7 revision steps

What to do after your writing partner or group marks up your draft with A’s, B’s, and C’s?

  1. Put it away for a few days. Come back to work on it when you’ve put some distance between you and the criticism.
  2. Open your word processor (word, pages, text edit…) and bring up your story. Keep your story open, and open a new blank document. Title this “storyname_cuttings.”
  3. Leave the A paragraphs alone. Do not be tempted to fiddle with them. They worked. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.
  4. Cut the B (boring) paragraphs and paste them into the new “cuttings” document. Don’t worry, you can retrieve them if you need to.  One of the easiest and most underused fixes for a boring part is simply to delete it. Be ruthless. Don’t worry that your story won’t make sense. This is only one step in the revision process. You can decide your story needs a particular sentence, paragraph,  or scene after you’ve read your story without the boring bit.
  5. Add clarity to the C (confusing) paragraphs. Re-order words or sentences. Break up too-long sentences. Make sure you’re showing concrete action, in sequence. Choose a more concise word. Strip away overly-flowery language.
  6. Put it away. Let it rest.
  7. After 3 days or a week, read your story. Fix the gaps from the ruthless cutting by working in vital information and transitions, using lively language and interesting imagery. Cut adverbs and substitute power-verbs. (Instead of walk slowly, use saunter; instead of chew loudly, use smack or gobble.)

The resting is vital for most writers, creating objectivity. Try it, and see what happens.

How many times do you revise before you feel a piece is finished?



    1. For beginning and intermediate groups, I recommend exactly this process. (explained above).

      Pass out copies of the piece for critique, each reader has his own copy. The author of the piece being critiqued should read aloud while others follow along and mark.

      Each person then responds in turn. First stating everything they liked or appreciated, and why. This is important–and the why is very important. And if everyone can’t come up with three things to like, they’re not trying hard enough or they are being too critical. Then, each person may carefully and respectfully state just one thing that was confusing or difficult for them, focusing on the writing itself, not on the author’s experience or feelings.

      Beginning writers are unusually sensitive, and should not ask for the marked-up papers back. It’s up to intermediate writers to decide whether they want to see their readers’ notes.

      The author should not defend or explain or justify or argue, but only take notes and then say thank you. This usually takes the tension out of being on the hot seat.

      It’s very important that everyone understands that the only thing being discussed is the how well the words on the page work to communicate the author’s intention. It is never about the merit or value of telling this particular story, or the worth of the story itself. It’s only about effectiveness.

      The intention is only the author’s to decide, and “readers” should not advise author’s about what to say, or how to say it.

      Advanced groups (made up of all professional writers) should work out their own unique process, depending on the group member’s needs and goals.

      Is that close to what you were looking for?

    1. Some pieces require a lot of revision. It isn’t often that something comes together quickly, and turns out to be exactly right. We’re glad to hear that you’ve got the stamina for 50 revisions. A lot of people give up after 2 or 3, and settle for a piece that isn’t as good as it could be.

      1. Oh, I couldn’t do that. I’m a perfectionist to a fault sometimes. I’m one of those whose inner editor is very hard to turn off and just free-write, but sometimes that’s necessary to be able to get the words out.

    1. We think it’s crucial–but when you’re in the throes of inspiration, and feeling exciting about a piece of writing, it’s tempting to keep fiddling with it. Time creates distance, which makes for essential objectivity. Glad to hear that you’re able to step away and detach.

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