Even though I’ve been continuously bleeding thoughts into Evernote and my crinkly unlined journal, I’ve not shown anyone any of my writing. That means it’s often sloppy, and I don’t revise my work. Any thoughts of revision involve revising it later, which has not yet happened for any of my 1000+ digital diary entries, let alone the ones on paper. I’ve been editing this entry for almost an hour. The one piece I did publish (my testimony, which was only posted on Facebook and included in a booklet to a small group of friends) I revised every day for two weeks. It would’ve been longer, but that was all the time I was given. When formally writing for CoCoon HK and when writing marketing copy, I spend hours anxiously revising emails and interviews like a mad squirrel. Help!
My point? Revision is great, but it takes some getting used to. I bought a copy of ‘The Elements of Style’ for a friend this week, and took the opportunity to re-read a few pages. The differences between the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ examples were shocking, and gives a taste of what careful revision can do.
Try to read Orwell’s deliberately drained translation of Ecclesiastes 9:11:
Objective consideration of contemporary phenomena compels this conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must inevitably be taken into account.
Compare that to the original (King James Version):
I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill, but time and chance happeneth to them all.
(No words can describe this.) You don’t even have to add specificity or vividness to improve a message. By changing a few words,
Applicants can make a good impression by being neat and punctual.
is transformed into
Applicants will make a good impression if they are neat and punctual.
How beautiful is the gift of clear, living language! Here’s to writing and revising better every day.