Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Behind the Books: Revision, Rehearsal, Renovation

Let’s face it. Kids aren’t crazy about the idea of revising their writing.

I created a Revision Timeline documenting the 10-year process of creating No Monkeys, No Chocolate so that teachers would have an engaging tool for showing young writers that professional writers revise. A lot.

For a few years now, I’ve been telling students that revising our writing is really no different than practicing a sport or rehearsing for a musical concert.

Football, soccer, and baseball players practice so they can develop the skills they need to beat rival teams.

Musicians rehearse so that they play a song perfectly when they perform in front of an audience.

Similarly, a rough draft is a way of preparing for what’s really important—writing the final piece, the writing that the world sees.

Sometimes this comparison makes an impact on elementary audiences, and sometimes, well—not so much. And so I’ve been searching for an analogy that really hits homes for kids, and I’ve finally found one—renovation.
Some students have lived through a home remodel. Others have seen dramatic renovations on HGTV or DIY. So when I show them real BEFORE and AFTER photos of a house, and ask which one they’d rather live in, the kids don’t let me down.
And when I compare the BEFORE house to a rough draft, and the AFTER house to a final draft, their eyes really do light up with understanding. It’s a beautiful thing.

But that's not where my analogy ends. I explain that before someone starts remodeling their kitchen, the room might leave a lot to be desired, but it does still function. You can cook a meal in it.

But after you pull out the cabinets and counters and appliances, the room is a bigger mess than when you started. And in fact, it doesn't function at all. You have to cook in a microwave in the living room and wash dishes in the bathroom sink.

The same is true for revising a manuscript. In the middle of the process, the writing might be a big mess. Maybe even worse than the first draft. It takes time and patience to focus on one problem at a time and slowly create something better than the original.

In a home remodel, first the new drywall goes up (structure). Then the new cabinets, countertops, and appliances are installed (writing style, voice, point of view). The walls are painted (word choice), and finally the new window coverings and accessories are added (conventions). If students go step-by-step through the revision process and accept that it isn't always easy, they can end up with the manuscript of their dreams.


  1. Melissa,
    Such a great comparison! That does make it easier to explain. Revision looks so different for those who draft electronically. I've started saving work at various stages, just to show the differences. Thanks for all of these ideas for practicing and rehearsing as well!

  2. What I tell them is that in the middle of the renovation, the house looks worse than when you started. The same can be true for revising. So they shouldn't get overwhelmed or discouraged by the mess. They should just keep moving forward.

  3. That's a great comparison!Thanks for the idea!

  4. Such a perfect analogy! It's helpful for us writers too, to know to stick with those manuscripts we love and can't let go of :)

  5. I love this timeline and have used it many times w/kids and will do so again. However, DIY and home reno is also a perfect way to explain revision to kids. TY.

  6. It's amazing how well this comparison seems to work with students.

  7. Brilliant analogy! I've got some kids I plan to share this with. Thanks!!!!