Posted by: jeannineatkins | August 18, 2010

Revision Thoughts

Sometimes a writer agrees to drive two and half hours to talk to teachers, and the sixteen promised are there. Sometimes a book she wrote will be on the display of “books we love” or even anywhere. Sometimes the person who invited her will stay to listen instead of bolting out after giving a one sentence intro.

But last week’s talk was not one of these. I stood in front of five people with twelve pages of notes looking kind of miserable, until one of the teachers suggested, “Why don’t you come sit with us?” Which I did, with thanks. Since the group was small, I asked each to introduce herself before launching into my talk, which became more casual as questions and comments were interspersed. And when we got to the part about students and revision, one first grade teacher said, “My kids hate to revise!”

“Well, they’re six and seven years old,” I said.

Another elementary school teacher shook her head. “No. This is when it starts. They write, ‘The dog ran’ and I have to ask: is that the picture in your head? Things are missing. What color is the dog? Where is he running?”

“You’re right,” I agreed. “We might want to know what kind of teeth the dog has. How big is she? And what are all better words for run? Sometimes kids can turn it into a contest, listing adjectives and synonyms.”

We discussed how banging your head may be part of revision. No one really likes to hear: this doesn’t work. But I volunteered that I love my writing group, really, because they keep the affirmations short, then lunge into the prickly but helpful words that follow “but.” Criticism of one’s writing isn’t about a self, or soul, and it shouldn’t be about ego. As the wise teacher reminded me, it’s about getting what’s in one head into another’s. It’s not a line between one person and paper, but more of a triangle or circle between a writer, a page, and readers.



  1. it’s about getting what’s in one head into another’s
    Clearly a teacher who knows her Stephen King On Writing, since that’s his key point about what writing is.

  2. To turn a talk for sixteen into a session appropriate for five requires some revision all by itself. Well done you, for being so attentive to your audience, both on and off the page!

  3. Yes! What Amy said. ❤

  4. That sounds right as a key to Stephen King’s magic. Thanks, Kelly.

  5. Thanks, Amy. All turned out well, as they were a wonderful group.

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