Revision means "re-seeing." Strong revisers develop a "critical zoom lens" that allows them to shift perspective from broad overview to minute detail, and to see how these levels of composition relate. To revise well, then, you must become a perceptive and imaginative reader of your own work, a reader who can anticipate another reader's response and see new ways the writing might evolve.

Knowing you'll revise, you can relax and speak your mind early in your writing process. Because your words can be changed later, you won't worry about writing the perfect first draft.

Since your words can be changed later, you won't worry about writing the perfect first draft.

That's one important difference between writing and speaking. When you speak, you get only one chance. Whatever you say, appropriate or not, has been said. Maybe that's why we have the sayings, "Think before you speak," and "Make sure brain is in gear before engaging tongue." If you write something inappropriate, however, you can change it, or even tear it up and throw it away. With writing you get a second chance, or a third or a fourth. And each time you revise, you find new potential in the evolving text.

Too often, inexperienced writers don't see this potential. They are too careful and self-critical at the start of a project and too easily satisfied toward the end. Having agonized through a first draft, they quickly check for grammar and mechanics and consider themselves done.

More experienced writers usually do just the reverse. Early on, they work at discovering what to say, getting their ideas out onto disk or paper. They write quickly, accepting chance discoveries, trusting hunches and gut-feelings, willingly making mistakes. Gradually, though, they feel a need to look back over their work, to ask whether it makes sense, how their readers will respond. Thus begins the process of revision.

Spotting grammatical and mechanical problems is only a minor concern here. Much more important is the need to see the big picture, the overall effect. Consider the structure, the level of complexity. Then focus in on individual sentences and words. Read for fluency and precision. Step back and imagine you're another person coming to this piece for the first time:

  • Is the style authentic and engaging?
  • Does the writing have a clear sense of purpose?
  • Could the major divisions and sub points be presented in a better order? Are sentences fluent, tight, and well-constructed?
  • Is the language precise and appropriate to the writing context?

Revising well means asking and answering such questions about your own writing. It requires keeping an open mind about your work and going back over it again and again, until you get it just right.