From Rough Draft to Ready For Readers: 3 Revision Tips

Looking for resources about blogging? Read this summer writing series with tips from CTQ bloggers, and join the Collaboratory and Communications Lab today! This week’s post focuses on three tried-and-true revision tips. 

Do you see yourself as a writer?

Even though I’m a passionate teacher of writing, I’m still uncomfortable calling myself a writer. I enjoy it, but is that enough? How many posts or reader comments does it take to earn an official “blogger badge?”

Despite my trepidation, I continue to put words to digital paper because I believe blogging makes me a better writing teacher for my students. In order to authentically coach students through the writing process, I need to engage in the writing process myself. (And what a messy process it is!) If I want my students to see themselves as writers, modeling how writers think about the world seems like the natural thing to do.

Blogging is hard mental work. Mulling over ideas and focusing on an angle takes time. Drafting can be an endless deliberation over which word goes where, which lead works best, and a tug-of-war between creating a short and snappy word count while maintaining a meaty message.

But for me, when a rough draft feels finished but not polished, the fun really begins. It’s time for the metaphorical (or literal) red pen to make an appearance.

It’s time to revise.

If you have a draft (or several) in the hopper just waiting for that next step, try one or a combination of these three revision tips and make your rough draft reader-ready in 24 hours or less. (Hint: I use these strategies with students, too!)

Read it out loud. Really.

It may feel silly or unnatural at first, but reading your writing out loud can help you hear what’s working (and what’s not) in your piece. The trick is to slowly and deliberately read your writing word for word. Pause at punctuation marks, or note where punctuation is missing. This takes practice and focus, as your initial inclination will be to read what you meant to write, not what you actually composed on paper.

Try reading the draft 2-3 times out loud and focusing on different components each time. For example, on the first read think about the overall flow and tone of the piece. If you have a hard time speaking a sentence out loud, you’ve probably hit on a place that needs revision. Make adjustments and read the new and improved version out loud again. Then read it a final time as a stern editor, monitoring paragraph and sentence length, checking each word for accuracy, and polishing punctuation and formatting.

(Note: This is also a great way to prepare for a talk, verbal testimony, or other speaking engagement. Compose first, then rehearse your ideas out loud several times. Feeling extra brave? Try this in front of a mirror or a friendly audience. For more of my go-to speaking tips see this post.)

Sleep on it.

There’s nothing like a good night’s rest to transform a writer into an editor. When a draft is “done,” it’s time to step away from the computer. If you’re under deadline and can’t wait 12-24 hours to post the final version, I find it’s still helpful to let the draft “simmer” while you do something else. Bonus if that ‘something else’ is not writing related. Take a walk (or shower?), step outside, make a snack, or indulge in a little mindless daytime or primetime television. Then tackle revision. You’ll be amazed how a little time and space can help you see your writing with critical and clear eyes.

Adults need peer editors, too!

When I’m in a writing rut, or am unsure if I’m conveying what I want my audience to know and understand, it’s often most helpful to completely turn my unpolished draft over to an objective reader. Relinquishing a messy rough draft to a trusted colleague or family member is a great way to “test drive” your writing. Allowing another reader to critique your piece is helpful because generally an outside reader catches things the writer might miss. It’s difficult to completely distance yourself from your own writing. Sometimes I give my reader guiding questions to address if I know I’m in need of specific feedback in a certain area. Other times I simply hand the draft over and ask the reader for their impressions — the good, the bad, and the ugly. I don’t necessarily apply all of the suggestions (and I allow my students to decide what feedback they’ll incorporate and ignore as well) but I always learn something about my writing by testing it on a reader before publishing.

What are your best revision tips and strategies? How do you share your celebrations and struggles with the writing process with your students?

This post appears as part of a metablogging series from CTQ bloggers featuring their tried-and-true tips and best practices. Join the Collaboratory and then sign up for the Communications Lab to continue the conversation and get tips for taking advantage of summer writing time!