A Brief Handbook
of Revision for Writers

by Tom Jenks
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Revision is a tough sell to students who are just breathing a sigh of relief when they complete a project draft. I believe structural revision is not practiced in the public school system at any level, so when the students arrive at college they are in for a bit of a shock when they realize they are evaluated for participating in this recursive process. Thank you very much for an insightful piece that leaves us much to digest and apply in our work. This is the best commentary on revision I have read in a long time.

"Recasting of point of view . . . A story conceived with one main or primary point-of-view character may wind up centered on another character." So there it is, the bane of my existence. It is such a relief simply to complete a draft that revision is often pure joy--and yes, it's all about eliminating those blasted tics!

Great piece, Tom.

Awesome piece. Very useful. Thanks!

Quite useful and insightful. An invaluable guide! This is definitely a piece of work worth passing on.

So helpful and generous! Thank you.

I am printing this and keeping it right by my side. Thank you!

It's a relief to read that I'm not alone in bearing some of my more meddlesome idiosyncrasies.

Turns out my distraction from revising today (to read this piece) was no distraction at all, many thanks!

Many thanks for this piece. I'll be keeping it within easy reach.

As many of the writers above commented, it's a good piece. We know (especially the older we get and the more we learn and retain) all the clichés of writing. We know how much we didn't know back then, when everything we wrote was the next On The Road (a cliché itself?), when revision was what geniuses did not do. And we were all geniuses at one point in time or another. Just ask us.

Humility has been my savior. And that humility has allowed me to revise, and revise, and, well, you get the point. And I'm still not there, wherever there is.

As it was for Scott Swenson, "A Brief Handbook of Revision for Writers" was a distraction to my writing, to my rewriting. Better, like Ryan Polhemus' comment, it reminded me I was not alone, which is often extremely difficult to remember.

When I see photographs of published authors, I feel like the author in a recent New York Times article who said he doesn't feel jealousy for an author's success. Rather he wishes they get hit by a car. And I have to admit, there's a bit of that in me, too. I can't remember the author's name, only that he lives in Washington, which is where I lived before moving to the suburbs of Atlanta. The picture of him was not flattering, but I remember his pretty yellow dog, standing beside him in a forest. I have a dog at home, who sits downstairs while I revise upstairs. And revise. And read articles on , yours. And then I remember why I write. I want to pass on that excitement I get every single time I read a good book. While I'm humble, there's still a great deal of the narcissist in me, beating the humble parts to a pulp. Your article is not a wake up call, but I don't think that was what you set out to do, either. You highlight what we all already know and what a good many of us may loathe: the truth about writing, which is revising. I read the numerous kinds of revision as if I were reading a checklist:

Major structural changes: Check.
Recasting of narrative voice: Check.
Recasting of point of view: Check.

And like Rosalia Scalia, I will be keeping your article within easy reach. Thanks, Tom.

P.S. I only revised once, and not thoroughly. Clearly this was not enough.

Nice work, Tom. You've articulated all of the checkpoints that enable good writing--that which springs from the heart and is shaped by the mind.

Thanks for such a valuable reference tool.

An article that all writers need to read. Kudos.

I'll be sharing your piece with many students that are just beginning to decide their writer' personality. I liked the way you described that there are many style of writers and gave examples of how different writers draft, edit, and revise. Lovely!

As a novice but eager new writer, this is comforting somehow. I don't have to be perfect to begin with but if I'm not willing to do the hard work, quit now.

For me, revision has been an ongoing process that doesn't seem to end. I have revised, for slight redundancies and final word choices, several times since submitting what I considered finished pieces. Each time I've made them better, and have learned something about rushing into production, even when I didn't feel like I was. It's making me a better writer every time I do it. One word can be a glaring defect, especially since my pieces are moment-in-time shorts. I've also learned to look at them on the printed page, hard copy, before submitting electronically, where the words can swim on the screen and something like an extra space between words isn't so readily apparent. Fortunately again, my pieces are very short. Writing is revision; is it ever truly finished?

New to this publication, wish I'd found it years ago. Now in the last stages of a novel that is now 180k tightly plotted words. And I do say that revision has gotten much easier over time, through many of the processes that you mention. Cutting against the grain to preserve spontaneity, roughness––great image.