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Quick Ways to Revise a Story or Essay That Immediately Make It Better

Getting feedback from editors, writing friends, or other readers is a giant ball of nerves and excitement. After all, it’s scary to be on the brink of learning what people think of the work you’ve been creating. But in the end, seeing their feedback and suggestions for improving your writing can often leave you excited for what’s next.

At first, anyway.

Eventually, you sit down to start revising, look at their comments, and feel your initial enthusiasm give way to dread and thoughts of how am I supposed to do all of this?

I have good news and bad news for you.

The bad news is that revision is a complex process and that no one has discovered the silver bullet formula for doing it right every single time.

Bonus bad news: not even the best authors have the silver bullet.

But here’s the good news: you get to figure out what works best for your writing and do that.

You get to make your own rules, and the more you write and revise, the more you’ll discover the rules.

Revision is a process that takes years to master, and that in itself might seem like bad news. I have to wait years?? What about this manuscript that I need to revise now??

No worries. I’ve got you covered.

Here are four quick ways to revise a story, essay, or other project that will instantly make your piece better.

Cut the Opening Paragraph or Concluding Paragraph

Ever reread something you wrote and discovered that your opening is, well . . . kind of boring?

Maybe you were tempted to get frustrated and start over . . . but not so fast.

Most of the time, the best writing happens after you’ve gotten warmed up. You’re typing and processing and thinking about what you want to say, and at first, it’s a little rough.

But then you get into page two or three, and you’re really cranking the words out and feeling energized. Your thoughts are becoming less abstract and more concrete.

As a result, your actual opening usually ends up being several paragraphs into the piece, not the first thing you write.

Take a look at your draft and see if a more natural beginning can be found somewhere else. Then, cut all the fluff and start revision from that point forward.

And guess what? The same thing is true for the conclusion! So often, we keep writing past the point where we should stop, saying extra things to ensure the reader understands and that we’ve effectively wrapped it up. But this, too, can be cut!

So, watch out for all that extra fluff at the end, too. Your perfect opening and ending are likely already written—you just have to look for them.

Reorganize Your Ideas

Just like with your opening and conclusion, your structure isn’t typically nailed down in your first draft. So, one way to immediately improve your draft is to revise by trying out a new organization for your ideas.

Flannery O’Connor famously said that “every story has a beginning, middle, and an end, but not necessarily in that order.” Ask yourself what would happen if you started your story at different points in the plot than where the existing piece begins.

One thing that really helps me is to highlight different sections of the piece so I can keep track of what I’m moving around or color-code the paragraphs according to various topics the piece addresses.

Another thing you can do if you’re the super-interactive type is cut out each paragraph or section of the piece and move them around. Again, think about how the story becomes different if the different parts are told in a different order.

Pick a Weak Point and Elaborate on It

Your readers will likely give you feedback about parts of the essay or story that need to be revised to make them clearer or more detailed, or where they needed clarification.

Another quick revision strategy is to pick one of those spots, put aside your original draft, and rewrite that section with their questions in mind.

Then, compare your new version with the original draft. Were you able to focus more on the details that were missing? Did you improve other elements of that part of the story apart from what readers commented on?

Either way, you’ll immediately have a newly revised section of the piece that will likely be better than the original.

Pick a Scene and Rewrite It Differently

This revision strategy differs from the last one in that it doesn’t require feedback from readers. Instead, you pick any scene in the story you’re struggling with and write a new version of it.

If you want to revise the scene with a particular goal, do it. For example, maybe you want to write better dialogue or give better descriptions of the characters. But if you just want to write another version and see what happens, that’s acceptable, too.

You don’t have to sit down with a list of boxes to check that will make that part of your story better. Instead, you can even have a vague notion that something about that part of the piece isn’t quite right.

Then, you can take the opportunity to write a new version and see how the two compare.

Other Helpful Tools

Want more specific ways to revise your piece? Download the Revision Scorecard, a free tool that Inkling Creative Strategies offers to writers.

It takes the six most common mistakes people make with their first draft and lets you rank where your piece falls in each area. That way, you can immediately know which areas you need to work on most so you can eliminate all the confusion and fumbling around that happens during revision.

Do you have more specific questions about how to revise? Schedule a free 30-minute consultation with our Chief Literary Strategist to discuss them.

This complimentary Zoom meetup will let you discuss your burning questions and problems with the revision process, and you’ll leave the meeting with a plan of exactly how to tackle these issues in your writing.

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