Teachers Write 8/11/14 – Mini-Lesson Monday

Good morning! Can you believe we’re starting our final week of Teachers Write 2014? It’s been so amazing reading your work, watching you share and connect and grow. I know you’re all getting ready for a new school year and so hope that you’ll bring that energy and joy into your classrooms, too.

Today’s Monday Mini-Lesson is courtesy of guest author Erin Dionne.

Erin is the author of five tween novels, including the Edgar Award nominated Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking (Dial Books, 2013). Her most recent novel is Moxie’s companion, Ollie and the Science of Treasure Hunting (Dial 2014). She lives outside of Boston and loves to talk to readers and writers. Today, she’s joining us to talk about what happens after your draft is complete.

Revision Strategies

Yay! You’ve made it through camp! Congratulations. Hopefully you are now the proud owner of a beginning, or a middle, or an end. Or a lot of beginnings and new ideas.

Now it’s time to look at the approaches to revising that beautiful, messy, something you’ve created. I’m not a fan of drafting, but I LOVE revision. That’s where we get into the thick of our stories and make them better. So here are 5 revision strategies to make your work shine:

1. Identify the heart of your story. What is this piece REALLY about? What is the big idea that you are exploring? Is it family dynamics? Self-expression? Growth? Whatever is at the heart of your story, look for places where you can develop that idea more strongly. That might mean cutting scenes, or characters, or plot lines. That’s ok.

2. Evaluate your scenes. Does each scene serve a purpose in the story? Is it revealing information, moving the plot along, or causing a conflict? If you can’t identify what purpose that scene is serving, chances are you don’t need it. Trim it or change it to work to move your story along.

3. Check your beginnings and endings. Are your first and last lines as strong as you can make them? Does your beginning hook the reader? Does the end hang on a cliffhanger? Or is it satisfying? Work on the beginning and ending of your piece until it is as strong as you can make it, then do the same for the opening and ending of each scene.

4. Get out of your characters’ way. Look for words that slow down the pace of your story or remove your reader from your character’s experience. Words like “I watched”/”I heard”/”I realized” can be trimmed and the resultant action will bring your reader closer to your character. (For example: “I watched her close the door,” becomes “She closed the door.” More active, and still from your main character’s point of view)

5. Get word smithy. Look for repeated phrases, areas where you’ve over-written (that long description of your main character’s sister’s outfit?), and unnecessary adverbs (most -ly words are unnecessary). Delete them. Look for flat writing: “he jumped over the log” and make it vibrant: “He leapt over the log.” Look for places where you can add sensory detail.

Today’s Assignment

When you are ready, go through this list and apply each step to your piece. Then do it again. And again. The more you revise, the stronger your work will be! Let me know in the comments how your piece might change from revision.

If you’d like to share some reflections on your revision goals, feel free to chat about that in the comments!

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23 Comments

  1. Posted August 11, 2014 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    These revision strategies are so concrete and so powerful! This whole camp has been unbelievable! Thanks!

    • Posted August 11, 2014 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

      Yay! So happy that you find them helpful.

    • Posted August 12, 2014 at 9:58 am | Permalink

      So glad you’re finding it helpful!

  2. Pam Vaughan
    Posted August 11, 2014 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    Thank you Erin! Your words of advice are appreciated! Thanks for making them practical and un-intimidating. Thanks for taking the time to share your expertise!

    • Posted August 12, 2014 at 9:59 am | Permalink

      You are so welcome! It’s a muddy process, but worthwhile!

  3. Posted August 11, 2014 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    All really good advice, particularly omitting any instances of “I saw” and “I remembered.” When I first heard this advice and started looking for it in my own writing, I realized how often I used it and how much better the writing was without it. “I realized” is a common one in any nonfiction. It is helpful to have strategies like these to guide the revision process.

    However, much like abstinence is the only foolproof form of birth control, for me the one revision strategy that produces any consistent results is averting my lascivious eyes from the writing for some time and revisiting it later, more objective and realistic and less enamored and starry-eyed.

    • Posted August 11, 2014 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

      Greg–Yes! Taking time away from a piece is crucial.

    • Posted August 12, 2014 at 9:59 am | Permalink

      Greg- Time away is KEY! I am a big fan of letting stuff sit and going back with fresh eyes.

  4. Posted August 11, 2014 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    Thank you so much for this information. For me #4 is the one I have to work the hardest on. I have always had a problem writing in the passive voice. I struggle to correct this all the time. I love the step by step, it is very helpful.

