Revision, Revision, Revision!

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When I teach my First Year Writing English classes, one of the points that I emphasize heavily is the need for writers to revise their work. Many beginning college students assume that writing should appear magically finished and correct after the first draft, an assumption that I attempt to dispel quickly. I speak of how the word itself—revise—mean “to re-see, to re-imagine, and then to act on that re-viewing of the draft.” Included in their revision process is the use of peer evaluation of their drafts, in which they read and respond to each other’s work under my guidance. I have to say how proud they make me as a teacher, because most students take this work seriously and improve their writing as a result. With my first year students, I generally have them do 3-4 drafts of each paper before submitting it for a grade.

I thought of this process as I worked on the second draft of my future history novel, and I realized the enormity of work ahead. Like my students, as I read and considered the first draft of this novel, I recognized so many points that need to be evaluated and rewritten.

The first major task I had to complete was ordering the chapters into the proper sequence, which was especially challenging because I always draft all my writing by hand on legal pads. This first draft was a pile of tablets sitting next to my desk.

Then I started to examine each chapter to decide if it was needed or not. Some would be cut and some would stay. Then, I began the actual act of rewriting those remaining chapters, using the assumption that everything can be redone and improved. As I worked on this revision, I realized that there were also missing pieces, so I constantly noted where I needed to develop sections and where new chapters should be included.

At this point, I am approximately one third of the way through the second draft of this novel. I hope that I can complete it, the 2nd draft, by the end of this year. Then I will put it aside for a few weeks before reading it again and beginning work on the 3rd draft. At this point, I then ask several trusted people to read the text and give me unflinching critiques, an absolutely crucial part of the process.

In my academic side of writing, I am currently gathering material for an idea that is still in the very beginning stages as well as beginning work on an academic book that I will base on part of my Ph.D. dissertation. I will speak of this more during a later post.

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20 thoughts on “Revision, Revision, Revision!

  1. Bill Feeney

    Chuck,
    I really enjoyed this particular blog. As someone who is currently in the midst of major revision for one of my dissertation chapters I can commiserate about the immense amount of work involved. I just spent the better part of three hours cultivating a single paragraph. It’s tedious to be sure, but the satisfaction I feel when reading the final product is what makes the entire process so worthwhile.

    Bill

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  2. Editing is such an important part of the writing process…I enjoy the process because with each edit/rewrite (I go through about six or seven edits) the storyline and characters come alive and begin to pop off the pages. My passion is writing but unfortunately I lack the skills to be a good story “teller”…now that is an art in itself!

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  3. Hi there. I’m interested in the fact that you write out your first draft by hand. How do you think it affects the style you write with? I find that when I write it out, it slows me down (in a positive sense), resulting in a more measured pace. However, the complaint I have is that I lose a sense of how much text I’ve produced, resulting in somewhat unpredictable paragraph lengths, etc. Perhaps this is simply a matter of not doing enough by hand and not having a good sense of the “volume” yet.

    By the way, I am only now getting a chance to look at some of your older posts. It’s very nice to read posts by someone who approaches writing (and blogging about it) with such intentionality.

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    • Writing the first draft by hand does not affect my writing style. It does allow my to focus my concentration, and it does slow my thinking process. It also, however, creates, quite the interesting logistics problem for moving from the initial draft, usually a pile of legal tablets, to the second draft on the computer.

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      • I hear you there. I generally write on a pad when I’m travelling and working on a laptop would be less convenient (or impossible). It would be an interesting discipline to try an entire first draft by hand.

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  4. Curiously enough, I find that I take revision much more seriously on this blog than I ever did for any college papers. In my undergrad years I nearly always got an A even with just an outline and a final draft, and I’m ashamed to say that back then my main concern was my grade. My blog is completely different though. Knowing that anyone could read it, and that I’m writing about material I truly care about, means that I spend more time re-reading/editing my draft posts than I ever did in school.

    I wonder if this speaks to any potential drawbacks of the way we try to get students to learn? By putting so much emphasis on a token economy (i. e. grades), are we actually eroding some students’ intrinsic motivation? Perhaps the current system encourages some students to do what they need to get a grade they deem acceptable, but no more. I don’t have any answers to these questions; they’re just spontaneous thoughts I had while writing the above comment.

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    • Josh, You raise really important points about some issues in the education system. I think another problem is mandating that the students write too many papers. I would rather they work hard on revisions on fewer papers than turn in a steady stream of new essays. I do emphasize revision in my class, including a requirement that they submit all the drafts with the final copy.

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  5. I can’t tell you how many times I re-read my blogs before I press publish in many different ways. I write in word, copy to my blog, after my son checks it first. Then I read it in preview several times as I make changes along the way. Sometimes it sits for days while I ruminate. Then I pray I’ve found most of the flaws. 🙂 I’m not schooled in writing so I have to take extra care. You are correct that all writing should be revised. I even write letters on the computer and revise there before handwriting them onto paper.

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  6. You have some very fortunate students. I completed my graduate degree in English only a year and a half ago. As part of my thesis, I wrote several children’s poetry picture books. My mentor had me at the hair-tearing point with revisions on the first book. It was the last line she believed weak. She told me the book had a very good chance of getting published and that I needed to approach it with such respect. I hashed out that line OVER TWO WEEKS! I’m glad for the lesson in humility she taught me. The book is scheduled to be published in 2017.

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    • That is an excellent question. I tell my students that writing is never finished, but it is due. So I think when it is ready to be published is the best answer. I have done 10 drafts of my first novel so far. I am hoping that will be done very soon! But I also try not to let revision interfere with new drafting. I always am drafting a new first draft while revising another.

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  7. Khaya Ronkainen

    This is an inspiring post, more especially with editing process. Editing is crucial, but I hope to get to a point where I can let go of my novel manuscript because “perfection itself is imperfection.”

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Once upon a time I loathed the idea of anyone reading the stories I wrote. When I finally got up the courage in my early 20s, I found even the slightest critique, such as a word spelled wrong, felt like I’d been slapped. It took me another ten years to understand that those people were trying to help me not smack me down. I’ve learned to LOVE my Beta Readers and the little notes and corrections they make on my manuscripts. Do I always follow their advice? Hell, no. I do take every note into consideration though. I started the novel that’s being released this coming fall in 2012. The 4th draft spent six months out of my hands and mind. I’ve spent another six months revising it even more and will do so again once I get the proof. If it weren’t for deadlines, I could linger over it six more months, but eventually you have to hit that APPROVE button and move on, hoping for the best. – What is your novel-in-progress about?

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