by Naomi Kinsman
After working with many, many classrooms of young writers, I've learned that revision is one of the most puzzling parts of the writing craft to teach. Swapping out a word or two here or there, sure, but rewriting? No, no, and no, thank you.
I have to be honest and admit that my blood pressure always goes up when young writers dig in their heels and tell me that what they've written is perfect. They insist that while they might replace the word "fun" with "daring" to better describe their adventurous day, rewriting the details of the day itself so that a reader might experience it moment by moment would NOT make the piece stronger.
Why does my blood pressure go up? I suppose it's because I know what they're really saying (that their hand hurts and their brain hurts and they've put as much effort into this piece of paper as they're willing to put) and I completely understand why they're saying it (because they don't see how it will make any difference in their life anyway whether the writing is good or great and by the way it's sunny outside and isn't it time for recess?) but I know that if they'd try truly revising and see what comes of the process, they might just become believers, the way I did.
I'm frustrated, in short, because no amount of words will communicate what I'm trying to say. They will NOT believe me when I say that revision can be the most fun part of the process. They will NOT believe me when I say that revision is the way to make an okay piece of writing so shiny that they want to hang it on their refrigerator. They will never believe these things unless I find a way to show them through experience. And they won't revise. We're in a catch-22.
However, a few months ago I hosted a panel with young writers who I had mentored. An audience member asked the girls what they would change if they could re-do their editorial mentorship, and you won't believe what they said. They said, "We'd revise deeper. We'd take the notes and think about them and fix the entire story, not just the parts Naomi pointed out specifically." I seriously almost stood up in front of 150 people and danced. I've been thinking about their comments ever since, trying to figure out what the key to turning the revision light on must be and whether there's a way to translate the experience to our developing students who aren't yet working on such ambitious projects.
I'm coming to believe the key is the authentic audience. When a writer knows that their work will be in print, unchangeable, and out in the world for readers to experience, the game changes. It doesn't matter how old you are or how experienced you are, revision is about our readers. At some point in any project, we've revised a piece as far as we need to go for our own understanding or pleasure. The rest of the revision is about how the writing communicates with a reader. Thus, I think in order for revision to be authentic, we have to let our young writers choose which pieces they want to revise and share. When the writer chooses to finish and share a particular piece of writing and has an idea of the reader they hope to affect, then taking the time to revise makes sense.
We can offer publishing opportunities of all kinds and whether they are in our classrooms or beyond, I think publication is the key to revision. It's the reason for the revision, and the motivation behind all the hard work.
Should you know young writers in need of a challenge, the opportunity to revise, and the opportunity to publish, check out Society of Young Inklings' current writing contest for 1st-8th graders here. Winners receive a free editorial mentorship and publication in the Inklings annual anthology, but all applicants will receive a letter about the strengths and areas of growth in their story or poem, so it's a learning experience all around.