A little bit of background here: The article is based on one of the chapters of my dissertation which lived in a box and on files on my computer and in My DropBox for quite awhile. I keep an eye on UPenn's CFP list and wanted to get back to my old publishing schedule this year (that was one of my work resolutions). So, when a call came out that asked for articles that focus on transnational regionalism, I immediately thought about this chapter from the dissertation.
The abstract went over well, and I have been walking around since November thinking about it on occasion but not really worrying about it. After all, the chapter was good enough for the dissertation, so surely it wouldn't take long. I have until April, why sweat it?
In the meantime I was working on my current big fiction project, and I had a Mardi Gras deadline (self-imposed) for the first rough draft of that text. On days when I just couldn't write fiction, though, I decided that my writing time should be focused on the article revision. I have no idea how many hours I spent on the article until yesterday, but I had returned to it several times, tinkering and adjusting.
The first task was to cut something that was about 25,000 words down to the requested length of 8,000 words. This is in addition to revising the chapter--what used to be nestled into a much larger discussion of five or six authors and a variety of short stories and novels now has to stand alone and still be less than 1/3rd the length of the original.
Fourteen hours yesterday were devoted to getting in an acceptable first draft. Any students reading this? I'm going to say that again in bold print: I spent 14 hours yesterday in my office revising a piece of writing. And that is just for the first real draft.
Why do I think it is important for students to think about this? Perhaps because I just ran a comparison of rough to final drafts and literally see papers that have no revision whatsoever in them. Sure, a paper might have two or three sentences added to it, but that isn't a revision of the paper. Simply shoving a paragraph of summary of a currernt event in at the end of the paper also isn't going to cut it.
I get it: Revision is hard. It is time consuming. Do I expect you to take 14 hours to revise your five page paper? No. But, if we think about the final length of my revised piece, it averages out to about 30 minutes per page. So, if we think about that formula, if you're writing a paper that meets the minimum requirements of 4-6 pages, you should probably plan on spending at least 2-3 hours in concentrated effort just on revision. REVISION. Not writing, not research, not editing: REVISION.
Those other tasks: drafting/writing, researching, and editing are all very different tasks from revision. Note that I had spent lots of hours between November and now researching to see what has changed since the chapter version was written and to read the new work on the basic theoretical concept at the heart of my article. These hours are not counted in those 14 hours I mention above. I still have yet to edit the piece. That is what comes probably tomorrow or later this week. After all, I have six weeks or so before the deadline, so I have given myself time to let it sit before I read it again.
Yesterday's activities were focused on content. Obviously, I had a lot of cutting to do to remove anything that was repetitive or that didn't fit. Specifically, I went through and cut out any references to material in the other chapters in the dissertation. I also had to make the choice to focus on only one of the short stories by Freeman instead of all three that were in the original chapter. After some major surgery, I was able to get the article down to under 9,000 words.
Meeting that requirement, though, didn't mean I was done. Word counts are not content. What I then had to do was make sure that the holes were filled back in without adding a huge amount of text and driving past the maximum length. The editors say "approximately 8,000 words" for the final version, which includes the references and end notes. While 4-6 pages for your paper means just the essay and is a minimum range, when writing for print publications we have to pay more attention to the maximums. I also have a submission style-sheet (much like you have an assignment sheet) and referred to it to figure out how much lee-way there really is. That style sheet informed me that submissions should be between 6k and 10k words, so I knew I had enough wiggle room to add what was necessary to fill in gaps left by cutting analysis of texts from the chapter. I still needed to talk about those stories in at least a paragraph because they are the two most anthologized stories by the author.
Even after smoothing out those jagged edges that were left by excising large chunks of text, I was not done. After a break to walk the dog, I returned to my desk and started revising for coherence and organization. As is often the case, I was able to cut and remove a lot of information at the start of the document because it was my own internal "chatter" about the topic. These were replaced by later paragraphs that were lost before. Reorganization required that I read through the entire thing, move some things, read through it again, move more things, and so on. I made about three passes of the article this way before I moved on to looking at the general structure--much like I ask you do post-draft outlines in your work, I do the same sort of "reading" to see if I can find clear signposts and connections between the readings of the individual texts in the body of the paper and the larger theoretical framework I'm using.
So, all of this to say: I get that revision is hard, but it's important. If I had simply sent in the chapter as it was with the ego-driven, "obviously this is good, it earned me my PhD and I defended it and everything!" it would probably lead to me being uninvited to the special issue. Had I simply done the edits to take out references to other chapters and still had way too much material, that likely would not have gone over well. Had I not spent a good hour making sure that I used the required format on the style sheet, I would run the risk of the draft being rejected.
The next step for me is that the article will go to the editors, who are very much like your peer reviewers and instructor review back in the first draft stage of your paper. If they like it fine, they'll send it on to two "blind readers." These folks are the ones who decide if the article is any good. They could reject it altogether or they could suggest major revisions with no guarantee that they'll take it after. Or, if I did well in the revision stage, I'll get notice that the article is a good fit and perhaps I'll have a bit of editing to do.
So, think about your revision process with care. Don't just add a sentence or plug in a paragraph. Look at the feedback I give you and consider using the same criteria I used to assess how well you've revised. Do a post draft outline and make sure you're meeting the basic expectations on the assignment sheet. Did you put in the hours? Did you truly revise? Or did you hoop jump in the last hour or two before you had to get in the paper?