Picturing Revision: Looking at Writing through a Fresh Set of Eyes

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Earlier in my academic career, revision meant a total tear down. I would write and write and write and when I couldn’t say anything more about the topic I would start to take it apart. Whole pages and paragraphs would be sacrificed to the revision process. It wouldn’t matter if I had spent hours working on one particular idea or passage; if I didn’t like a part of what I was writing by the time I was finished, it had to go. I had a very hard time seeing the good in any of my writing I deemed verbose, or awkward, or just plain bad. This lasted pretty much all throughout my undergraduate career and threatened to rear its ugly head as I began graduate school. Papers would take me double the length of time to write because so much of my writing would get thrown out and I had to keep constantly adding to reach page limits. Was this process inefficient? Yes. Borderline crazy? Possibly. Something I could stop on my own? Nope.

It wasn’t until I start working at the Center for Writing Excellence that I figured out a solution to my problem. I would often work with students who were in the process of revising. When I pointed out sentences or passages that needed a bit of work to be stronger, students would often respond that they would just “take it out” instead. This could be a sentence or an entire page. I would almost panic, telling the student that I wasn’t saying what they had written was wrong or bad but that they just needed to re-enter their prose and tweak it to make it clearer, or to cut down on repeated ideas, etc. Though there was always some reluctance, we would work our way through those difficult parts, pull out what was great and polish what needed work. In the end, it was so much less painful and time consuming than “just getting rid of it.”

For my first  seminar paper, I made an appointment at the CWE.  I wrote out my whole essay and didn’t take out the “bad parts.”  I was so nervous at the prospect of letting anyone read my “bad” writing, but my colleagues were amazing. Rather than pointing and laughing at my horrible attempts at prose (which is what I expected), they helped me see what was good in my “bad” writing. I saved so much time and energy by having another person help me revise, I actually finished the paper early for the first time.

Now I routinely incorporate having someone else look at my paper as part of my revising strategies. My writing and my sanity are both better for it.

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