January 31, 2006

Revision

Last Friday, in order to get some feedback from readers, I posted a poem that needed revision. Getting feedback was enormously helpful in getting me back into revision mode. When I took a few minutes to revise the poem on Saturday morning and posted the revision to the blog, some readers were surprised to see that the poem was in some ways more of a rough draft – that is worse in terms of language and imagery than the poem I had posted the day before.

That's the part of the revision process that drives my students crazy. Sometimes a student will give me what he thinks is a final draft of a paper, all polished and perfect, and I will ask him questions that make him rethink the concepts he is presenting. And that means he has to rip apart paragraphs of nicely worded sentences. "How come all this work is making my essay worse?" he will ask.

I explain to my students that revising written work can be like cleaning a room in your house. You empty the closet, yank stuff out from under the bed, pull things out of corners, and after about an hour of work, the room looks way worse than it did before you started. The trick is not to get discouraged, but recognize that a certain amount of chaos is a necessary part of the process. And you have to just work through the chaos, knowing that eventually everything will get sorted out and your room will look cleaner than when you started. The important thing is to persist and not quit right in the middle.

One time when I was explaining this in class, a young man sitting near the front of the room looked up with what seemed to be a revelation. "Oh, wow," he said. "This explains why my room is always a mess."

15 comments:

peripateticpolarbear said...

I call this "the only way out is through" method of cleaning.

wolfangel said...

I think that's my problem: I get stuck at the very worst point, because it looks so hopeless from there, why bother continuing?

Also, of course, because I am lazy and far prefer most other things to cleaning.

Leslee said...

What a great way of looking at it. Thanks

Loren said...

Thank goodness it's easier to finish cleaning up the room than it is to finish some of those poems still lying dormant in old, yelllowed notebooks.

But I do agree that the rewriting process is anything but straightforward. If I'm foolish enough to actually post a poem, I might spend the rest of the day going back and changing lines. And I consider anything I post on line at best a rough draft.

Laura said...

I will be borrowing that comparison in my classroom--you're right, it is so painful for students to break up their hard-earned sentences. Have to learn detachment as an editor.

Deb said...

Willingly revising poetry on your blog definitely puts today's adventures in perspective--because I was beginning to wonder if revising and putting things in order in my personal life is worth it. Think I'll keep on cleaning house. Thanks

zelda1 said...

I am one of those one draft writers, which amounts to a lot of thinking and writing while I think and revising while I think, so that by the time it's on paper, well it's almost ready to publish. The folks in my writer's group are multidrafters, with the exception of two, and they don't understand that I don't have to have house cleaning day, I just do the tidy up, a little dusting or maybe move a magazine or two off the coffee table. But, the house cleaning metaphor, great. I'll have to share that with my friends and fellow students.

Beanie Baby said...

I used to be a one-drafter--but I think my work is much better now that I'm a multi-drafter. My blogs are one-draft pieces (bang it out, clean up the typos, get it up), and they show it. But I find with a story, I usually only really know what it's about after I've finished the first draft. You're just trying to figure out who the characters are and where they're going in the first draft--if you stop there, it's half-baked. That's when you have to rip it apart, look for the metaphors and symbols, wait for the hidden messgaes you didn't even know you'd put there, let the characters get off the page and hit you on the head, and so forth. With the result that--IMO--my stories are much better than my blog posts.

NOw after I've written a first draft I won't even look at it again for a month.

Beanie Baby said...

But I should add that I think the fiction process is much different than non-fiction--non-fiction you can plan, but too much planning is deadly to fiction.

jo(e) said...

Beanie Baby: Oh, I think for almost everyone I know, blog posts are rough drafts. That makes it kind of an interesting genre, though, because the writing process is more transparent.

If I am working on a poem or an essay, I do like to let it sit between drafts so that when I look at it again, I can look at it as if it had been written by someone else.

I too like that sense of discovery when I am working on creative peices -- I myself don't know what I am trying to say until after I say it. That's the cool part about the creative process.

Girl said...

heh. I am now officially inspired to go fix the 'letter to all single men' that I have in my drafts pile. Too bad I have this pesky thing called 'work' I have to do.

halloweenlover said...

Ha! That kid may be related to me.

Love the visual, though.

bihari said...

That is a VERY helpful post. I am going to pin it up over my computer as I go into YET MORE EDITS on draft five (you read that right) of my novel.

Delighted to find you!

Rana said...

I'm laughing at - uh, with - your student. My cleaning approach is called "fling it in the direction it needs to go, then go around the room putting it away." Makes for a huge mess, yes.

Do you prefer to revise on-screen, or to print things out and scribble on them? I find that my words rarely seem very "real" unless I can hold them in my hands and scrawl all over them. (Plus it's easier to sit in a comfy chair that way, even given the laptop.)

jo(e) said...

Rana: I'm the same way. I always print things out and revise with a pen in my hand ... sitting in a comfy chair somewhere.

At some point, when the pages get too messy, I go back to the computer.