End of summer term… I always enjoy the difference I see in my classes from the start of term to the end. At the beginning people who are new to the class are often nervous of sharing their writing. They feel their writing has to be perfect before they can offer it up to scrutiny. As the term wears on I can see them relaxing once they realise that not all writing hits its mark first time. They become less afraid. They become playful. They take more risks.
By the end of term, we are tackling the sticky art of revision. This is where you find out whether a piece of writing is working and, if it isn’t, what to do to fix it. I have a list of questions. The answers are up to you and will be yours alone. There is no ‘wrong’ or ‘right’; just ‘better’, hopefully, by the time you have found your answers.
- Have you started in the right place? Try striking out your first line, sentence, paragraph or page. Is that better? Now look at your last line, sentence, paragraph or page. Where does your story or poem really start?
- Are your characters worth getting to know? If you met them at a party, would you avoid them or want to get closer?
- Have you established a clear setting? Are you using the senses to evoke place and atmosphere? If your reader cannot imagine the place, they may not wish to go there.
- Is the tense working? Was it consistent? (See what I did there?)
- Are you writing from a point of view that serves the story well? Have you tried others? What happens when you do? This is the moment to find out.
- Does your dialogue reveal character and advance the action? Have you obeyed Stephen King’s advice to avoid adverbs (she said, bossily).
- Is there a theme? What are you trying to say? Will the reader understand?
- What does your inner critic think of it? They might come in useful and spot something you’ve missed. If not, and if they are being negative, tell them to go away.
- Have you put it in the drawer for a few weeks and come back to it with a fresh eye? If not, do that now. It’s your only chance to read your writing objectively, as another reader would.
- Finally, do you feel as passionately now as you did when you first had your idea for a story or poem? If you do, you’ll find the motivation to polish it until it shines. If not, don’t worry, Put it to one side and carry on with the next idea that fires you up.
Remember, we write and draft with our hearts, but we revise and edit with our heads. Writing, like life, is a long journey.