LawProse Lesson #338: Revising your prose.

LawProse Lesson #338: Revising your prose.

At LawProse, we revise as much as the time will allow. For letters that may be three rounds; for briefs, ten rounds; for contracts, fifteen. For books, having more than a hundred revisions isn’t unusual.

We like what Justice Louis Brandeis once said: There is no good writing—just good rewriting.

The key to the writing process, for nonfiction, is to figure out what your points are—try to have three—and get them down quickly. Compose furiously; revise slowly. When you’re revising, weigh your words.

But don’t do that when you’re writing. Write quickly, knowing that there will be time for rewriting. Forget the idea that you’ll ever do a splendid first draft.

When you’re revising, assume that there’s an ideal way to say what you want to say. You’re trying to find it. Be explicit about your points. Be sure that you’ve actually said what you set out to say. Don’t allow yourself to be roundabout.

Approach revision playfully. Ask yourself whether there’s a better way to say what you’re trying to say. Is there a shorter way to say it? Is there a more interesting way to say it? Have you phrased things just right?

Again, don’t trouble yourself about whether you’re phrasing it just right when you’re composing. That’s a cause of writer’s block.

If you don’t know how to start revising, just try saying it differently. Hunt for synonyms. Try alternative wordings. Cut an adjective here, a preposition there. Cut a whole sentence. See whether you’re improving it.

Learn to savor words. What’s the main rule of revision? Taste. Develop and exercise literary taste. It’s a learned trait.

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