It’s not quite there yet. Draw a line through a word, a sentence, or a whole paragraph. Carrot up to a different adjective to make a phrase sound better. Circle a section and draw an arrow to the beginning or the end. Replace the lead with a poem or conversation.
That’s how we used to revise a piece of writing by hand. Now, I change things in as many ways as I can create them: with a computer, it’s fairly easy when copy is saved to a file (“fairly,” because I have been known to get into some deep doodoo when it comes to technology). I backspace to erase, hold the touchpad to highlight, and then cut, or copy and paste. Even more fascinating than the word processing programs which have been around for awhile are online sites for bloggers.
Take WordPress, which sponsors the blog you are reading now. So far today I have made six revisions (I know because it tells me in the margin). Before I’m done, that will be at the twenty-five plus mark. I can change the title, which I just did. I can add or subtract pictures or remove something that just doesn’t belong. But if I change my mind about it, I can go back and look at each revision to get back what I thought I didn’t want. I type phrases that don’t make sense to anyone but myself, to help me remember my train of thought, and delete them when I’m finished. Best of all, I think, is that I can view the blog as it will look when published. And after it has made it to the world wide web, it can be updated. Never has publishing been more slick or immediate. Can there be too many revisions? Right now, I’m up to eighteen.
At some point, one has to stop. Or does one? If I went into the idiosyncrasies of being a perfectionist who has to get everything JUST RIGHT, it would be more than you wanted to read. And cause more revisions, of which this piece has now had twenty-five, because I’ve been fiddling with the artwork.
Blogs are one thing; books are another. I revised the manuscript for my book a great many times, sometimes entire chapters, before submitting it to the publisher. Then, we went round and round on proofreading, and I had to justify several things. Funny thing was, both sides missed a few. I will never again criticize a publishing company for a small error I’ve found in one of their books. You can look at a mistake a hundred times and not see it. Then, there it is, blatantly asking the public to look at it and say, “Geez, don’t they know anything about English?”
Technology might have changed the mechanics of it, but good writing is good writing no matter if it comes from plastic computer keys, a wooden pencil, or the inky ribbon of a 1948 Royal typewriter, as David McCullough uses. Good writing is stretchable, bendable, changable. It is storytelling on paper or screen. It is worth the extra time.