First Draft vs Final Draft: The Revision Process

December 4, 2017

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One of the best, more satisfying feelings there are when writing something is the joy of putting the final "The End". You have spent a lot of time and effort on researching, thinking of dialogues, developing characters, thinking about the right words to write down at each point of whatever it is you're working on. However, sorry for disappointing you: you are not done, perhaps not even close. "Why?!" you might say. Hey, no need to yell. Allow me to dissect this topic into smaller pieces, so you can understand what I mean, and why it is so important to the writing process. 


Write drunk, edit sober


Do I have to get a couple of shots of vodka every time I want to write? Of course not: don't take me so literally. Well, some people do, but that's another story. What I am trying to say is that, whenever you start writing, regardless of the mental process you personally go through, you should not worry about details, and you should not overthink: they are not important right now! Who cares if you wrote the word "car" three times in the same sentence? Definitely not a drunk person.


Allow me to break this down a little further. At the time you are writing, your mind is pouring out the ideas for whatever it is you are writing about at that exact moment. Your brain is focused. Well, let me rewrite that: Your brain is focused. Yeah, that's better. So, at the moment you stop to think "Oh! What other way can I call a car? I can say vehicle. What else? Let me look up for synonyms", at that exact moment, your mind losses its concentration, because you have changed the task it has to focus on. You are breaking the mental process your brain was going through. By the time you fix those minor issues and get back into your writing, you might have a little trouble recovering the pace. Therefore, stay drunk: just keep writing and writing until you complete this process.


Diving into the Revision Process


Great! We did it! We got to the end of our first draft. Now, allow me to put this right out there: You are not done, not even close. Say it out loud: "I am not done yet". Most people underestimate the importance of the revision process, but truth is: it is the most important part of the whole creative process, at least if you are striving for a quality final product.


Your first draft, like we said before, was just a constant pour of ideas, of whatever reached your mind first at the moment of writing. Think of it as the skeleton of your piece of writing: it doesn't look very good on its own, but it shapes the rest of the body. The ideas you have already written not necessarily had to be organized, or logical, or correctly written. That's where the revision process becomes relevant. Revision is the part of the process that focuses on identifying spelling, logical, or grammatical mistakes, and puts effort into fixing them. This process's main goal is to turn your first draft into a great story/essay/paper: your final draft. 



How should revision be addressed?


The ideal way of revising –highlight the word ideal– is by reading your whole document from beginning to end, going through every sentence, every idea, every word. However, you need to keep in mind you are not reading as a regular reader: you will be reading as a critic, the worst one you can be –which, in this context, the worst one is actually the best one. During this process, you have to keep asking yourself a series of questions, in order for you to figure out if your draft is growing in the right direction:

  • Is this the best way of phrasing this idea?

  • Could I have used different words for this sentence?

  • Are the ideas presented in the best order for the reader?

  • Am I leaving any blank ideas, or things unexplained?

  • Am I making my point clear to the reader?

  • Is the language adequate for the type of work I am supposed to write?

These are just to mention a few. Anyways, these ideas, they must be relevant to you during the revision process, not during the writing process. Knowing when to do each part of the process will help you improve your writing process –forgive the repetition. Of course, the more you write, the more aware you will become of certain things –you might unconsciously avoid the redundancy of a word five times throughout a paragraph as you become more skilled–, but let's highlight once again a key word in this idea: unconsciously. Let that be a technique developed by your brain in the background, not something you actually think about at first, or try to focus on.


Revision may not be the same for every piece of paper


Every type and piece of work has their own peculiarities, and these force you to adapt to whatever you are writing, in order to know what or how to revise. Of course, grammar errors should be addressed regardless, as well as coherence, and many others. However, there are things particular to certain types of texts. Citations, for example, are proper of research papers or documentation. Dialogues are exclusive to narrative texts —such as novels, scripts, short stories, and anything similar. Amounts, graphs, and tables are common on formal and technical reports and thesis documents. Each of these are revised differently. I am not going to dive too deep in each of these, but just give you the thought so you can be wary that every revision process is pretty unique. 


Also, on the same page, each type of text may have different ways to approach the revision process, and different things to focus on. In an essay, for instance, each paragraph has a different role on your overall text, and they have their own rules. Essays may be revised by paragraph —since they all have different functions. Your introductory should include your thesis statement, and your conclusory paragraph shouldn't include any new information, so at the revision process, each paragraph requires you to look for different things. 


However, a novel shall be revised by chapters instead of by paragraphs, since you may consider that the independent elements of it are the chapters. For a script you may consider scenes. And so on. Keep in mind what are you revising, so you can decide what will be the best way to approach the revision process for that particular type of text. 


Final Thoughts (already revised)


Like I stated initially, the first draft is the first step, and never the last step into your final product. Regardless of how good your first draft might be, or how confident you may be that you did not commit any mistakes, you should not skip nor ignore the revision process. It is what shapes you first draft towards a good, compelling, successful final draft. 


Let me know in the comment section below your thoughts on this topic, and if you found it useful. Thanks for reading!

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