Tip: Revising = reading + vision.
According to Susan Bell ( The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself ):
An editor doesn't just read, he reads well, and reading well is a creative, powerful act. The ancients knew this and it frightened them. Mesopotamian society, for instance, did not want great reading from its scribes, only great writing. Scribes had to submit to a curious ruse: they had to downplay their reading skills lest they antagonize their employer. The Attic poet Menander wrote: "those who can read see twice as well." Ancient autocrats did not want their subjects to see that well…. In their fear of readers, ancients understood something we have forgotten about the magnitude of readership. Reading breeds the power of an independent mind. When we read well, we are thinking hard for ourselves—this is the essence of freedom. It is also the essence of editing. Editors are scribes liberated to not simply record and disseminate information, but think hard about it, interpret, and ultimately, influence it.
In exactly the same way, this applies to self-editing—to revising one’s manuscript.
Still, maybe you’re willing to invest many hours “working” on your manuscript without really improving it. If so, try some of the following:
~ Read what you wanted to say instead of what you wrote.
If you can extrapolate what you meant to say, surely your readers will willingly do the same.
~ Ignore the deep structure.
Focus on changing one word at a time, probably with the assistance of a thesaurus. After all, aren’t structural issues like scenario and plot composed of individual words?
~ Work from the beginning of a scene or chapter straight through to the end. Every time.
This resembles playing a musical instrument and advancing from start to finish without ever improving the weakest parts. What will you get? The good parts will eventually become wonderful. And the parts that sound cacophonous, unrhythmic, or off key? Perhaps no one will notice.
~ Entertain yourself with personal references.
Sure, readers won’t know that your family loves jokes about hot dogs at Coney Island. But you love those jokes—and it’s your prerogative to share.
~ Avoid both speaker attribution and stage business.
Readers are smart and can figure out who said what. And if not? They’ll cheerfully count back so they know who’s talking.
~ Use all the words you want.
After all, words don’t cost a thing. What’s the hurry?
Composing a decent first draft may be hard, but completing a decent revision of it is that much harder. Real revision identifies what’s over- or under-done and accepts the challenge of fixing it. There’s no substitute for the heavy lifting that revision requires. But that heavy lifting makes writers writers.