By Sharon May
My writing has taken two forms over the years -- academic essays and fiction. In pursing degrees in English and American Literature at the undergraduate and graduate levels, I’ve written at least fifty academic essays. At one point in my life, I was very good at writing them, winning writing awards at two graduate schools.
I was so proficient at writing academic essays, I didn’t have to revise to earn an A. I revised one 20-page paper when I was required to do a ten minute reading of it. Honestly, that was the only academic paper I ever revised.
So as an academic writer, I never really learned to revise my own words, which is ironic since as an instructor of writing, I help students revise their writing all the time. I can explain the concepts and steps in revision, but rarely applied that knowledge to my own writing.
For the past two summers, I have begun writing fiction again. During that time, I have had to learn how to revise. At first, I wasn’t sure where to start, and finally with one story, I decided to imagine I didn’t even have a draft and start a new version of the story. That kick-started my revising. As one can imagine, my writing has improved dramatically. Belonging to the writer’s workshop has given me ideas and guidance for revision so I look forward to the meetings.
One benefit of revising is that now when I’m drafting something new, I’m questioning myself as if I’m already revising. This has helped prevent mistakes I would have previously produced. So far, drafting this way has not interfered with the flow of ideas from brain to paper, and therefore I take this as positive growth in my writing process.
In my journey into revision, I started reading online articles about revising fiction. While reading, I came across “12 Writing Fiction Checklists” on the website Fiction Notes. I have found these checklists useful to help me evaluate my writing, which leads to new possibilities.
Of all the quotes I’ve read online about revising, I think Colette (Casual Chance, 1964) reveals the power of revision best when she says, “Put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.”