Thursday, August 30, 2007

Revision as Re-Seeing

I often say to my students that revision isn't just "fixing" things that are "wrong" with a paper, but rather has to do with re-seeing the piece of writing, approaching it from a new vantage point. This is the reason why it's good to give writing time to "age" between drafts, so that when you come back that you're not just looking for "mistakes" but rather that you're taking the whole piece of writing in with new eyes. It's also why it's good to have others look at your writing and to give you feedback.

I actually do believe that, but I also feel like it's a somewhat counterintuitive process for people who do academic writing, or at least for me doing academic writing, because at least for me, one thing that is crucial to actually getting a piece of literary critical writing done is the ability to block out everything but the thing that I'm trying to do, to visualize my purpose in a very concrete way and to avoid distraction with other ideas. And thus, when things get to the revise and resubmit stage, I often feel irritable (at first) with having to address what almost always feel to me like comments that have nothing to do with my purpose and my vision for the piece of writing.

But. Once I get over my initial irritability, I actually am pretty good at taking in the comments and trying to do something with them, to forge some compromise between what I was originally trying to do and the suggestions of the reader. And it's interesting. It's an interesting activity. A little bit humbling, but also... I don't know. I suppose that it's possible for me to throw off my original commitment to my own purpose and to visualize a new purpose through the comments. And usually (ok, always) I always feel like the fleshing out of that original purpose ends up producing something better than what I'd originally done.

But then, that begs the question: if I get so much out of feedback, ultimately, why don't I share my work - ever - before sending it off someplace? Because I don't. With anybody. Ever. It's like the research stuff is this secret, private thing that I do, and it's not until the final stage - when I actually think I'm "done" - that I can let it go and let others see it and let their feedback help me to shape things. And this fact about my own writing process is completely counter to what I encourage my students to do - indeed, make them do - in my courses. And so I wonder whether the way I do this thing in my own life is really the best thing, or I wonder whether I should be encouraging so much collaboration between students in the drafting process, because if my way is the best way, then I'm actively teaching my students to do something that's not good for them. Who knows.

But suffice it to say that apparently I'm now interested in cognitive aesthetics. Who knew?

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