A Simple Revision Trick

(I’m sure I’ve shared this trick in the past, as I do often with people, but here it goes again.) Say you need to revise a piece you’ve recently written. Best thing to do is shelve it for awhile, until the text isn’t fresh in your mind. But you don’t always have time for that. Such is freelancer life.

What I do in those situations is twist the layout in Word. Let’s start with the first page of a draft, my story from Don’t Read This Book. Here’s how I start, with the defaults in Word for Mac 2011:

Then I do four things:

  • I change the layout from portrait to landscape.
  • I switch to two-column layout.
  • I change the font family. If I’m using a serif font, I’ll go sans-serif or monospace. Vice versa. Sometimes I also change the font size.
  • I use line-and-a-half spacing. This is partly a holdover from back when I printed material to revise or edit.

With that done, a really neat thing happens: the line breaks shift. See, we’ll often get hung up on text as it is on the page, not just the words as they are. So by changing that, making the lines look different and the font making the letter shapes slightly different, it shifts from pure visual memory into a fresher space.

See, when we’re reading the familiar, we fill things in our minds — not just textually familiar but visually so. This is to short-circuit that.

See for yourself. Grab the PDF with both versions as two separate pages.

Granted, what I’m showing you is the final version that you’ll see in Don’t Read This Book. I’m a bit too embarrassed by the first draft to share that one. :) Anyway, I hope this trick helps you out.

This idea has inspired Rob Donoghue to try something similar — use one writing tool for initial writing, and another one with a different layout for revision. I look forward to hearing about his results.

– Ryan


3 Responses to A Simple Revision Trick

  1. Wayne Zombie says:

    That is an excellent suggestion! I prefer two-column layout for my card game rules, but usually I’m doing full page when in development or revision.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Thanks! This trick came to me in 2007, when I put some text in layout and noticed all sorts of new problems — copy & development issues. In any case, I intentionally avoid making this draft look like what I expect in layout, that way there’s a third point where I’m able to look at text fresher, at least from a final proofing pass perspective.

      – Ryan

  2. JDCorley says:

    I have always said that when you’re stuck you should change the font. The two column idea is great too!