Monday, April 2, 2012

The Importance of Revision

If you are in the writing community like I am, then you already know that a writer is only as good as his revisions. Or in my case, her revisions. I love the process of discovering my characters and watching the events unfold before them. It is equally as pleasing, however, to fiddle with those events once they are down on paper and create just the right mood to pull your readers into the lives of those characters. I care about the people in my stories and I want that to show on every page of my work. But the only way to do that is through the process.
Perhaps it was my first experience with revisions that made me realize the importance of it. I was eight and in the third grade. And as all good stories begin, it started with a fuzzy idea and some crude sketches on some scrap paper. This wasn’t the first story I ever wrote but it was the first that I would take through the revision process. Because stories, no matter how skilled the author, do not start like this:

Not that this is any great hook to pull in your reader, but remember I was only eight. And while most eight-year-olds would probably write a first draft like this, my journey took a bit longer. Especially since this page in my first draft looked like this:

To this day, I still wonder how my teacher was able to look at this rough (and I mean rough) draft and see what I saw in my own work. In my head, the pages were already color illustrations and the words printed text that any reader could understand.
It wasn’t.
It took a lot of hard work to bring my book to that place. My teacher took time out of her own day to work one–on-one with me to bring the revision process to my level. I explained what I was trying to say, though it was quite obvious to me at the time, and my teacher wrote my words on the final draft. I replaced my pencils sketches (if you want t to call them that) with the colored illustration I saw in my head. And pages that once looked like this:

Became pages that made sense:

It was slow going but it was the process that I loved.

But unfortunately, third grade did not last forever. Summer came and my teacher made me promise that I would finish the book. I said that I would.
But I never did.
To this day, I stare at those back pages of my story, the ones still not translated, and I wonder what I was trying to say and where the story would have gone if I had only finished my revisions. I remember something about Mitten throwing a party while his owners were away, and perhaps that helps to decode pages like these:

But I still wonder what this book could have been if only I didn’t let other distractions get in the way. Maybe that is why I am so determined now in my writing. The rejection letters might stream in, but they are my motivation, my reason to revise and make the story what it already is in my own head.


  1. Karen, this is so inspiring! I love that you have this first story and so many warm memories of your teacher and the writing process. I hope your teacher will be able to see this post--isn't it wonderful how a good teacher can change the direction of your life? So lucky for the rest of us that you had someone like this in your life . . .
    Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Hilarious! I love how determined eight year olds can be and I, too, wonder about all that remains left unsaid.

    Perhaps that is the real journey, to reach for the words and images that echo the voice of our inner muse and our truth.