Like all forms of art, writing is a process. The value of revising a rough draft is invaluable when striving to achieve the perfect culmination of a story.
Revising is a process in itself, and usually undergoes many steps before reaching the point of a final draft. When revising, it is always imperative to keep what benefits the story and omit anything that detracts from it. When in doubt, reading a draft aloud will help to approach the story through multiple senses, and therefore provide a concise picture as to what strengthens and weakens the piece.
The Rough Draft
A primary struggle between new writers is fighting the urge to edit as one writes. This however, negates the entire purpose of a rough draft. A rough draft should be compared to a blueprint; just as an architect designs a blueprint for a construction project, so does the writer design one for his story.
The rough draft's main focal point should always be the story itself. It is a place for the writer to freely express his ideas without stressing to assure that such things as grammar, pacing, dialogue and structure are accounted for.
The writer's goal with a rough draft is to simply craft a story from start to finish. Concentrating on a setting, characters and plot should be the primary concern of a rough draft.
The most important aspect of writing a rough draft is to keep the flow going. If a writer finds himself stuck searching for the proper word or metaphor, only spend a brief amount of time on it. Leave a note and come back to it in a later draft. Keeping a steady flow and pace helps to separate the subconscious from the conscious mind. The subconscious wants to write what it wants to write, yet the conscious mind wants to critique the piece logically. It's necessary to resist this urge, so feel free to write what you'd like. After all, no one will see the story until you say so. A rough draft may sometimes appear jumbled, shoddy and poor; this is where revision comes in.
Many feel overhwhelmed when writing. Their stories get away from them and they feel blocked. This is the purpose of a rough draft. It is an essential tool for listening to ones characters and finding where the story is going. If a writer follows the rhythm of his words, the story will in a sense craft itself. Feel free to use the Rough Draft as a tool to explore your story. The story never fully begins to come alive until the second draft.
Once the writer completes a rough draft, they should place it aside for a while. It's important to read over a rough draft with a clear mind, which will make the revision process a lot easier. Many writers start on new pieces during this time. It's best to do what works for you.
When revising the rough draft, keep all original work close by. Take the piece line by line and determine works and what doesn't. If you don't like a line, cut it. If you like a line and it works, leave it. Sometimes if you are indecisive, it's best to cut the line altogether.
The main problem with most rough drafts is that they are overwrought in excessive wordiness. Many pieces can do without the added adjectives and adverbs, so it's vital to cut what detracts from the flow of the structure. Make certain that your sentences read sharp and tight. A teacher once told me, "Words are like dollars; spend them wisely." If you feel that a sentence could benefit without an extra word or two, cut them out.
When revising, one needs to assess several key points:
- Is the pacing quick or slow?
- Does the story feel manipulated instead of a result of the characters themselves?
- Is the central metaphor working to the best effect?
- Is the dialogue believable and motivated?
- What motivates my characters?
- Are my characters written to stereotype or reverse stereotype? Are they believable?
- Are there too many adjectives or adverbs? What can be cut?
- Is the narrator's voice and tense consistent throughout the story?
- Is there too much exposition?
- Does the language evoke the reader's senses, or dull them?
- Is anything overtly cliché or preachy?
A Thesaurus may help a writer a great deal in revision. However, it's important not to over use it. You may very well be doing your piece more harm than good if flowery synonyms ruin the integrity of the story.
Writers can spend as much time as they’d like on as little of the story they choose. Some may only wish to change the tone of the story, so they find themselves rewording entire paragraphs. Others may want to spice up dialogue. It's important to determine what helps the story and what detracts from it.
Editing and Proofreading
When you feel that you have drafted your story to excessive death, it's then time for proofreading and editing. Proofreading is the process of checking your piece for technical errors in mechanics, and it's always useful to have a second person proofread your work.
When editing, keep a reference manual on English and Grammar at arm's length. If something appears awkward, look it up in the manual, for you may very well have a grammatical error.
If you are writing on a word processor, never trust the spell check, ever. Most spell check systems ignore the context of sentences and instead correct the word itself, in which most cases overlooks homonyms and homophones. Always second guess a spell check when it seems odd.
If you have a bad eye for proofreading, find somebody you trust and let them look it over. You may find that what you missed another will pick up.
If you find substantial errors in your draft, you may decide to cut. Most of the time, this benefits the piece. Less is usually more.
How does one know when he has a final draft? It's different for most writers. However, a sure way to determine when a story is complete is by counting how long it takes between each proofreading and revision session. When you find that during each new session, you are correcting and revising even less than before, you are on your way to a final draft.
When you feel a piece is ready, it's time to get an outside opinion. This should be a person whose opinion you trust. Stephen King suggests that each author writes with one intended reader in mind. This is of course Stephen King's wife, but yours may very well be someone different. A friend, a parent, a sibling. Find your intended reader and seek their feedback.
Sometimes, writers find that writing groups or creative writing classes are good sources for feedback and critique. It's important to take some advice to heart while shrugging off the feedback that you disagree with. You will find that many critiques are trivial, non constructive and often times vague.
If you feel that your piece could benefit from a revision or two, go for it. If not, than congratulations, because you've made quite an accomplishment. You've turned an idea into a story, revised it and edited it into a polished piece. Now all that you have left is to show it to the proper audience! That unfortunately, is an entire process in itself.
Sources and Information:
Mike Mathis of the Burlington County Times
"30 Steps To Becoming A Writer," by Scott Edelstein
"On Writing," Stephen King
30 Steps To Becoming A Writer - Scott Edelstein
Write On - Dan Mulvey, M.A.
Write. 10 Days to Overcome Writer's Block. Period. - Karen E. Peterson, Ph.D.
On Writing - Stephen King
Merriam-Webster's Dictionary And Thesaurus