Common Core Standards: ELA
5. Production and Distribution of Writing: Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.
Back in the bad old days, before everyone was connected by that newfangled interweb, writing was a long process. First you came up with ideas; then you did some planning; then you wrote a first draft; then you took a red pen to your first draft and did some editing…and so on. These days, you just type up whatever it is you want to say and it’s published (electronically, at least) within minutes. While that’s fine for a status update or a tweet, it’s simply not good enough for your college professors or bosses (or your high school teachers, for that matter). You need to make sure you have written the best and most effective piece possible. How? By using the writing process.
Start by planning your writing. It’s difficult to know where you are going if you don’t start with a plan. This is where you brainstorm, make idea webs, create an outline and otherwise create a map for yourself as to what your piece will look like.
Then you write your first draft, which is what most of you are writing at 1:00 a.m., the night before the essay is due. Most students turn in their first drafts, meaning that they never revisit what they wrote the first time to make sure that it’s the best writing they can create. They just turn in whatever they have and hope for the best. This may sound like your mother on repeat, but starting earlier will give you a chance to write and then revise your best piece so you won’t be scrambling the night before to get your only draft done.
Editing, revising and rewriting are three sides to the same coin. (We’re assuming there’s a three-sided coin out there somewhere.) But once you have your first draft written, it’s time to improve it through these three processes. Editing is probably the easiest part. That is where you find any grammatical or spelling mistakes and fix them. Editing is something you will do several times as you review what you have written and changed with each draft.
Revising and rewriting sound like the same thing, but they are different. Revising is going back over the piece and deciding if it makes logical sense, if it responds to the prompt correctly and if it says exactly what you want it to say. Revising is all about figuring out what your message is and deciding if you’ve said it effectively. Rewriting, on the other hand, is changing your words, sentences and paragraphs to make sure you are saying what you want to say.
Sometimes, you’ll find that you are not actually making yourself clear despite all your planning, editing, revising and rewriting. That’s when it’s time to call in the big guns, writing-wise. That is, it’s time to take a different approach by starting over from the very beginning. Instead of going over and over your first draft with a red pen until it bleeds, just recognize that a fresh start is needed. You’ve written one draft—what doesn’t it say very well? How can you get it to say what it needs to say? You might have to take the drastic step of chucking your first draft and starting over with a new draft. Taking a different approach can be a little daunting after you’ve already put work into a draft. But it will certainly get your writing to the point where it says what you mean and it means what you say.
Your teacher has asked you to write an essay about the best movie you ever saw and why it is so superior to every other movie out there. What might you have to do in order to plan, revise, edit, rewrite and take a new approach for this essay?
The first thing you’ll have to do is watch the movie again. (Watching a movie for homework? Wow!) How is that planning? Well, you’ll need to review in your own mind why this film is the greatest you’ve ever seen. You will need to gather evidence and figure out what it is you love about it.
Once you’ve done this, you have several options available to you for further planning. First is brainstorming. Remember how in kindergarten your teacher would ask you to put on your imaginary thinking cap so you could come up with a list of ideas about something? Well, we’re not going to ask you to do that because it’s kind of geeky. But you can start making a list of things that are great about the film. Jot these ideas down as quickly as possible and keep ’em coming. Remember what Miss Whosis told you in kindergarten—there are NO bad ideas in brainstorming.
Now it’s time to start more concrete planning. Webbing is where you focus on a central idea (This movie is the greatest of all time because…) and connect your reasons and evidence to that central idea. (Hint: that central idea will probably be your thesis!)
Your idea web can get more and more precise as you build off of each idea.
If you’re more of a linear thinker, the classic planning tool is an outline. With an outline, you draw yourself a map of what the essay will look like when it is completed. The above idea web could become an outline like this:
I. Introduction Paragraph
A. Introduce the movie
B. Thesis statement: This is the greatest movie ever because of the car chases, romance and fantastic soundtrack.
II. Body Paragraphs
A. Car Chases
1. San Francisco motorcycle chase
2. Highway chase with police
1. First kiss in the rain
2. Scene in the meadow when he says, “I love you.”
1. Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture
2. Poker Face by Lady Gaga
III. Concluding Paragraph
A. Restate the thesis
B. Summarize the supporting information
Using one or both of these planning tools will make writing the first draft a great deal easier.
This is the easiest step and one that many people skip. The first defense of editing is the magical spell and grammar check function that comes standard on any computer. Use it!
Once the machine has determined what you can fix, print out that bad boy, because no matter how smart Bill Gates is, there is no computer program that can find and fix every misspelling and grammatical mistake that we humans can make. It takes a human (armed with a red pen) to fix human errors. So mark up your draft the old fashioned way, and then type in the corrections into your essay.
The single greatest asset you can have in your revision process is time. If you are writing your essay long before the due date (and sociologists have determined that this has happened at least once or twice in the history of essay-writing), then you can put the first draft on ice for a few days (not literally—the ink might run). This means that when you come back to re-read the essay, you’re looking at the writing with new eyes. You’ll want to ask yourself if what you wrote made sense.
This is also when you want to look back at the prompt for the essay. What exactly does your teacher want you to discuss in your tribute to the greatest film of all time? Have you answered all the questions the prompt poses? It’s also a good idea to compare your planning to your first draft and make sure that you haven’t lost anything important or added anything unnecessary in your writing.
This is where you make changes based on what you think you could do better. Revising is about making that first draft clearer and more to the point. Rewriting is where you throw out the bits that aren’t working and write them over again. Yes, it hurts to let your words end up in the trashcan, but trust us: the words don’t feel a thing.
When you are rewriting, it’s really helpful to CLOSE the original document in which you wrote your first draft. It’s much harder to kill off those pesky words if you have them staring at you from the computer screen. When you are rewriting, have a hard copy in front of you and blank word processing document open on your computer. Otherwise, the necessary word-ectomies can be next to impossible.
Trying a New Approach
Despite having the world’s greatest essay assignment, you may find that after all of this work, your essay makes no sense. Reading over your first and second draft, you may find that it’s not clear why this movie is so great. Have you ever heard the phrase “fire cleanses all?” This is one of those situations where you might have to destroy what you’ve already created in order to start over fresh. (Please note: We do not condone the actual use of fire to make a fresh start with your essay).
Okay, so you have to start over again. How?
Usually, when nothing you’ve written makes sense, it’s usually because you don’t really know what you want to say. So this is a good time to think outside the box. Maybe you could brainstorm a list of things that make a movie bad, and then look at how your film doesn’t do those things. (Or does the opposite of them). Maybe you could think of how you felt after the first time you saw the film, or what the film reminds you of in your life. Maybe you could choose a different “greatest movie you’ve ever seen”. The main point of trying a new approach is to throw out the old thought patterns that led to a not-great essay the first time around. Remember: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.