Revisions: the Key to Success

This blog is a guest post by fellow writer, Mark Hopkins.

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During the spring of 2010 I submitted a short story to a local academic literary journal for release in a publication that coming fall. The editor thought the story was “excellent,” but he insisted that some revisions were necessary. Naturally, I didn’t object.

The most unexpected yet flattering offer he made, however, was that he would be willing to meet me for discussions on how to revise the piece. This is very unusual for an editor to do, especially when it comes to writers they don’t even know. The story must have left quite an impression on him.

In any case, we met at a Java Hut nearby two days later. We dissected and analyzed that story backwards and forwards. I agreed with much of what he had said but disagreed on other minor points. No impasse developed between us; he and I got along great.

“So, this is a matter of when and not if?” I asked, and he concurred. Of course, I knew that, but I wanted to confirm it anyway. He even said if I refused to make certain changes, he would work with me. That told me he was determined to publish the piece.

The revisions took me several hours throughout a week’s time to do, which I expected because revisions are always time-consuming when they involve story changes and/or rewrites. That said, I enjoyed the work, and I must say the story turned out better in some ways. That was a real learning experience for me.

Revisions for Every Writer in Every Context

The above account should serve as reassurance for those submitting manuscripts (and many writers now are doing that on a regular basis) that imperfection does not necessarily lead to rejection. It does show, however, that revisions are both inescapable and very important in the writing process.

This reality pertains to everyone who writes—middle, high school and college students as well as hobbyists and professional writers like journalists—and it refers to all kinds of writing: research articles, books, novels, short stories, essays and even simple “what-I-did-last-summer” kinds of presentations. No student or writer should ever underestimate the importance of revising his or her work– the right choice can literally make the difference between failure and success.

With that in mind I put before you a brief but challenging exercise. Below are a couple of text samples that require proofreading and revisions. This will hone your self-editing skills for your future writing and be a fun activity. Use not only the knowledge and tools you gained in school and from others but also your instincts. If something does not seem right, chances are it is not.

Sample 1:

Bagleys trip too the story for some mllk was going to be a simple one. Little did he know that when he left home, that trip would change his entire life.

Little did he no that when he got too the store, he never saw the gun the man had pointing at the clerk. After getting his milk, he walked rite into it. Bagley was quickly taken hostage with the gun pointed at his head. He sweated up a storm as he was forced into the truck waiting outside. Bagly thought he would never sea his family again.

” Whadda ya gonna do with me?” he asked wit a tremor in his voice.

“Shaddup!” the guy snapped, “or I’m gonna end it fer sure.”

Sample 2:

The Titannic sailed on April 11, 1912 from Southampton Engeland wit 2200 people on board. The captain was too retire soon, an he looked forward to his last trip at see. Little did he know upon sailing that it would be his last trip in more ways then one.

At 11 pm Sunday 16th after five days at sea, the titannic colided with an iceburg, puncturing a series of holes and popping rivets from her hull. The forward compartments we’re flooding really very quickly.

The captain went too the wirless room and instructed the operators to send out morse code in an attempt to contact other ships for help. No one was close—the titannic was doomed

In a matter of two an a half hours the titannic gradually sunk. breaking in too an falling to the ocean floor. Fifteen hundred people died that night, many of them children

The world will not forget the loss it was such a tradegy that changed the way men sail. Their are now lifboats for all so that all on board can bee saved.

Final Thoughts and Other Considerations

The two samples above are different types of writing: the first is a piece of fiction, the second a research account. As an editor, you must use a different approach for each one. The obvious grammatical and spelling errors require attention, but both samples have other deeper considerations as well.

Explore other possibilities. What other means can improve the above samples? Are you able to use metaphors or additional foreshadows? Are there any redundancies? Are you able to condense the text without affecting clarity? In which ways can you effectively use vocabulary to enhance the color and dynamic of each piece? Are elaborations necessary? If this is the case, how, where and why should you do so?

Please keep in mind these pieces, or excerpts, are more in the nature of drafts, so a lot of applied work, both obvious and subtle, can improve them.

Go ahead, try it, and feel free to share your thoughts. Remember: all insight is helpful.

NOTE: Please do not construe the *obvious* errors in these samples as condescending. Many younger readers will find the grammatical and spelling issues a challenge. There are deeper issues that will appeal to older students and professionals alike. Thanks.

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