Yesterday I had a student tell me, “I really like revising, ‘cause you don’t have to do any more writing.”  That hurt.

Countless genius writers have said quotable things about editing over the years—most to the point of “I start writing when I reach my third draft.”  I worry that many students don’t get that revision isn’t the same as spell check.  They finish a draft, turn it in, get a whole lot of comments back from a teacher, “revise” it by tossing in a couple commas and apostrophes, and turn it back in.

 

from the blog of author Patrick Rothfuss

 

The thing is, I can empathize with these students.  In high school and early college years, I despised revision. After spending all night finishing a paper, the last thing I wanted to do was come back to it and cut or re-write whole sections.  I would have rather taken the B grade than be forced to experience some of those essays all over again.  I would have rather scalpeled my navel and squirted a lime all over it.

I think there are two reasons why I avoided extensive revision, the first being my laziness.  If it took me five hours to write a B paper, why would I spend another five just to bump it up to an A minus?  The lack of linear improvement per hour really turned off my motivation.  But this goes hand in hand with the other reason: ego.  I fancied myself a skilled writer who could turn out some great content on the first try.  Sometimes this was true, and this reinforced the habit I had of assuming my first drafts were acceptable.

It wasn’t until I started editing my peers’ or students’ writing that I really became good at revision, and thus a better writer.  For me, revision is all in the mindset you approach it from. You draft from your own creative perspective, and you revise from the perspective of your audience; in the end, they’re the ones you want to please. To edit a peer’s work, it’s not hard to think like a reader—you are a reader.  To edit your own work, it takes practice to remove yourself (and your ego) enough to allow room for good revision.

I just tell my students the truth: that revision is painful. It will hurt. In fact, if you feel okay by the end of it, you’re not doing it right.  I tell them that what doesn’t kill them will make them stronger.  Then I make a point about removing clichés from first drafts.

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