Thoughts on the Process of Re-envisioning, by Eva Polites

Revision. My students shudder when I run rough draft workshops in class. They love revision as much as they love peer review. Which means they loathe revision. The problem is most students don’t see themselves as writers. They see themselves as students who have to complete assignments and jump through unnecessary hoops—ie revision—to get to the finish line.

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I suspect most writers started as students who reluctantly fixed a few commas, typos, and word choice issues before handing in a final draft. Somewhere along the way, a few students turn into writers. The path can be a long and convoluted one or short and direct.

The methods of revision employed by writers are as different as the experiences of each emerging writer. Oh, I can provide students/writers opportunities to try different revision methods and techniques, but I cannot say one is better than another. So the following is what I have discovered (through trial and error) works for me. I should also point out that it is what works for me at the moment.

Initially when I started writing, I brought with me my revision techniques from college and graduate school. I started writing my story and then revised as I wrote. This works well for a shorter work, but I soon realized that I lost momentum and creativity by stopping and revising/polishing on the spot.

The slow progress became tedious. I also discovered that as I wrote my ideas came more quickly if I didn’t stop to agonize over word choice, wording, and punctuation. I had to let go of my tried and true method of producing a semi-polished first draft. My first drafts needed to be just that—first drafts with all their ugly warts of overused wording, sloppy punctuation, and glaring holes in action and logic.

Once I gave myself the freedom to write, I found that ideas and words tumbled out of me, and my fingers flew across the keyboard. Okay, I still stop, especially if I am a stuck or at the end of a chapter, and do some spot revision. However, I wait until the entire rough draft is finished before tearing into it.

The revision process actually takes me much longer than the initial rough draft completion process. I re-envision my manuscript. The first step is tackling the big picture: beginnings change, endings change, chapters get moved around, characters are eliminated, new scenes appear, old scenes disappear. The next step is I do a full on grammar check. Line by line. Finally, I go on a search and destroy mission. Every word is fair game and the find feature in MS Word gets a work out. I especially go after the fall back words we use when we are lazy—knew, felt, understood, thought (know, feel, understand, think).

Once I have given the manuscript its first full re-envision/revision, I turn it over to critique partners—some who are avid readers and some who are also writers themselves. After I receive the feedback, I start the revision process anew. At this point, the hardest part is to stop revising and walk away. However, this compulsion to tweak makes the prospect of starting a new work in progress so appealing because I can start fresh, and it will be awhile before I have to revise again.

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3 Responses to Thoughts on the Process of Re-envisioning, by Eva Polites

  1. Sandy Asher says:

    Another part of the problem is that beginning writers — of any age — have never seen anyone rewrite. They know actors, dancers, and musicians rehearse and rehearse and athletes have long practice sessions throughout their careers. But what do professional writers do? As far as anyone else can tell, they write and having written, they move on. That’s why I edited WRITING IT RIGHT! HOW SUCCESSFUL CHILDREN’S AUTHORS REVISE AND SELL THEIR STORIES (http://writersbookstore.com). The Institute of Children’s Literature published it for aspiring authors, but I very much had classroom teachers in mind, too, as the 20+ examples of published stories for K-12 — and the earlier drafts they went through — can be used to inform and inspire.

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