“Books aren’t written - they’re rewritten. Including your own. It’s one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.”
“The great thing about revision is that it’s your opportunity to fake being brilliant.”
“The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon. You can always do it better, find the exact word, the apt phrase, the leaping simile.”
“I have rewritten - often several times - every word I have ever written. My pencils outlast their erasers.”
I’m always amazed to hear the sense of conviction - and oftentimes the sense of joy - in an author’s voice when he or she is talking about the process of revision.
You’re not going to get that same sense of conviction - or joy, for that matter - from most of my 7th grade writers. To the reluctant writer, ‘revise’ can be a four letter word. Let’s face it: writing is hard work, and rewriting? Well, that’s just hard work . . . all over again. And yet most accomplished authors will tell you that revising well is the secret of writing well.
That’s why I was so glad to have found Kate Messner’s book on teaching revision to students in grades 3 to 9 called Real Revision. Messner is a real author and a real teacher (of 7th graders, no less), so she knows about writing and she knows about teaching. It’s no wonder then, that Real Revision reads like the genuine article, real strategies to use with real children in real writing contexts.
Even the tone of the book - conversational and relaxed - was real and something I truly appreciated. I felt as if I were sitting in the teachers' lounge with a trusted and very knowledgeable colleague who had taken some time to share her secrets with me.
In fact, Kate Messner invited many of her YA and middle grade author friends to join us in the ‘lounge,’ and after a brief profile highlighting book titles and major achievements, each author shares his or her expertise, trusted strategies, personal struggles with and triumphs through the revision process. I certainly plan to share many of these informative and entertaining pieces with my students, who will, no doubt, benefit from seeing how central a role the revision process plays in the writing lives of all of these accomplished authors. Accompanying each of these author snippets, is a ‘TRY IT’ page, instructions for a revision strategy that can be used as-is in the classroom.
Here’s my copy of the book. See all the sticky notes? Those are just some of the good ideas that I’ll be trying out in my classroom this coming year.
In fact, by the time I finished the book, I felt it necessary to create a table of the sticky notes I made so that I’d be able to see all of my notes in one place.
Some of the BIG ideas that will stick with me:
- writers need time away from their drafts before they revise
- encourage the quick and crummy first draft
- revision is a big process: break it down
- start with the big stuff (themes, purpose, organization) and end with editing
- make outlining and research part of the revision process
- make the process of revising more visual (Who knew you could colour-code, map, draw diagrams, use sticky notes, coloured pencils and highlighters, index cards, etc.?)
I’m not going to even try to give you any of the juicy details here, the actual revision strategies themselves. You need to read the book for those, and you’ll just have to take my word for it - there are many. What I will say is that revision IS hard work, but Messner shows teachers ways to make it easier for students, to make it fun, and to help students see revision as a necessary, important and real part of the writing process.