    • Posted August 12, 2014 at 10:00 am | Permalink

      Sandra, I’m glad you find this helpful. I also struggle with passive voice–sometimes our brain defaults that way when we’re in the thick of writing quickly. That’s why revision is so great–we can exorcise all of the passivity.

  5. Jane
    Posted August 11, 2014 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    Thank you for the great suggestions, Erin, and for being here. This is exactly the nudge I needed to chop out a plot line I’ve been suspecting isn’t working. I’m going to print this out to use again and again. My goal is to trim down the different things that are distracting from the heart of my story. It is hard to let go of scenes, but I’m coming to realize that sometimes they’re just part of learning about and developing my characters, but don’t need to stay in the story.

    • Posted August 12, 2014 at 10:02 am | Permalink

      Jane-I end up with so much that is “just for me,” in my drafts. And that’s okay–we need to get that stuff on paper as a step in developing our characters. When I cut stuff out of a manuscript, I save it in a separate document so I feel like that material hasn’t gone to waste.

  6. Tammy Petty Conrad
    Posted August 11, 2014 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    Love the concrete ideas, I’m still in the beginning stages, but every time I revised to post something (based on previous lessons) I could see many areas for improvement.

    • Posted August 12, 2014 at 10:03 am | Permalink

      Tammy-so glad to hear that! Revision can be intimidating, especially when you’re in the thick of composition, so be sure to push this stuff aside and not worry about it til you’re ready. If you get stuck revising as you go, sometimes you don’t move forward.

  7. Jennifer
    Posted August 11, 2014 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for the great ideas! I think I’m going to benefit from #4 and #5 in particular-I find these are areas in which I struggle. This mini-lesson is one that I’m sure I will return to:)

    • Posted August 12, 2014 at 10:04 am | Permalink

      Jennifer–I’m glad you’ll be going back to these. I keep a little revision checklist on a project, too, so I make sure I hit every point in my piece.

  8. Sheila Mustard
    Posted August 11, 2014 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    Erin- Thank you for the revising guidelines, they will be very helpful to keep in mind. I like that you have given up specific issues to look for and change in our writing. What is your advice for younger students who are learning the importance of revising and what it needs to look like?

    • Posted August 12, 2014 at 10:10 am | Permalink

      Sheila- I love this question! Writers of all levels struggle with revision, because getting words on paper can feel like an accomplishment in itself (and it IS!). For younger writers, I liken revision to soccer practice, and a final draft to being ready to play the game–you want it to be as strong as you can *at that time*. Because we are constantly growing as writers, the next thing you revise will be stronger than this finished product. Especially for middle school and upper elementary students, I like to have them physically manipulate the piece of writing: cutting up the piece to rearrange paragraphs, using different color markers/pens/highlighters to make changes…this shows them the amount of work they’ve put in, so they can concretely see what they’re doing, and it makes them feel proud of the work. I also suggest giving time between drafting and revising, so they can really see the changes that need to be made and how far a piece has come.Hope this is helpful. I’m happy to carry on a conversation via email, too!

  9. Posted August 11, 2014 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

    Wow, resonating all over the place! So many of these are exactly what I need right now, on my third pass-through on this work in progress. Thanks so much for sharing, Erin.

    • Posted August 12, 2014 at 10:11 am | Permalink

      Yay, Valerie! Keep going! I did 13 revisions on MODELS and haven’t done less than 5 on any book I’ve written. 🙂 Don’t stop til it’s as right as you can make it!

  10. Andrea P.
    Posted August 12, 2014 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    Thank you, Erin. These questions helped me think through the process with purpose. I realized this summer, that I tried to focus on several items from your list. I wrote out a pitch and one theme I hoped to accomplish in the story. The parts that don’t match, I took out. I was aware of scene writing, and trying to add more action. I tried to visualize exactly where the characters stood, walked, moved and transitioned in each scene. And, what was the purpose of that movement. I never paid attention to that before. And, I mapped out my beginnings and my endings of the chapters to see if they match and would cause a “page turn.” Thanks for helping me open my eyes 🙂 I can see the places that need revision.

    • Posted August 12, 2014 at 10:12 am | Permalink

      Andrea, that’s awesome! You are really focusing on each element in your work, and your piece will be stronger for it. Huzzah!

  11. Posted August 12, 2014 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    Thank you, everyone, for your comments! I am glad you found the post helpful. Keep writing!!

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