“The hardest thing: to read yourself as others read you.”
Just recently, I had the good fortune to benefit from long-time New York Times book reviewer and novelist Christian Lehmann-Haupt’s suggestions about revision — or re-envisioning as he called it. As a traveler in the world of words and books for more than 40 years, he knows a thing or two about pruning and priming prose. He offered a 10-step revision road map that definitely piqued my interest. The first five points focus on mechanics and the second five on content and style:
1) Reread for correct spelling
2) Read again for misprints and typos
3) Correct punctuation errors: Stanley’s wife Jill (as opposed to his wife Sally?) vs. Stanley’s wife, Jill
4) Read for correct usage: very unique vs. unique
5) Read for correct paragraphing: Be sure you’re allowing the reader to take a breath.
6) Read for maximum conciseness: have you said what you wanted to say in the fewest possible words? Have you left logical spaces between sentences in order to involve the reader? This “makes your writing leap off the page.”
7) Read for Logic: Does each sentence and paragraph flow coherently?
8) Read for structure: Does your essay or story have an arc?
9) Read for voice: Does your prose sing?
10) Read for Engagement: Even after you’ve read it 9 times, does what you’ve written still grab your attention?
As you gain more practice, your revision muscle will grow stronger and you can read your work 3 times and cover all 10 points. Or you can read for 5 through 10 first and then shift to mechanics. Write on!