We’re big fans of revision. As good as we are at what we do, no first take couldn’t be made better without a few tweaks. To guide our revising here at The Word Factory, we tend to rely on what we affectionately call the Big 4:
1. Main Idea: The most important thing the reader needs to know
2. Key Details: The evidence, examples and explanations that support the main idea
3. Beginning: A solid lede that engages the reader and makes them want to keep going
4. Ending: A big finish that leaves the reader with a clear think or do message
Then we focus on this kind of stuff:
1. Reduce word count. Most of us overwrite by at least 10 to 20 percent. Cut it out!
2. Find better verbs. Channel our high school English teacher and focus on those strong verbs that conjure images in the reader’s mind.
3. Use fewer verbs per sentence. Less really is more.
4. Remove unnecessary introductory phrases. See #3.
5. Delete introductory and parenthetical phrases. This is one of the best ways to improve clarity.
6. Avoid deeply nested constructions. See #5.
7. Resist the temptation to qualify. Instead of strengthening your case, it actually tends to weaken it.
But don’t get the idea we revise all the time. In our high-volume shop, the production schedule doesn’t allow much time (which is why we have these clear criteria for revising in the first place). We get one, maybe two passes on most pieces. But even if we had all the time in the world, we wouldn’t revise all the live long day. Nossir. Why? At some point, too many revisions make your piece worse.
Here’s more on that topic from my friend Greg at the UnCabaret in Los Angeles: Re-Vision Quest (Advice on How to Know When Re-Writing is Ruining Your Writing).
We've got a couple of workshops on revising if you'd like to teach our team this terrific technique. Contact me for more information.