True confession: sometimes I am as bad as my students when it comes to revision–or as it may more truthfully be called–resisting revision. You see, I can write pretty good first drafts. I tell myself that I revise as I write, and it is true that I agonize over my words and even cross out as I draft. But the truth is, once I have a draft down, I want to be done and go on to the next thing.
Yesterday, I had a chance to revisit my resistance to revision as I spent the day in a workshop with Tom Romano. (If you ever have a chance to work with Tom Romano, run to sign up as fast as you can. He is wise and witty and one of the most intense listeners I have ever encountered–a master teacher.) Through reading and discussing and writing, Romano asked me to do the things I ask of my students but that I don’t often do myself. It was good to take on the role of a student and remember the power of the things we do as teachers. I came away with a wealth of ideas, but I want to focus now on two aspects of writing: drafting and revising.
We started with a picture. I don’t know how many times in the past year I have come across writers sharing how they use sketches and doodles and images in their writing process. I even ask (insist, really) my students to draw when writing or responding to literature. I assure them that it’s not the artistic ability that matters. It’s the focus on images that is powerful. Can I draw? No. So I don’t use drawing when I draft or revise. I might be missing out on a powerful writing tool. Yesterday, I started with a picture because Romano asked me to. I didn’t follow the directions and create frames for a storyboard. Mine is more free-flowing, centered on the indelible image I chose to write about. Don’t laugh at my stick people..
The next words of wisdom offered were “Trust the Gush.” I hope Romano won’t mind if I steal this phrase to use with my 7th graders next year. Trust the words that pour out and don’t worry about them….yet. Even though I was sleepy after lunch, I did get started on a story that has been at the top of my mind for some reason this summer. I didn’t finish the draft, but I got a good start in the fifteen minutes or so we got to write.
I stared at the window crank on the car door. Which way was I supposed to turn it to close the window? For the life of me, I could not remember. And it was for my life that I had to remember.
Bees covered the outside of the window. One by one they crawled through the tiny crack that had been left open. Once inside the care, they immediately dive-bombed the two largest targets they could find–my little brother and me.
As the first few bees wormed their way in and buzzed around, I began screaming and flailing my arms around. So did my brother. It didn’t do any good. The bees kept coming in. Ten, twenty, thirty bees. I could feel jabs of pain on my head and across my arms, but I couldn’t stop it.
After what felt like an eternity, I tumbled over the seat to land behind the steering wheel. I knew I had to shut the window. My brother was beyond hysterical. My dad had run off to avoid being stung.
Not bad for a quick draft, but Romano then asked us to look for “second genius” by revising, tinkering with our words. I didn’t change much in the time we had, but I could see the impact those few changes gave to this piece of writing. That’s the power of revision that I want to share with my students. They, too, can tinker with changing verbs, cutting extra words, adding sensory details. I hope they see the power for themselves. Here are the changes I made in the third paragraph:
As the first few bees wormed their way in and buzzed around, I began screaming and flailing my arms. So did my brother. It did no good. The bees swarmed through the invisible crack in the window. Ten, twenty, thirty bees. The buzzing swelled louder than our screams. I could feel hot jabs of pain on my head and arms, but I couldn’t stop it.
I’m still tinkering and excited about where it will lead.