by Samantha Bronkar
Have you ever had writing moments when thoughts flowed directly through your fingertips onto paper? Rather than letting the flow of inspiration stop so you can find a perfect word or phrase, you can be free to express ideas as easily as they enter your mind.
The kicker? Revision.
If a writer wants to embody joyous, inspired thoughts on paper, she must also take on the task of reviewing her ideas individually and collectively. She must evaluate her ideas for validity, clarity, and flow.
Below are three questions that can guide your editing process:
How can I say this sentence more clearly? Take this question one sentence—one phrase, even—at a time. First drafts are often full of cluttered and unclear sentences. Once you stumble across a confusing or long-winded sentence, try breaking it down into its basic elements. Figure out what it was you were trying to say in the first place. When you understand what you wanted to say, simply say it! In the words of Jack Kerouac, acclaimed American novelist and poet, “One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.” Rough draft thoughts can be messy. Revision is the time for tweaking and refining; this is the step when useless words, phrases, or sentences can be removed.
Does this sentence (or thought) help my argument? Look at your paper as a whole. First, decide what your thesis or purpose is in the paper. Next, take on the introductory sentence for each paragraph. Your introductory sentence should guide the rest of the paragraph. If you come across a sentence that seems to counter your main purpose, or sidetrack from it, the sentence may belong somewhere else in the paper, or the thought is irrelevant altogether. Tying each point back to the original thesis can help determine a sentence’s importance (or weakness).
Does this paragraph make sense in the context of my entire paper? (Is it being a good neighbor?) Does it prove my thesis? Some paragraphs can be complete and insightful on their own. However, they must also work with the other paragraphs to prove the thesis. Start with one paragraph. Read through it and decide the purpose it serves in your entire paper. With that overall goal in mind—your thesis—move on to the paragraph following it. The following paragraph should build on the material from the previous one, and both of these—along with all the others—should work together to prove your original thesis or point.
Help yourself out by leaving plenty of time to revise. In your rough draft, you should feel free to be messy, ask big questions, and take leaps of faith. Let your inspiration flow! Before the final is due (and hopefully not the night before), take the time to re-evaluate your initial thoughts and refine them. Remember, revising should be the largest part of the writing process!
Samantha Bronkar is an English major, and she is a member of the women’s soccer and softball teams at Principia College.