I advise you to revise if you ache to be great
In an online world of daily and often by-the-minute production and publication, I am the novelist-at-heart who wants to produce only his best work and not let it be seen until it is utterly revised.
“But you have to get it out there: market it and spread the word,” the blogger in me beseeches. There is much daily infighting between him and the novelist.
“You can’t sell what the world doesn’t see repeatedly,” echo the voices of countless sale people I’ve met at networking events.
The retort comes quickly.
“If it’s not been carefully moulded and diligently reworked, it can’t be much good and shouldn’t be exposed to the light of day until such editing has occurred,” ring the voices of discontent from the writing workshop I attended with religious regularity in my 20s.
A voice of reason emerges from the past. “I can see both sides,” says the lingering influence of my editorial director at Citytv, a thoughtful, restless man who somehow managed to churn out the daily news at an alarming rate while maintaining a masterful standard of revision.
“The nature of writing news online is that it must be produced quickly and kept up-to-date,” he would have said. “At the same time, the writing must be high quality and factually accurate or you risk credibility, both personally and for your organization.”
“But I can see your point, Erich,” this sage voice would have allowed. “Unfortunately, we don’t produce fiction here.”
Not so quickly. I don’t like to go down without a fight. The whole point of revision is to make something memorable and unique. That is the eternal quest. If it is not carefully contemplated, artfully amended, scrupulously edited or otherwise modified, what good could it possibly do in the long run?
And there’s the point, in those last four words.
These days it’s not about the long run, evidently. In many online spaces – namely social media – it is the written equivalent of yelling loudly and often for the purpose of being seen and heard over everyone else’s profuse shouting: “Hey look at me. I’m three shades of orange with purple stripes. If you pay attention to me, you will somehow be instantly rewarded or blessed.”
The phrase “revise with passion and incisiveness” should be shouted just as loudly.
When I sit down to write, I view it as an opportunity to say something 1) impactful, 2) cohesive, 3) timely, and 4) entertaining.
How can I accomplish all of these things, and more if I’m lucky, if I don’t take the time and energy to remove the parts that are utter nonsense, and the sections that use too many words to make a point? What about word play that attempted to be creative but didn’t fit upon third and fourth readings? Never mind run-on sentences, improper use of punctuation, and paragraphs laden with syntax errors.
This stuff is so easy to get wrong – or simply not right enough – even to the gifted and experienced writer…
About these people, the rare breed, who can fashion sentences that exalt, tantalize, ignite and arouse us, they are who they are because they have taken the time to hone their craft and honour the language. They pay close attention to the details of speech, in the same way that a proud brew master observes the formation of his trademark lager or a devoted mechanic artfully tunes each engine he touches.
“Okay, so you’re not made for social media posting, or even news writing. We get it. Others do these things and do them well.” This may be the irritated response to my babbling on.
At this point I search for articles about the role of revision in online writing. I find little of note. So, I’m left to conclude that there’s a good reason for this dearth. There are many nuances involved in writing for an online audience but the requirement for revision is a constant from the olden days of dip pens and hand-bound books.
Revision is gruelling and maddening; that’s a given. Those who have spent a good deal of time doing it understand this. It’s simply not for those who would rather be doing anything but. Naturally there’s a reason behind the madness: striving for greatness. That’s difficult and it takes work.
Here’s some breaking news for anyone that doesn’t yet know: social media also is difficult and takes work. Yes, it’s also fun. However, you can’t ignore the time commitment and the reality that the overwhelming majority of what gets posted is disposable, trivial, and quickly forgotten.
Writing is supposed to be difficult because that’s what makes it unforgettable. I borrow from one of my favourite scenes in the film “A League of Their Own,” where Tom Hanks champions the value of baseball (my greatest summertime passion): “Baseball is what gets inside you. It’s what lights you up. You can’t deny that … It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard everyone would be doing it. The hard is what makes it great.”
The message is simple: the amount of time and toil required to accomplish greatness hasn’t changed since the beginning of time. If you strive simply to be simply good enough, then revision may not be so crucial to you, at least in writing … hopefully not in life.
I revise, for businesses
So now you know that revising and editing are my are key part of my business. And my business is helping you and your company look good. Contact me to discuss how we can make this happen.