Encouraging Revision: Advice for Teachers from a Student Writer

In April, my returning creative writers choose from one of two projects: write a novel, screenplay or book of poems in 30 days, or revise their novel from November. Catie, a senior, was the only student who chose revision.

I wasn’t surprised. It’s hard to motivate students to revise! So I pressed her a bit, wanting to understand the reasons behind her motivation, and she agreed to guest blog for us! I am fascinated by her multimodal approach to revision–using Spotify and Tumblr as extensions of her writer’s notebook–a process she invented herself. But I was most surprised by the thing she claims has had the biggest impact on her drive to revise. Read below to find out.

The secret’s out: I’m a writer. For as long as I’ve tried fitting into one of The Breakfast Club stereotypes of the princess, jock, nerd, basket case, and criminal, through my creative writing class I’ve found that my true identifier is “the writer.” This realization occurred in November during National Novel Writing Month. My creative writing teacher, Ms. Marchetti, challenged everyone in the class to write a novel in a month. No big deal, right? Daunting, but doable. In the middle of the night, I woke up with an amazing idea for a story and cranked up the ol’ laptop to start my storytelling journey. Little did I know that this class assignment would turn into a huge chapter of my senior year in high school.

My novel, Slut and the Falcon, has been the best thing to ever happen to me. I’ve been working on it for six months—long past the original deadline. I’m so proud of myself for writing as much as I’ve written. I’ve had a ball dreaming up characters and connecting the strings of their lives together. Lately, I’ve become so engulfed in this world of writing. I feel as if I have written myself a world through this novel writing process and have no intentions of leaving. (I’m sorry, friends and family, if the fictional characters in my head recently have been more important than you to me.) Maybe it’s the optimism and encouragement of my teacher, but for some reason, something inside of me wants to make this book happen, which is why I’ve continued writing it past the deadline. The beauty of the written word is that you get to share your voice and imagination with an array of different people without actually interacting with them. It’s a pretty cool concept for an introvert like me.

When I saw my ideas go from this:

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to this:

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…I realized that I simply couldn’t stop writing until my novel was finished.

When I see that I am actually capable of writing this many words, I feel like I can do anything. Once I start bringing my characters to life, I feel like I’d be letting them down if I stopped my book now.

In terms of revision, I’ve found it extremely helpful to make a timeline of each of my characters’ lives, regardless of if that information contributes to the story. Through my study in theatre, I’ve learned that you can’t accurately portray a scene if you don’t know all of the driving forces that bring your character to this exact moment. It’s important to discover their quirks and uncover their past. The more detailed I am with my timelines, the more believeable I am able to write my characters. My novel is told from three different points of view, so it is important for me to develop three distinct writing styles. What has helped me do this is deciding how much education each character has and what their academic strengths are. Although how well my characters do in school has absolutely nothing to do with the plot, the fact that I explore that facet of their lives helps me to create a voice for them that is unique and real.

Some of you may be wondering: How can a high schooler with a short attention span continue working on one project for six months and counting? Well, lovely reader, the internet has helped immensely. Essentially, it’s an extension of my writer’s notebook. I’m a very visual person, using images as my inspiration. I created a folder on my Tumblr (Pinterest would work well too) for each character of my novel. In the folders, I have pictures of clothes I think they might wear, people they look like, places they go, food they eat, anything that might trigger my mind with inspiration. I’ve also done this with Spotify, making playlists for different scenes and situations. It helps to have a song that sets the mood and tone of the scene playing while I write it in order to assure that the scenario I’m painting is not only believable, but real. When my audience is reading my novel, I want them to visualize it as if they are watching a movie, so it’s incredibly important that I write in a way that paints pictures.

My one word of wisdom is that I think what students need from teachers when they’re writing for long periods of time is constant encouragement. If I hadn’t had my creative writing teacher as my own personal writing cheerleader, I probably would have lost faith in my novel a long time ago. What inspired me to continue writing and editing was the fact that she believed in my story as well. When students think they’re good at something and they get praised for the good work that they do, they’re more likely to stick with it. This isn’t to say that teachers shouldn’t offer criticism. What’s most helpful when writing is having someone wiser and more experienced in the writing world to read your work in order to get a different perspective’s point of view. My only advice for helping students stay interested in their work is for you, as the teacher, to be genuinely interested in our work. Believe me, we can tell when you’re faking it. When we have a supporter, we’re going to keep moving forward because we don’t want to let you, or the characters we’ve created, down.

If you’re curious about my novel, here is an excerpt. For questions or for permission to make copies, please contact me at catiereagan@gmail.com. Thank you and happy noveling 🙂

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