Friday, November 1, 2019

Revision, Rehersal, Renovation

Since 2019 marks the 10th Anniversary of this blog, on Fridays this year, I’m updating and re-running some past posts that sparked conversation or that I think still have a lot to offer people teaching or writing nonfiction. Today’s post originally appeared on May 18, 2016.

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

I created revision timelines documenting the 10-year process of creating No Monkeys, No Chocolate and the 6.5-year process of creating Can an Aardvark Bark? so that teachers would have an engaging way to show 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 draft, the piece 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 home for kids, and I’ve finally found one—renovation.
Some students have lived through a home remodel. Others have seen dramatic renovations on HGTV. 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 still functions. 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 challenge 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. Eureka! Glad you found the right metaphor and thank you for sharing it!

  2. Such a perfect comparison, Melissa. Congrats on 10 years of blogging and al the work you've done to demystify NF and make it fun! Cheers to you.