Posts Tagged ‘process’

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Writing to Embrace the Future

posted: 10.7.13 by Susan Naomi Bernstein

For our first writing project, my students were invited to choose a place that held significance for them—and to write an essay that made a persuasive point about that place. We read drafts together—as a whole class, in pairs and small groups, with me in office hours and over email. [read more]

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The Art of Revision

posted: 10.19.09 by archived

By Sage Cohen

One of the trickiest—and most liberating—aspects of poetry is that there is no Gold Standard against which we measure its worth. Without this standard, it can also be difficult to evaluate when a poem is finished. Because each poem is trying to accomplish something different, it is up to us to decide when the poem has arrived. This is not easy to do, even when one has been writing for decades, but it sure is satisfying to practice!

The important thing to remember about revision is that it is a process by which we become better acquainted with the poem and push it farther toward its own potential. In the revision stage, we revisit and may reinvent the choices we’ve already made with language, image, voice, music, line, rhythm, and rhyme.

The tricky balance involves wildly experimenting with what might be possible in a poem—beyond what we first laid down on the page—without losing the integrity of idea or emotion that brought us to the poem in the first place. This is a skill that develops over time, through experience and largely by feel. If it seems like you’re groping around in the dark when revising, welcome to the club!

The process of revising poems is unique for each poet; often, each poem has its own, unprecedented trajectory. I’ve had a few “whole cloth” poems arrive nearly perfectly complete in one contiguous swoosh of pen to paper. And I have other poems that have taken me more than fifteen years to finish. More typically, I work on a poem for a few weeks or months. Sometimes, I think a poem is finished, but years later, it proves me wrong, demanding a new final verse or line structure or title.

For the purposes of establishing a revising practice, I recommend that you divide writing and editing into two completely separate acts that happen at two different sittings, preferably on different days. The goal of this checks-and-balances system is to give yourself the space to let it rip when you’re writing without fearing interference from your inner editor. Don’t worry: If it’s bad now, it will still be bad next week; you can fix it then.

Once you feel you’ve exhausted every last drop of poetic possibility in the writing of the first draft, or any time you get stuck and don’t know where to go next, put your poem aside for a while. The next time you return to it, you’ll be wearing your editor hat.

In my experience, time is the greatest of editors. The longer a poem sits untouched, the more likely you are to have a sense of how to proceed when you sit down to revise.


Don’t know where to start with your revisions? Try asking yourself the following questions:

  • What is most alive in your poem? Underline the line(s), word(s), phrase(s), stanza(s) that seem to be the kindling feeding the fire of this poem so you can easily reference what’s working throughout the revision process.
  • Is there introductory information at the beginning or summary information at the end that could be trimmed?
  • Who is speaking? What would the poem be like if told from a different perspective? (For example, if a poem is about an experience shared by a mother and daughter, and told from the daughter’s point of view, try telling it from the mother’s point of view.)
  • Where is language weak and flabby? How can you give it more energy and muscle? Can passive verbs become active? Can modifiers be cut? Should “dropped” be changed to “plummeted”?
  • Verb tense: What would your poem be like in a different tense than it was written? Even if it happened in the past, try the present, and vice versa. See what gives it the most power and energy.
  • Does the shape of the poem (line length, stanza breaks, white space) mirror the emotion and rhythm of its content? Should it?
  • Are punctuation and capitalization consistent?
  • Is there good music of repeating sounds throughout the poem?
  • Does each line break create the desired interest, pause, movement, and focus on key moments or words?
  • Does the title serve the poem? How can the title take the poem further?

Remember that only you know the best way to craft your poem. Have fun, be willing to experiment, and you’ll learn a little more about revision each time you try.


Sage Cohen

Sage Cohen

Sage Cohen is the author of Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write Poetry (Writers Digest Books, 2009) and the poetry collection Like the Heart, the World. An award-winning poet, she writes three monthly columns about the craft and business of writing, publishes the Writing the Life Poetic Zine and serves as Poetry Editor for VoiceCatcher 4. Sage has won first prize in the Ghost Road Press poetry contest and been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She curates a monthly reading series at Barnes & Noble and teaches the online class Poetry for the People. To learn more, visit Join the conversation about living and writing a poetic life at!

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Creative Writing, Joelle Hann (moderator), Literature, Peer Review, Teaching Advice, Writing Process
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Collaborative Grades

posted: 6.7.07 by Barclay Barrios

First off, the “Shape of the Thing” exercise worked pretty well. It would have worked better with more samples of each genre though. It was hard for the students to draw the shape of a proposal or conference paper because they only had one of each type to look at–more samples would have made the shape easier to see. But it was a real success in that they were able to see how the parts/shapes were all related, how a proposal became a conference paper became an article. I’m thinking when I do this next time I will provide more samples of the genres OR I will use it to help students understand process, getting them to draw, for example, notes and outline and rough draft and revision. That should be interesting and successful.

Speaking of things that worked but could have worked better, the grad students worked collaboratively on a research project, documenting the local histories of the English department, the college, and the university. Collaborative grades are always a bit tricky, I think. Or at least I think that because I remember my own educational history, growing up as the hyped-up, over-eager, anal-retentive dweeb who ended up doing all the work because I was so obsessed with grades. So the problem I have with any kind of group grades in the classes I teach is what to do about that dweeb in my own classes and also what to do with the total slacker. In other words, I’ve always struggled with the issue of giving a group a grade but making sure that grade reflected individual as well as group effort.

I thought I had the answer. I had each group member turn in an individual group report in which she or he reported on the group dynamics and thus in which he or she also had a chance to report anyone in the group who didn’t do the work. I figured this would be an equalizing mechanism; if everyone reported that Student X didn’t do any work, then I could factor that in to Student X’s grade. I’ve tried this before in my undergrad classes, a web authoring class specifically. It worked like a charm.

But now I’m not so sure. I fear I haven’t taken into account the extent to which group and peer pressures prevent an honest evaluation from any individual. Specifically, I was meeting with someone from one of the groups about her final project and she mentioned some problems she had with someone in the group and the work that someone did but none of that made it into her individual report, which was all glowy and “Yay group!” and stuff.

So, Bitsters, on the one had I have this suggestion about group grades. On the other, I don’t know that it works. So, on yet another hand I’m wondering how to handle group grades. Do people live and die by the final work of the group? Is there some way to factor in individual effort?

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Categories: Assessment, Classroom Challenges and Solutions, Teaching Advice
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