"Writing itself becomes the subject of the writing course..."

 — Michael Carter       


On Revising Our View of Revision

April 19th, 2016 by

I realize that I write a great deal about revision. It seems to go with the territory (the territory of being a teacher who is trying to write.)

This past week, I decided to get an old project out and rework it. I’d been thinking about making some major changes for quite a while, and this seemed like the time to try it. These urges come as I live and learn new things.

I should add that the computer really facilitates (or perhaps enables) this process. I love being able to cut and paste in a few key strokes rather than literally putting scissors and tape to my old drafts. I love being able to highlight text and move it to a new file, keeping the old file together as a step I might return to.

That’s what I did. I copied the first forty pages or so of my novel to a new file and began the process of telling a new story, one that didn’t have all the baggage of the next two hundred pages of a different direction. On a side note, this is what makes writing so rewarding, being able to do what we can’t do in life–to go back to a previous time and live it out differently.

Doing this was productive. I learned important new things I couldn’t have learned with the old story in the way. New details emerged about a key character and his relationship to his brother. As I began to write with his new direction, I began to see how this new information could fit with the old story line. But I couldn’t have seen it if I hadn’t changed my focus by revising.

End of the Semester
These are exciting, major changes. And they come as just one example of how writers revise their work. The old cliche about the potter’s wheel and the clay fits here. I’ve watched potters throw a wonderful vase and then crush it and begin all over again, just to find out what is in the clay. Novelists, poets, writers of all sort do similar things with their stories all the time.

Currently, my students are working on their major projects, and many of them seem content to merely stay with the one rough draft they’ve written. Oh, they will try a little editing before they hand it in, but they aren’t interested in working with the draft any more. They don’t see that it has any more potential in it than they’ve already discovered.

I understand this. My first year students are doing this. Some of them are writing about writers, and it is very telling to see them seeing their chosen writers through the lens of their own assumptions.

For example, one is writing about Jane Austen. According to this project, Austen wrote her novels the same way my student writes her papers: one draft, an edit, and done.

I have challenged this idea in my class. The verdict is still out on whether or not this revision about revision will happen.

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Comment by Nancy Brashear on April 19, 2016 at 7:01 pm

Tom–I love what you wrote about revision. I’ve been revising a novel that took a nap for a long time! “Resting the work” first is good because it gives one perspective. Now, I’m approaching it with new eyes, and I’m working on one scene per day. I like how I can fine tune, remove sections, and add new text all while shaping my work. While writing original drafts can be exciting, I find they are simultaneously exhausting! The editing process takes me about the same amount of time as the original writing but feels easier (yet still creative). Two different hats–and my brain won’t let me wear them at the same time!!

Comment by Tom on April 19, 2016 at 7:05 pm

Thanks, Nancy. I love that image that your novel “took a nap.” That says it well. I’m glad that you are making progress as well.

Comment by Carla McGill on April 20, 2016 at 10:53 am

I like your thought that we can live something out differently through revision in our writing. What a wonderful perspective! Many blessings to you, Tom, and to Nancy, for completing your novels, and I am hoping the same for mine, which is currently having not just a nap, but a long sleep.

Comment by Tom on April 20, 2016 at 11:01 am

Here’s to waking that novel of yours up from its hibernation, Carla!

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