A Monthly Column by Anthony D. Fredericks
During the COVID-19 crisis, I hope you are practicing social distancing, self-isolation, and specific directives from the CDC and other medical professionals. It is certain that “we are all in this together” and what we do now will definitely impact the health and safety of ourselves, our families, and our communities. But, this is also a time to celebrate the true heroes among us—the doctors, nurses, and other health care workers who are literally putting their lives on the line to save our fellow citizens. Please honor them on LinkedIn, praise them on Facebook, applaud them on Instagram, and cheer them on Twitter. They truly deserve our recognition and respect!
Be well; stay safe!
The Truth about Revising
More than 700 students sat “criss-cross applesauce” on the floor of the gymnasium at Lake Murray Elementary School in Lexington, South Carolina. I had been invited as a visiting children’s author to talk about my books and share some insights about writing. I had also been asked to conduct assemblies, lead writing workshops, teach small-group sessions with selected students, and, most appreciably, autograph hundreds of books.
After my initial slide program, I opened up the morning assembly to questions. With their characteristic enthusiasm, the kids posed a rich array of creative queries: “My friend thinks you’re really old. How old are you?” “How much money do you make?” “Is your wife really an enchanted princess?” “If you’ve written so many books, how come I’ve never heard of you?” “What were you like as a kid?” And “My dad is really strange. Would you like to write a story about him?”
Later in the day, I was conducting a writer’s workshop for a class of fourth graders. One of the students posed the following question: “Have you ever wanted to revise any of your books after they have been published.” It was a great question and I thought about it for a while. I responded as follows: “Yes, all of them!” He was both shocked and surprised, but I continued. “You see, writing is always a process, never a product. That is to say, every piece of writing can be improved—whether it is a first draft or a published book. I would imagine that almost every writer with a book on the New York Times Best Seller List would agree that there are portions of their work that could be improved with some additional revisions—just like my books and what you are writing right now.”
As I flew back to Pennsylvania later that week I considered my remarks. I knew that the answer I had given to that young man was not was he was expecting, but I also realized that there was a measure of truth in that comment—a truth I had not considered previously. Sure, just like you, I want my manuscripts to demonstrate quality writing. And, just like you, I want my books to be embraced by legions of readers (and equal legions of teachers, librarians, and parents). But, after more than three decades as a professional author I’ve come to the inescapable conclusion that writing is seldom about creating a perfect book, but more about improving over the previous book.
In other words, revising is never about achieving perfection, but is always about creating a better piece of writing . . . and, ultimately, a better writer.
I know the books I write today are vastly different (and, hopefully, vastly better) than the books I wrote 30 years ago. My language is more dynamic, my words more precise, and my themes more creative. That change, I realize, did not come about overnight. It came about as a result of putting my butt in a chair, my fingers on a keyboard, and my prospective audiences at the forefront of my thinking. It also came from the realization that revising . . . constant daily attention to revising . . . could help me be a more accomplished writer than I was yesterday, last year, or three decades ago.
Improving as a writer is a long process . . . with a steep learning curve . . . and with lots of professional bumps, bruises, and hiccups along the way. But, I also know revising is a necessary and critical part of that process. It’s an effort to self-improve, an attempt to flesh out what is really critical in a story, and an attempt to grow as an author. Do I still have room to get better? Absolutely! Each time I change the tenor of a sentence, each time I substitute one word for another, and each time I throw out a “disaster” paragraph and replace it with a “significantly improved” paragraph I am growing. Revising a manuscript, for me, is the critical ingredient of good writing; the essential element of advancing as a children’s author.
If you are the “best” writer, then you have no room to improve; if you are a “better” writer, then your readers will be the ultimate benefactors of your devotion to revising. Bottom line: Everything improves with revision—stories and the authors who write them.
“I am not a writer, I am a rewriter.”
—James Thurber, author
A retired professor of education and resident of York, PA, Tony is an award-winning writer of more than 50 children’s books. He has also authored the recently released ebook 10,000 Writing Ideas: Essential Strategies for Every Writer (https://amzn.to/39WLZeq). [“Fredericks is a master at tapping into our creativity and supporting us to go beyond our realm.” —5-star review]