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."