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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

3 Ways to Use Fresh Eyes to Revise

Whee! I'm on spring break. I had nothing planned on one particular day, so I headed to the local library, laptop in hand, to work on my current WIP.

Since it's been days weeks months since I last worked on it, I decided to read it through, at least part of it, before picking up where I last left off. (It's only 26,000 words so far, about 50 pages of single-spaced typing. I envision it being a middle-grades historical fiction novel.)

Immediately I remembered I'd started it in past tense, but then midway decided to write it in present tense, since the story centers around just a few days in a young man's life. I want the reader to feel like they're experiencing the events right alongside the boy.


What started as a quick skim became a nit-picking session... and I realized that my screw-up could be a good thing... which made me think of a couple more ways I could freshen up my eyes when it comes time to revise.

1) Have an ulterior motive. Perhaps you're looking to infuse the piece with more sensory details. Maybe you want to include a particular thread--here and there--throughout the piece. Maybe, like me, you need to make sure the tense is consistent.

Going through a WIP, line by line, with another goal in mind, will allow you to revise with a fresh outlook. While I was tinkering with the tense, I saw all kinds of other things I needed to tinker with. Some phrases that didn't match the tone. Some details I forgot to include. Through careful reading, I took care of several birds with one stone. The revision that took place happened naturally and efficiently.

2) Find someone who's in the dark--preferably someone who's not in love with your writing--and have them read your manuscript.  Your head may be so full of what life was like during the middle-ages that the details are leaking out your ears. However, the typical reader is not an expert like you are. An honest reader will fill you in on parts where they got lost. (I have a 7th grade student who doesn't like to read, but has offered to read my WIP when it's finished. Hopefully he won't have three grandchildren by the time that happens.)

3) Write a book blurb. Imagine the "blurb" that would be on the back of your book. If you can't sum up your story into 150 words or so, you might need to work on your story.  (Trust me, I've been there, and if I can't even figure out what my manuscript's about, how can I think the reader will be able to figure it out?) You might even think of what artwork would be on the cover. If the blurb or the cover you envision doesn't match your story, you need to rethink your vision/manuscript.

For your current WIP, what would you include in your blurb? And do you think my "present tense" idea is a good one? 

Sioux Roslawski is a middle school teacher, a freelance writer and a dog rescuer. Currently, she's interested in finding a publisher who could be bribed by a batch of the best fudge west of the Mississippi. To read more of Sioux's writing, go to her blog.


  1. Sioux, the choice of using present tense is a powerful one! Personally, I've tried it before and it's hard to pull off, but there are some writers who do it well. Chuck Palahniuk comes to mind--almost all of his novels are written in the present tense and they are amazing. Your WIP sounds interesting. I like that it takes in a few days in a young man's life, and I think using present tense will pump up the intensity. Happy Spring Break!

  2. Angela--Thanks for the encouragement. I love Palahniuk's books. ("Haunted" is one of my all-time favorites.)

  3. Sound advice!

    When I read your title, I thought you might have included a picture of that eyeball sculpture that's on your blog.

  4. Val--No. That eye is too busy keeping track of your antics, now that you're retired...

  5. That photo you chose for this post is terrifying! :) I read so many stories where people naturally change tenses (and they shouldn't), but I never thought about the fact that it is a sign that they might need a revision. That's interesting to me. I think I have written in present tense for one short story and it's because it is the way it came out. I think there is something to listening to the voice that just comes out. :)

    Have fun on your spring break!

  6. Margo--I completely agree with you. Being attuned to the voice, to the force that's driving the story--it can lead to a powerful ride.

  7. I like this article. Your points are well taken. I usually write in past tense, but recently found myself free writing in present tense, and the piece actually flowed. Now if I TRY to do this, I run into my own roadblocks and find myself editing faster than I write. So I guess every writer has to find what works. Spring break, oh yeah, those days fly by, don't they?

  8. Linda--Because of your comment and Margo's, I'm feeling confident. I think you're spot-on in your thinking. If we force it, it won't happen. However, if we let the story take over and dictate things, we might be surprised with the results.

    And isn't every week Spring Break for you and Bill? Color me just a bit green...

  9. Present tense? I tried it once and it was just painful. Maybe that means it was a bad choice for the manuscript? Maybe I'll play with it (the tense) again.

  10. Sue--I've never tried it before, but it seemed like it was a natural choice for this piece.

  11. I struggle with tenses, and have a tendency to change them throughout a story or book, so I appreciate your post!

  12. Mary--I am struggling with it, but am almost finished with correcting all the tense changes, except for "said." Do I always write "says" when writing in present tense, like when I have dialogue?

    Oh nooooo!


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