Please welcome my guest blogger today, middle grade author Karen Day. She happens to live in my town and I’ve had the pleasure of seeing her at the dog park as well as on the soccer field when Grasshopper and Sensei was in 3rd grade — her youngest daughter was on the same team.
She’s been twice to our book clubs for kids. She taught my daughter, then in sixth grade, to write a Show Don’t Tell.
We also learned about the origins of her second book, No Cream Puffs. Indeed, it WAS Karen who was a star baseball player!
Her first book, Tall Tales, won a Texas BlueBonnet award.
Today, she’ll be covering Writing Revision Tips for Kids.
Earlier this summer a student sent me an email before the start of the fiction writing class she was taking from me and said, “My goal is to finish my novel without having to do any too many revisions.”
I flinched a bit when I read this. Mostly because I, too, wish I could write without having to revise so much! But I also think that I reacted because I hear this quite a bit from both the adult and teen writers who take my classes. If I have to revise, they tell me, then I’ve done something wrong. Or, they’ll say that revision is too hard. Too time consuming. Too confusing.
Besides, why do I have to revise something that I’ve created?
My views of revision have changed quite a bit over the years and I’m a firm believer that no matter what you write, whether it’s a 300-page novel, a persuasive essay for school or a letter to the editor, revision is an important part of the writing process. In fact, knowing how to revise is the best writing tool you could have.
I think a lot of people are intimidated by revision because they don’t know how to do it. Certainly I didn’t when I started to write. I thought revision was merely rearranging paragraphs or taking out exclamation points or cutting a few pages. But revision is more than that. It’s the ability to “resee” your work in new ways – to fall in love with a character or plot, maybe work on it for months, even years, but then get rid of it if it no longer works in your story. Sometimes it means changing a main character’s personality or coming up with a different plot. Sometimes it means rewriting major chunks of your work.
Now, I can’t wait to get to the revision stage of writing. For me, that’s where the real writing takes place. I find writing to be so difficult that my rough drafts are often full of holes, contradictions, poorly executed plots and shallow characters. But in revision, I take my time and really work on crafting a story that makes sense. Sometimes, my revision process takes four times longer than writing the rough draft
When I talk to kids about revision, I often tell them that they should think of writing as would a sport or music. They wouldn’t expect to play a musical piece without practicing it a dozen times or more. They wouldn’t expect to throw a perfect curve ball without pitching hundreds of baseballs. Writing is like that, too. When we write, we are practicing – what we want to say and how we say it. Then we perfect this message by revising – rewriting the words over and over and over. The more we do it, the better we get.
All writers, once they’ve been at it for a while, have their own revision strategies. One of the first things I do when I start to revise is take apart my manuscript, which is often more than 200 pages, into pieces. I make a list of all of the different threads in my manuscript. Then I take one thread at a time and follow it from beginning to end. This allows me to see where I’ve repeated myself and whether I’m constantly building toward some kind of resolution. If not, then I work on fixing it. When I finish, I take a different thread and do the same thing. It’s a time consuming process but incredibly helpful for me.
I once heard the writer Julia Glass, author of THREE JUNES, say that she doesn’t revise when she finishes a draft, that somehow she revises as she writes. When she’s done, she’s done. I’m not sure what that looks like but I’m certainly envious! But I think most writers are like me, they need the extra time to explore – and practice – what they’re trying to say.
Karen Day is a writing teacher and author of middle grade novels Tall Tales, No Cream Puffs, and A Million Miles From Boston. Her novels have appeared on numerous lists, including Bank Street Educators Best Books of the Year and the Texas Librarian Association’s Bluebonnet Master Reading List. She has taught writing workshops at the Cape Cod Writer’s Center conference, the Chautauqua Institute and Grub Street in Boston. You can reach her at: www.klday.com.
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