Take a Deep Breath

“Hallelujah! I’m finished.”

“Finished with what?”

“I’m finished with my essay.”

“That’s great. The hard part is getting that first draft finished.”

“What do you mean ‘the hard part’? What other part is there?”

“You’re going to revise it, aren’t you? I mean, I thought you were serious about this.”

“No, I don’t want to revise it. I don’t even want to look at it again. I’m finished. It’s done.”

A photograph of a person's fingers typing on a keyboard

Source: W-A-S-D, PiccoloNamek, Wikimedia

We could continue this interchange, but you probably get the idea. Once you finish an essay, it’s really hard to go back and revise it. Why not just let it be? If it seems finished, then it will probably be OK.

The problem is that what we see on the page and hear in our heads can be very different from what a reader sees and hears. Revision is the time to be a reader of your own writing. That means you have to pretend you don’t see how things connect until you’re shown how to connect them. You have to pretend that you’re coming to this essay for the first time.

One of the best things you can do to help you revise an essay is to put some time between you as a writer and you as a reader. If you can let the paper “rest” for one or two days, you will have a much easier time seeing what is there on the page. You won’t be as tempted to fill in gaps or missing connections with what’s in your head. Writers often don’t have time, however, to let an essay sit for several days. If you can give it two hours, that will help. Even just fifteen minutes may help you come back to the essay with the right attitude.

What if you were asked to read a very good friend's essay, and your friend told you it was extremely important for the essay to be clear, eloquent, and appropriate to the audience and purpose?

A photograph of students sitting around a table in a library studying

Source: circdesk, Mary Woodard, Flickr

You would read your friend's essay looking for, almost hoping for, places where it could be revised. Maybe the first thing you would notice is that the introduction sets up expectations for a different paper from what follows. You might also notice that the introduction is sort of dead. In addition to those two problems, you might realize that the conclusion is only a simple restatement of previous ideas. There are probably other things to look at, but the thesis, the introduction, and the conclusion are good places to start.

In this lesson, you will learn how to adjust your thesis so it accurately reflects the main idea of your essay. You will learn how to breathe life into a dead introduction and how to enliven a conclusion so it’s more than a mechanical repetition of material you have already covered.

The first draft really is the hard part. Revising is not nearly as hard as writing a first draft, but sometimes it may seem to you that getting yourself to do the revision is the hardest part. Just remember; revision is not optional if you are serious about your writing. You just need to take a deep breath and start.