Updated: Sep 15, 2019
Often our first worry about a piece of writing seems to center around “Is it correct?” which implies “Is it good enough?” When a young writer asks an adult to look at a piece of writing, the teacher or parent’s first impulse may be to copy edit. To fix it. To get the spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and usage right — in short, to make sure the writing is conventional. These are concrete things easy to point out.
After years of marking up my students’ papers for correctness, I realized I was the one learning how to copy edit, but that didn’t change the quality of their writing. What is goodness in writing, and how do we get there?
Starting with the writer, and not the piece of writing, and growing myself as a listener rather than an editor took me awhile. Here are some ways to interact and respond.
Ask the writer how it’s going? Invite her to read a part that she likes.
Listening is a gift for a writer because I help the writer hear his or her voice by reading aloud, and by prompting easy conversation. When I give a short description of or point at the part of the piece that made an impression on me, we begin on a positive footing. This is very important for writers who are not confident or who are perfectionists. They come from a place of not-good-enough and can never get there.
So, as writer and reader, child and parent (or teacher), we join look together at what works. Teaching writers to read their work the way they read books will help. “What part stood out for you?” “Can you read that dialogue again? It sounded to me just like kids really talking!”
The next move a listening trusted reader might make is to ask the writer, “What part do you think needs to be clearer? Where would your writing benefit from rewriting to sharped the picture?” And let the writer think and decide.
There are many other prompts for revision. Literally re-seeing a piece is what it means. Looking at a piece with an audience in mind, imagining a passage from a different perspective, writing to slow down and give vivid sensory detail in places, are examples of revising moves a writer can make.
And of course, revision also means cutting away the parts of a draft that aren’t contributing. I used to teach this move with my students by donning some cool shades and snapping my fingers like I’m doing a rap in a coffee house with the phrase “delete…delete…delete” emphasized by my hand doing the editing sign for it in the air. “When something just doesn’t sing and you don’t know what to do for it…delete…delete…delete.”
“When you already said it and saying it again sounds boring, delete…delete.”
Inviting students to see what is going well in a piece and setting a tone where they will be kind to themselves when they revise is supportive. You are giving them the author position to decide what is good and you are giving them the encouragement that something they’ve written has gotten across to you.
Then, I try to teach skills for self-correcting when a draft has been revised to the writer’s satisfaction. Students finding out how to use commas, checking spelling, and working toward standard English usage best happens again by reading aloud — slowly! And I love that word processing and online tools are available to most.
“Does that sound right?” Does that look right? The final edit is important, but should not happen until the writer has made the best attempt to make the story or information into something that he or she likes to read!
An edit makes sure that the work is clarified for a reader. Checks to make sure that this piece is ready to go out into the world of readers.