Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Dying Arts of Planning and Revision

It's raining with a high of maybe 50 degrees here. I don't mind. I was honestly kind of sick of summer, ready for something clear and sharp. But my umbrella broke this morning, half of it was just hanging straight down, making me look like a deranged Mary Poppins. Then when I got inside and tried to close it, it really broke. Into the trash it goes. Hope it's not pouring when I leave here and have to walk to the back of the parking lot to my car...

I've been thinking about writing again. One thing that systematically surprises me each semester (though by now it surely shouldn't) is the fact that many of my students don't do a "first draft." They sit down at the computer, vomit words on the page with no forethought, planning, outlines, or revision-- and turn it in. Of course, I force them to bring a rough draft in to share with peers, but I often wonder how much good that really does. I hear a lot of "That sounded good to me" around my classroom, despite my instruction on how to critique each others' work.

I think it's the computer age. Not saying people didn't do it before-- but when you're sitting down to a typewriter, you write out your paper first. You don't want to worry about mistakes as you go when you're typing on one of those things. But with word processors, we can just toss thoughts up and revise as we go. Sounds good in theory, but works like crap in actual practice.

And for Pete's sake read it, just once. So many of the students I tutor will say "It's probably not very good, I haven't read it yet..." What? I'm not a proofreader or a copy editor-- those people make lots more money than I do. I help with organization, content, thesis statements, etc. They always give me a look like they don't think their paper is in need of that. They're pretty much always wrong.

So, I keep forcing them to do outlines ahead of time and share their rough drafts before turning in a final. And I still cringe when a student says "I don't need an outline. I just write it as I go."

Not in my class, buddy. Not in my class.

(Keep in mind, I'm addressing academic writing. I know in fiction, we don't all use outlines. But there's at least some planning ahead of time, and if you're serious about your work there are always revisions, usually extensive ones)


  1. One thing I'm going to do this weekend (after I finish editing the next 15K words and send it to you guys) is read through the 2nd half of my book, write out the things I want to keep and toss the rest. Then I'll make an outline. I had an outline for the 1st draft, but I have a feeling even that's not good enough.

    Academic writing is so much easier, lol. If you change a subpoint under point A, it doesn't change four subpoints under point D.

  2. I didn't write drafts in college, though I did at least reread every single paper and do cursory proofreading before turning them in. I didn't learn how to rewrite, to really revise (revision) until grad school. Watching the likes of you rethink your work and working closely with E. Fogle (she was my partner in crime and we massacred each other's work) was vital. I think a writing partner is a great idea, and I know that as a real writer, you probably do workshopping with a lot of friends. Like what Jaimie's saying above. I don't comment here often, but I read all your posts and you inspire me. What else inspires me is autumn. I'm much more likely to write creatively in this season than in any other. Good luck!

  3. It is always so good to hear from you, Emily. I'm glad you're doing well, sorry your friend is moving. It's nice to work with people we genuinely like.

    I think it is part of my job to teach my students about revision, definitely. Some are lazy, but some just don't really understand the process. Is it weird that I sometimes miss grad school?

    Jaimes: So true. It stung so much to toss out 22,000 words of my WIP last year. Not quite the same as killing a paragraph in one of my papers for grad school.

  4. Remember when I was all "Oh Thursday night for sure?" Yeah right. Hopefully tomorrow. (I'm saying this just to scold myself -- not like you're eagerly waiting or anything, haha.)

    Speaking of throwing out 22K words, I'm reading through the first draft of the rest of my book this weekend (36K words) and I'm sure I'll be throwing out at least 90% of it, and revising the other 10%. Ah well.

    Sad thought: I was writing that first draft stuff ONE YEAR AGO. I see dates on my Word docs. Where did this year go? I wasted at least 4 months on that writing group, and the YA conference shot out 2 months too. So I guess that makes sense.

  5. Oh that first paragraph is in reference to sending you the next part.


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