Blogstitute 2017: Revision Rx

July 13th, 2017

In the next post in our Stenhouse Summer Blogstitute series, Ruth Culham, the author of The Writing Thief and Dream Wakers, has a little writing and revision assignment for you. Follow along as she revises a short paragraph and invites you to practice and play along this summer. Tell us how your revision process worked in the comments or on Twitter (#blogstitute17).

Revision Rx
Ruth Culham

News Release:

ruthculhamThe prescription for what ails writers about revision is now available as an over-the-counter remedy. Once accessible to a precious few, it’s no longer a high-priced prescription drug. Now all writing teachers and their students can help themselves anytime they wish. Available in six different flavors (ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, and conventions), you can match taste preferences to individual writers to treat writing maladies of concern.

Introducing: The New and Improved Traits of Writing. This solution to common complaints of many writing teachers and students has been around for over thirty years, but now, thanks to new research and design, the traits have been recompounded to cure the revision blues. And best of all, they are free. Just visit : www.culhamwriting.com, and help yourself. Dosages for children as well as adults are clearly listed.

Warning:  Writers who go long periods of time without reading may need a bigger initial dose for full effect. Tell a colleague immediately if you or any of your students experience extended periods of continuous writing that last more than 24 hours. Do not take this remedy unless you are fully prepared to write better and more often.

***

It’s true, you know. The prescription to cure writing maladies is revision with the traits of writing in mind. Knowing how to break each down into just-right dosages can make all the difference in your writing instruction. Here’s something to try this summer while you are thinking about next year and how you will approach revision with students.

  1. Write a short paragraph on a topic of your choosing. Maybe it’s an anecdote about something interesting that’s already happened this summer; maybe it’s something you are curious about and have googled so you can learn more; maybe it’s an opinion you want to express about something you feel strongly about. It doesn’t matter the topic, just write something—rough, raw, and not smoothed over at all.

Here’s mine:

It’s harder and harder to go to bed early now that it’s light so long. Instead, I go outside with my neighbors outside on my patio and talk while the sun sets and quiet comes over my condo group . . . day slowly turning into night. It is peaceful. It is happy. Summer nights are my favorite time of the year. 

  1. Download the Grades 3–12 traits of writing Scoring Guides from the Library section of my website: culhamwriting.com.
  2. Pick one of the traits, any one: ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency.  (Not conventions, though. That’s an editing trait, and we’re trying out an idea for revision here.) Read the definition for that trait at the top of the page.
  3. Look at the four key qualities for that trait and pick one–just one. For example, if you are looking at word choice, notice:
  • Applying Strong Verbs
  • Selecting Striking words and Phrases
  • Using Specific and Accurate Words
  • Choosing Words That Deepen Meaning
  1. Read the criteria for an Exceptional/Strong piece of writing in that Key Quality only. For example: Apply Strong Verbs: The writer uses many “action words,” giving the piece punch and pizzaz. He or she has stretched to find lively verbs that add energy to the piece.
  2. Turn back to your initial draft and look at it critically to revise for strong verbs. Highlight the verbs you want to focus on, then cross out any you can improve, reword, and add new ones. Don’t recopy¾just work on one thing; this is what I call Squeeze it Once and Let it Go.

It’s harder and harder to go head off to bed early now that it’s light so long. I go hang out with my neighbors outside on my patio and talk chat while the sun sets and quiet comes settles over my condo group . . .  day slipping into night. Peaceful. Happy. If only summer nights could linger longer.  

Or . . .

It’s harder and harder to go head off to bed early now that it’s light so long. I go hang out with my neighbors outside on my patio and talk chat while the sun sets and quiet comes settles over my condo group . . . day slowly turning slipping into night. Peaceful. Happy. If only summer nights could linger longer. 

  1. Put your piece aside in a Writing Wallet, which is a simple manila folder that holds some key drafts of writing, and stop for now. Another writing day, you can pick a different Key Quality of word choice or a different trait completely, and take a fresh look at your draft through the lens of a new Key Quality. Meanwhile, you can write something new and add it to the Writing Wallet for future revision practice, too.

FYI:  Notice I replaced verbs that add energy to the piece, but because revision is never in a simple box, I wound up changing a few lines to smooth them out, too, as I was focusing on the verbs. Focusing on one trait can lead to revising in another. In this case, the sentence fluency improved, too, as I revised for strong verbs. A happy turn of events.

The result of this focused activity is revision.  Real revision.  Not just neatening up the text and applying editing conventions so it is readable, but changing the text to make it clearer and more dynamic–one Key Quality of a trait at a time.

