Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Revising old writing

One of the tasks I set out on last week was sorting through my inventory of unpublished/unfinished writing to complete and/or pitch them. I’ve got a large inventory of work that hasn’t been published yet (part of the problem is that I haven’t typed everything), and since most of it has been written months, even years ago, I’m seeing all of them in a new light.

A new “writing” light, that is.

I tell lots of writers that the only way they’ll be a better writer is by writing, writing and more writing. Write today so you can write better tomorrow. This is why it’s important to every writer to write every day. The more you work with words, the better you can use them in your writing.

As I went over a variety of poems, articles and essays, I noticed some writing no-no’s I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve committed. Of course I had quite a few forehead-slapping moments, where I’d stop to ponder just how exactly I missed those mistakes the first time ‘round, but it also was a good experience for me. It made me realize that I’m now at the point where I can watch out for these mistakes in future writings, something I am grateful for. It also reinforced the wisdom behind writing as much as possible (I sometimes think a better name for me would be “writing addict”).

Some of the problems I came across in completing and revising old material:

--Irrelevance. Sometimes more words are used than needed (such as “an annual event held every year” or “another planet besides Earth”) or sentence 2 repeats sentence 1. This is a common error I see in a lot of other writing, even published work.

--Passive writing. At every chance possible, it’s better to use an active voice. It keeps readers interested (a plus if you’ve got a loooong article for them to read). I noticed quite a bit of this cropping up in my own work. Good thing they hadn’t been submitted yet!

--Unresearched "fact." Don’t say something that looks like a fact unless you know for sure it is. “Everybody knows that over 5 thousand small businesses started up last year.” Um, are you sure? If you’re gonna make a statement like that, cite a report saying so. In my case, however, I noted someone said something in their article but I wasn’t 100% sure that’s exactly what he meant. I had to hunt that article down and find out. Always check your “facts.”

--Poor writing. Words like "with" (as in "tools to write with") and "right where" (as in "keep these notes right where you can see them") are useless. Use something sparing and avoid those pesky prepositional phrases.

Writers are always told that after they write something to “let it breathe.” Sometimes you need to put something away for a longer period just to ensure it’s the best piece of writing you can put out there later on. Trust me, that wait is worth it. Use it every chance you can. Write something, put it away for later revisions, then go write something more.