structured correctly with its beginning, middle, and end, and then we go through the piece over and over, refining each line until the writing is so taut that the words bounce off the page.” I have come to learn that working as an editor for other people’s work is not only wonderfully satisfying, but has greatly benefited my own writing as well.
I, like most people, didn’t start out relishing the idea of revising my work. I wrote my piece, edited it a bit, and, while it might not have been perfect, I was fairly sure it was good enough. The last thing I wanted was to go back into the text and start the painstaking process of making sure every line said what I actually meant it to say. I also wasn’t too excited about checking that every word was exactly the right word within the context of the sentence. Ugh. That all sounded like a lot of work. However, over the years, I have developed the skills needed to effectively edit my students’ work, and, lo and behold, have also realized that there has been a carry-over to my own writing. I have also gained a growing appreciation for beautifully written prose, which was the product of all that time and attention.
At this point, I recognize the value of strategically revising a piece of writing to bring it up to a highly refined level. I don’t dread it anymore; I actually look forward to the process. I now know a secret that I didn’t know before. Revising a piece of writing is exactly like an artist making a quick sketch and then going back and filling in the details with color. It isn’t that the sketch wasn’t good in itself, but rather that the painting is a more complete and complex depiction.
And therein lies the fun. Slowing down, coloring in the details, helping the reader to see, taste, touch, hear, and smell what’s happening on the page transforms a charcoal sketch into a color-splashed painting worthy of a prized spot on the living room wall.
And all it takes is the willingness to revise.