Revisit, Revise, Republish
Resurrect your best ideas — the perks of writing in pixels rather than print.
Garrett Kincaid – May 06, 2023
I have 100 paperback copies of my self-published book in two cardboard boxes in the trunk of my car. Those boxes are in my car in a parking garage in New Jersey because the space under my bed is stuffed with my ski gear, which is more valuable — both financially and emotionally — than those books.
I get a special pleasure from correcting comma splices; resolving disagreements between subjects and verbs; cutting adverbs; and creating compound adjectives with my hero, the hyphen. I’m hyper-sensitive to senseless fragments and lists that omit the Oxford comma. But none of those crazy compulsions are a problem because I get to scratch the itch all day, working as the Editorial Director at Write of Passage.
My affliction only causes me pain when I read something that I can’t edit, something that’s been published online or — worse — in print.
Before I had a blog, I wrote a book. It has too many adverbs, embarrassing typos, convoluted sentences, and the kicker: I no longer agree with some of my ideas. The beauty of a paperback book is that you can hold your words in your hands. The tragedy is that you can no longer revise it. (1)
Don’t buy my book. Read my blog instead. I’d rather a reader’s first impression be what I wrote last week than what I’ve published in print. My book doesn’t meet my editorial standards, but everything on my website does.
This is the benefit of writing in pixels rather than print: with a few clicks, I can edit my published work. It’s a freedom and an opportunity that online writers too often overlook, or take for granted. You don’t have to keep cringing at that typo. You don’t have to settle for your fist stab at an idea. You can revise your published work.
Writing Is Circular
This week, don’t write a new essay. Revise last year’s essay.
Steeped in the consistency-culture of online writing, we treat writing as a linear process. Week after week, we draft, edit, and ship to stay relevant and compete in the content regime. But writing is not a linear process. Writing is circular.
The process is more like this:
Steps 4–6 are optional but encouraged: revisit, revise, republish.
An essay is only complete because you've decided to stop revising it. It could always be better. You could always return to it and make edits forever, either approaching perfection or mutilating the piece along the way. But regardless of the outcome, revising your work will make you a better writer.
Don’t overlook yourself as a source of inspiration.
I record voiceovers for most issues of my newsletter, and whenever I’m stuck in an intellectual draught, I shuffle that playlist. Hearing my old ideas reminds me of the topics I care about and the questions I want to explore. I revisit my work often, to get me thinking on a certain question or about how to improve what I’ve already written.
When you revisit an old essay, there are two possible outcomes:
- It helps you come up with a new idea.
- You recognize how you could improve your old idea and decide to revise the essay.
If you’re in the mood to write on a topic you’ve already covered, don’t force yourself to conjure a completely new angle or an unprecedented take. Why abandon an essay you spent ten hours creating? Treat your catalog as a well of inspiration, and draw from it often.
Focus on perfecting the essay rather than pivoting it.
When you revisit an essay, it will be obvious what changes you could make to improve it — because you're a better writer now than you were before. You'll notice mistakes that you've since eliminated from your writing. You'll notice bad habits that you're still trying to break. And, if you're like me, you'll have an itch to edit the essay.
Yet, even with the clarity of hindsight, you’re not guaranteed to succeed. Your revisions could either:
- Muddy the meaning and make your piece more confusing
- Or make your message more clear, concise, and compelling.
Usually, if your revisions are making the essay worse, it’s because you’re coercing the old words to fit a new idea. Instead of pivoting away from the old idea, focus on perfecting it. (Emphasis on the ‘ing’ there — it won’t be perfect. Just make it better, closer to perfect.)
The greatest benefit of revising your published work is that it helps you mark your progress as a writer, and it solidifies what you’ve learned. (As an added perk, it may give a little boost to your ego.) By contrasting how you write now to how you wrote then, you’ll intuit a better understanding of your voice and style. By revising your work, you’ll become a better writer.
Congratulations! You’ve made it to the final step of the writing process. (That is, until you decide to revise the essay again, of course. Check back in a few months or a year for Version 2 of this essay.) You’ve successfully revisited and revised your essay. Now, it’s time to publish the updated version.
This is important: when you go to republish your essay, don’t overwrite your work; publish a new edition. During revision, you were not repairing or polishing your old essay, like a tarnished, silver bowl; you were fabricating something entirely new — pouring fresh, molten metal into the mold of an old idea.
So, make that clear to your reader. Announce your revision, and link to the old version(s). By sharing both the old and new versions, you maintain the permanence and the integrity of the “Publish” button. Even though you could cover up your mistakes, you don’t; everything you publish remains permanently accessible. And by announcing your revisions (with a revision date at the top of the page), you invite your readers to peak into your writing process (and to be impressed by your progress).
(For an example of how to publish a new edition, see my essay: “The Sanctity of the Rose Reading Room.”)
The option to republish your old essays enhances the entire writing process. It helps you prevent perfectionism and curate your catalog. Perfectionism: If you know you can always revisit an idea and improve your essay, there’s not as much pressure for it to be perfect the first time. Curation: If you don’t love an essay and it’s dragging down the average quality of your archives, you can revise it and republish the new edition — raising the quality-bar of your catalog and curating a better body of work.
I have 100 paperback copies of The Pursuit of Purpose in two cardboard boxes in the trunk of my car, and I think I'll leave them there. Those typo-ridden books are the first of my words that I held in my hands, and they're a good reminder of how far I've come as a writer and as an editor. I bet that someday, I'll revise that book and publish a new edition. But in the meantime, I'm happy to be writing in pixels rather than print.
Resurrect your best ideas; revisit, revise, and republish your essays.
- This is a problem that all artists face the moment they ship a project. David Kadavy calls it “The Finisher’s Paradox”: “By the time you’re done, you can already do better.”