Technical Difficulties from on Top of the Mountain
2004-12-20
  Hints for revising
Brian Marick (my so-called advisor on the Masters of Fine Arts in Software pilot project) has a Great List of Hints for Revising documents.

I've had to do a lot of writing over the last two to three years (and I'm not just talking about the 60,000 words I've written on this blog), and his rules resonate with some of the things I've had to do to turn business documents from mindless zombie lists to engaging narratives that the reader might survive reading. Business plans of course are the worst. Trying to create an executive summary that will hold an investor's interest for more than 30 seconds is a black art, but one of the key's is critical review and constant editing.

One idea he mentioned I found especially useful, because as you edit the text, you tend to forget about the bigger picture:

Print the piece with a wide margin on one side. Next to each paragraph, scribble a few words about the paragraph's topic. Now read the scribbles. Do they form a progression of thought, a developing story of explanation? Or are they more like a bunch of thoughts hitched together in any old order? If so, shuffle them into a better order. (Some people cut the paragraphs out and move them around; I usually draw arrows from where the paragraph is to where it should go. I suspect the other people do better.)
One of the things that made one particularly long and dreadful project turn out pretty well was that I was writing it with a business associate. It wasn't so much that we complemented each other, but that each of us tended to zero in on the weakness of the other's writing and pound it into submission until neither of us could find fault with it. While I could have given up on many sections long before they were done, having my already weak writing re-organized and (in my opinion), redone worse, motivated me to try and redo the section in such a brilliant way that there could be no further complaint about it. The results were pretty good, but it got pretty arduous working on that document as long as we did.

But that's how you produce quality work. If you read about writing, you find that nobody writes a masterpiece the first time around. Even the classics were unbearable in their early drafts. Good writing is a process of revising, clearing out the unnecessary, and focusing on the key ideas. Its said the difference between a best seller and a timeless classic is nine revisions vs twelve. Its just a matter of patience and putting the amount of time in in proportion to your goals.

Of course, these thoughts are brought to you fresh from the keyboard and without any editing altogether. Reminds me of the old sign at Me-n-Eds Pizza:

Quality food takes time to prepare.
Your's will be ready in minutes
 
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