Revise and Conquer

Revision is hard.

I doubt there are many writers out there who would say that taking whatever they’ve just written and doing it all again is their favorite part. Most people hate it, myself included.

It’s equally hard to teach. There aren’t many, or any, good lesson plans out there on how to teach revision because it’s a process that is unique to every writer. There are methods to work through a story, and try to sort out the problem parts, but the way to fix those is almost always left up to a delicate agreement between conscious and unconscious brain.

And I don’t know about your conscious brain, but mine is a little slow on the uptake as far as identifying solutions goes. I frequently have written myself a way out of a particular problem, and it takes me months to realize what’s right in front of me.

I tried color coding, with my (K)indred students. I gave them a rainbow of colored pencils, and a checklist of things to look for in their stories. We started small.

For example: Are there physical descriptions of all your characters? Highlight those red.

How about what they’re feeling? Highlight them orange.

Passages where you talk about the setting? Green.

Conflicts? Blue.

Conflict resolution? Purple.

Then it was easy to go back through the stories and, at a glance, figure out what was missing. Or what there could be more of, in order to fill in and flush out the story.

Revision time came at a sticky point during the year, too. My day job is in an accounting office, and during tax season it is impossible to take time off. As a result, I met with students twice in January, where we did some revision exercises and then not again until the end of April.

Even though their classroom teacher was awesome and met with them a few times without me, it was hard to have any kind of continuity in the lessons. I gave them what I could and more or less tossed them into the revision waters to fend for themselves.

A final thing that makes revision tricky, is not having anything to revise. When I do this again, I need to build into the program more time for the kids to work on their stories. They got a good start during meetings, but I left them to their own devices to finish stories over the Christmas break. Understandably, homework for an extracurricular activity didn’t get done. Much of the time spent in January that could have been for more revision exercises was devoted to standing over their shoulders making sure they were finishing their stories.

I did my best to impress on them that it was important to have something to work with, no matter how bad it is at first, but that didn’t exactly stick with all the students.

In the end, they all ended up with all, or most, of a story on paper, even if they finished it the night before they presented it to an audience. Procrastination is one of my downfalls, too.

Maybe in the future, if the inspiration strikes them, they’ll revisit those stories and continue to improve.

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