Think of the possibilities.  Once you have a Writing Wallet that contains some pieces of practice writing, you can turn to mentor texts such as those in my books The Writing Thief and Dream Wakers as sources for evidence of every Key Quality of every trait. You will love some of these books and you’ll want to pull out examples of different writing qualities, study them as a craft techniques, then try out what you’ve learned on your practice pieces in the Writing Wallet. There are five revision traits and each has four Key Qualities, so as you read, you can find examples of all twenty writing skills for revision. Remember though, follow the doctor’s orders:  Focus your work on only one revision activity at a time, learning each thoroughly and well. More in-depth study means these writing skills and techniques will have better odds of transferring into longer, more extended pieces of writing through the entire writing process.

This is the revision Rx. Try a spoonful of the Writing Wallet this summer and you’ll have models to share with students when they get back from their summer break.   And remember, as every good pharmacist will tell you, it’s important to finish the prescription, even if you start to feel better, so to get the maximum effect, keep taking this Rx from the beginning of the year to the end.

Learning from Experts

With gratitude, I’d like to share an essay that children’s author Pat Mora wrote on about her own writing and revision process. Pat believes in revision and finds it to be a joyful experience.  She offers ideas to make it pleasurable for you and your students, too.

Beginning Again and Again

By Pat Mora

One of my writing secrets is that writers often begin again and again. I am finishing my new picture book, BOOKJOY, WORDJOY, to be illustrated by the talented Raúl Colón. I have enjoyed collecting my poems for children and writing new poems including “Writing Secrets.” It is based on ZING, my book about creativity for educators. In the poem “Writing Secrets,” I don’t say that writers edit. We revise. I didn’t always like revising, but now, it’s probably my favorite part of writing.

            “Oh, no!” you might be saying. “I don’t like rewriting at all!”

            That’s how I used to feel. I don’t rewrite everything, of course. I don’t revise letters to my three wonderful children, for example. I do begin again and again, however, when I am working on stories, essays, or poems that I hope will be published. I polish. I had to learn to polish my writing when I was in school and at the university.

            When I was a little girl in El Paso, Texas, a city in the desert right on the Mexican border, I liked to read. Now, many years later, I live in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in high desert. I still like—no, I love to read and read every day. I am a writer because I am a reader. I enjoy playing with words—learning new ones in English and Spanish, listening to words, hearing them rhyme.

            Growing up, I didn’t think about becoming a writer. I thought about being a teacher, and then a doctor. Maybe I didn’t think about being a writer because none of the writers I learned about were living—except on the page. Also, I’d never heard of a writer who was bilingual, who wrote in English and Spanish. In my home, we spoke both, but at school, we didn’t talk about and enjoy our different home languages and cultures. It is so exciting that today in our libraries and classrooms, we share books from all the diverse families living in our United States. Sharing and respecting our cultures makes us more united—and smarter.

            When I started writing, I started writing for adults and was surprised that I didn’t write about going to the moon or Hawaii, what can sound fun and exciting. I wrote about the desert, family, Mexico, and stories. I write about what I like, what interests me, and about famous people who interest me. I really enjoy the wordjoy of poetry and remember writing poems in eighth grade.

            I made-up both words, bookjoy and wordjoy. Writing is both work and play. Maybe you want to make up a word, to play?

            Not everyone in the world has books, libraries, goes to school, and learns to read. If we are lucky enough to be readers, then we can be writers and share what we write. The pleasure of sharing our writing is one of my other writing tips. Have you ever given a family member or friend a poem you wrote? What a special gift!

I love the way Pat explains her different types of writing and which pieces she revisits and writes “again and again” to polish. Consider sharing this essay with your students, so they can hear a successful author’s own words about how important revision is to the writing process. You can find more essays by some of my favorite authors in Dream Wakers, too.

 

Entry Filed under: Blogstitute,Writing

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Teresa  |  July 13th, 2017 at 1:55 pm

    Great post! I really like the idea of revising by focusing one trait at a time. This would be a great way for students to learn how to do this, and, hopefully, this is a simple skill they will use on their own. I also appreciate the link to the website. The website has many good ideas and resources.

  • 2. Debbie Parker  |  July 19th, 2017 at 3:44 pm

    Choosing The one trait at a time will be effective for so many students but I love specially those students who struggle with both reading and writing. Because those are the ones who often don’t know how to revise, they cannot see the possibilities in their writing as they have no reference from their reading

  • 3. Stacey Shubitz  |  July 28th, 2017 at 8:28 am

    Revision is the part of the writing process I get asked about again and again and again. Revision is so hard. Focusing on a trait at a time can certainly help make it more manageable.

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