Normally I start the semester with a discussion of opening paragraphs, which seems a sensible place. However, in an exciting break from my own routine, I decided to begin this semester with a class on revision, a topic I don’t usually get to until week 9. By then everyone’s usually thrashed their way through a number of critiques. The last class is always about publishing and I know people want me to finish nattering on about revision so we can get to the good stuff. So I’m usually rushing through revision myself.
For this semester I decided to take a different tack. I decided to separate revision out from publication and put it at the start of the class. My hope is that not only can my classes discuss it, but we can also embrace it. Specifically I want to move past the notion of the idea of revision as being “fixing errors.” I want a more holistic approach to revision. I want students to view it not as a necessary evil but as an opportunity to explore their manuscripts and bring out deeper meanings that may have been dormant in early drafts. I want to get past the fear!
Of course, the only problem is that it’s hard to teach. I can tell you what a good opening paragraph looks like, but a good revision is much harder to quantify. A good sign is if The New Yorker agrees to buy it, but even an unpublished story can be successfully revised. There are some things, however, that can help.
1. Have a title that works. Almost always, if the title’s good, the story’s good. The reason is that an author with a title knows what the story’s about. So challenge yourself to come up with a good title.
2. Retype the story. From the beginning. Novels too. Don’t try to squeeze every little correction into the draft. Take a bold approach and start from scratch.
3. Cut out a quarter of the words. You don’t need them. Trust me.
How about you? Do you have any tips for revision?