Is perfection even possible?
Perhaps we all reach for it in our own ways but have some understanding of the fact that it won't happen.
The best we can hope for is a comfortable relationship with as "good as we can produce" with time and practice; a kind of satisfaction that grows from working hard at something and seeing it through to the end.
Writing is like living, each word written or breath breathed provides an experience that enriches what we can share with the world.
When I was a teenager, I scribbled musing, sometimes considered poetry into tattered notebooks I carried with me everywhere. Observing the world, taking notes, trying to capture what I saw, felt, and encountered with all of my senses.
I loved to write and I immaturely believed back then, that as my words descended upon the page they were untouchable; never to revise the thoughts, phrases, diction, or punctuation that spoke my truth in those notebooks.
Looking back as an adult, I smile upon those notebooks and the silly idea that writing was meant to be untouched.
As a more seasoned writer, I realize craft lives in the revision. Although my ideas may drip from me like a sieve, they shan't reveal themselves to readers until I've taken the time to read, reread, rework and mold the message the words are meaning to send.
The adolescents I teach, often feel that their work is best as it comes out, but it is my duty to remind them that the writing will only improve the longer they spend with it. And with each draft that they pour their hearts and minds into, emerges a greater understanding of the depth of knowing both the content they write about and the act of writing itself.
Here are some tips for helping folks revise:
Once you've laid down a draft, take a break. 10 minutes, 2 hours, 2 days, whatever seems appropriate to gain the necessary distance from the work. The only way to really change what has been written is to move away from it for a while.
Reread your work in pieces, focusing on a specific element of the writing at a time. For example, first, ask students to look at the organization and then clarity.
Ask others to read your work and provide specific feedback on it. Using Google docs is great for this as you can leave comments directly on the document after highlighting text.
Always be specific when you ask for feedback. "What do you think?" or "Is this good?" simply won't do. Be precise. Does the introduction engage you? Do you have any questions about the argument? Do I adequately support my assertions? Does my evidence transition smoothly into my argument?
Once you've received specific feedback, spend time reading it over and make decisions about what needs to be changed. Maybe ask the folks who provided the feedback to clarify if you can.
Remember, that as the author of the piece, you have the final say as to what gets changed and what doesn't. Be intentional with your choices.
Don't worry about editing for grammar until the very end. It's more important to worry about the message and the style of the writing and clarity of conveyance.
Write and revise until it feels done. There will always be more to change, but there comes a point when we must deem a piece finished. Once you get to this point, it may be a good idea to ask for one more read from someone else to ensure you haven't missed anything important.
Do a spell check and grammar check
Getting your thoughts on the page is the easy part, but truly crafting a polished piece of writing is the hard part. The final product is usually well worth the effort though.
What is the most challenging part of the writing process for you? Please share. And if you have good tips for how to write your way through it, please share those too.
*This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog in August 2015