Time to revise

Writing original work is obviously the lifeblood of a writer. But that’s only one part of the equation if you want to be a published writer. Just ask my students. After teaching the genre of creative nonfiction in my Advanced Composition class for four semesters, and requiring that students not only write two pieces for publication (one short, one medium-length), but also requiring that they seek out literary journals beyond our academic walls to submit to, and then requiring them to actually submit their work, several have had their stories accepted and published.

These stories all began in my class. Some from random writing prompts or class conversations, some from deep-seated ideas that were finally given permission to be released through writing in a safe and accepting space. However extraordinary it is for college students to have competitive publications while still in school, I want you to think about how they achieved this accomplishment.

Are these students struck with natural talent and genius?

Do they have some secret stash of skill that they had prior to my class?

Am I really that good?

While I would argue that all of these students do have  natural inclination towards language and writing – they are all frequent readers as well – they did not get published because of these facts. And I will acknowledge that I am a good teacher – I do help people get published, even outside of my classroom. But neither of these is the reason my students achieved publishing success. Their work was accepted for publication because they spent the time revising, receiving feedback, enacting that feedback, making more revisions, and polishing the sentences and structure to a high gloss – all within a fifteen week semester. Their acceptances came a few months later, well after the class was over.

I teach advanced writing this way, with a requirement to submit work to journals of the students’ choosing, because this is the writer’s life. Every student who enters my class has a chance to be published if they put in the time to revise and polish. I’m honest with them about this from day one and some really want it, so put in the necessary effort. Some just want a grade, and that is really okay. All of my students work hard, write, revise, and polish, but a few put in the time and energy to hit the next level. That’s all I want for them and for anyone who works with me. I want to give them the chance and the space and the opportunity to excel if they so choose.

I’m also honest with them about rejection. I encourage them to submit elsewhere if at first the piece is rejected, but I know that many of them don’t follow up this way, which is a shame. Lots of beautiful, poignant, funny, and devastating stories move through my classroom and many deserve to be shared with a broader audience. But that sharing will only ever happen if the writer is dedicated to the point of carving out time to revise every week.

Having time to write is one thing; having time to revise doesn’t sound fun, but is absolutely essential if you want to hit the next level and get published. There’s no way around this step. If you really want it…you want to be a published writer…then don’t skip this step.

When school is in session, I dedicate several hours one day each week, just for revision. It doesn’t matter if the text is an academic article destined for a peer-reviewed journal, a creative nonfiction piece for a literary journal, or a blog post for a web site.

I find the time to revise, and you should, too. You’ll be happy you did. 🙂

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