Writing is hard. The published piece at the end is a source of pride, a beautiful work, but it didn’t start out that way. There was a process that went into that finished work. There was a revisiting of the message, the words themselves, that happened before it went out to the audience. That’s how I try to view revision: a revisiting.
Because revision for many, myself included, is the most difficult part of writing. It can be crushing and painstakingly mundane. You have to sustain focus, pick out your own mistakes, review your phrasing, check your word choice… it’s daunting, exhausting, and not my favorite thing. If you like it, I’m jealous of you and your amazing abilities.
Despite its unpleasantness, it is an incredibly important part of the process. Without revision, our messages wouldn’t be nearly as clear as we want them to be. Without it, we’d be publishing our first drafts in all their sloppiness. As tough as it is, it’s necessary. And it’s vital that we learn to do it well.
For our students, this process can be even more debilitating. Imagine attempting to revise your writing without having mastered grammatical skills, writing craft, stylistic features, or how to address an audience.
That’s where our students are as they sit down to revise. Not only is it our job to teach them the skills they need to revise well, but it is also on us, the teachers of writing, to show our students the forms that revision can take. In all it’s ugliness.
I sit here now, in my classroom, writing this piece. It’s projected up on my board as my students and I both engage in Free Write Friday. I’m being completely transparent in my writing, and my revision, for my kids. They are seeing each mistake, each backspace, each rework of the content I’m putting out there.
Today I’m not doing it to get their feedback or reactions, though I do that occasionally. I’m doing it so they can see the process of writing, up close and personal, as I craft a new piece. I’m showing them the difficulty that comes with the work of written expression, but also how I have to revisit previous paragraphs and adjust them as I write. How I have to pause and reflect for a moment before drafting a sentence, or take a beat to consider the phrasing I want to use. How I go back and change words, reorder paragraphs or sections, and ensure my message is as clear as possible for my readers.
Sometimes, I will think aloud as I do this. Usually when students begin to notice that I’m writing, or ask questions about why I’m changing certain aspects. That’s when I’ll begin to let them into the more personal aspects of this practice, the inner workings of my thinking and creating. I want them to see that it’s not just them – writing is hard for me, too.
It’s important for us to provide our students with real-time, legitimate examples of what writing looks like. It’s even more authentic and valuable when it’s our own. It helps us engage in the process together and show them exactly how difficult it can be. It also increases our transparency and helps us be a part of a writing community, instead of just facilitating one. I cannot tell you how meaningful this is for students. To be joined with us, their teachers, in a community of writers makes our instruction and feedback that much more relevant. That much more likely to be used, valued, and taken seriously.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: To teach writing well, you have to be a writer yourself. If you want to really open it up, be a writer with and in front of your students.