Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Today we are pleased to feature Sandy Chmiel's interview with MFA faculty member Anthony D'Aries, author of the memoir The Language of Men, which received the PEN/New England Discovery Award. Anthony teaches our Mentorship Lab courses and the two-semester professional track in teaching creative writing. An expert teacher, Anthony is also a pioneer in developing writing workshops for underserved populations.  

What are some characteristics you try to encourage in emerging writers?
Early in the semester, I like to share a quote by David Mura: “We write to become the person who can finish the work.” I want to emphasize that all writers are constantly evolving. We often don’t know what we’re writing about in the beginning or how we’ll write it, which can cause a lot of doubt and uncertainty. The trick is to not let that doubt paralyze you.  Each draft is a discovery draft.

A good writer is a good observer. I encourage writers to keep their senses open, to pay attention to the world around them, especially during “routine” or “boring” moments in their day: a commute, a long meeting, a waiting room. These are all great opportunities to observe body language or dialogue, those subtle details that will ring true for the reader.

How important do you feel it is for writers to have their own life experiences from which to draw?

We all have life experiences that can serve as powerful material. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a kayak trip around the world, but it could be. I think each of us has a story to tell. Sometimes students, particularly in memoir or personal essay workshops, feel like they need to have lived a tragic life in order to earn the right to write about it. In moments like this, I share a quote by Scott Russell Sanders: “I am not competing for a trophy in tragedy.” A compelling essay can emerge from a tragic event as much as it can from a quiet, “average” moment. The last thing I want my students to do is prematurely dismiss an essay because they think it isn’t “worth” writing about.

That being said, I think it’s good for us to get outside our comfort zones, to find ways to shift our perspective. This may be something as simple as changing our daily routine, taking a different route to work or exploring a part of our town we’ve never experienced before – or something larger: volunteering or traveling. 

What is the difference between reading as a reader and reading as a writer, and why is it important?
One of my goals is to help students understand the difference between reading as a reader and reading as a writer. As readers, we let the narrative lead us. If the writing is working, we no longer see the words but live the writer’s story. When we read as writers, we see words as the raw material of literature; we question how the author built the text so that we may build our own.

If I’m working with students in an undergraduate intro. creative writing workshop, I’ll begin by asking them which words or phrases stood out or feel important. It might be an unexpected verb or a surprising metaphor. Then we’ll move into a deeper discussion of how this verb choice or metaphor contributes to the piece.

In a graduate course, many students are sort of reading in both ways at the same time:       experiencing and examining the text simultaneously. This can be great for revising their own work. I’ll often assign individual pieces to students that I think will help them address a particular craft issue in their own work. I find that these examples are much more useful to students than a craft article.

How are you preparing your students to be interns in non-traditional environments?
I recently co-chaired the PEN/New England Writing and Trauma Conference at Regis College, which was an incredible opportunity for students. The event brought together over 100 writers, social workers, and psychologists, to discuss the relationship between writing and healing. Many of the panelists, including myself, had taught writing workshops in a wide variety of settings: colleges, universities, prisons, shelters, nursing homes, hospitals. We all taught our workshops in different ways: some focused on oral histories, others on one specific genre. But each workshop emphasized the importance of a supportive, welcoming community where writers could share their work safely. Events like this are a great professional development opportunity for students interested in teaching workshops in community-based settings.

When I’m working with a student interested in teaching writing in a non-academic setting, we spend a lot of time discussing techniques for establishing a safe workshop environment. For example, students might begin each workshop with a check-in writing exercise, a short prompt designed to “take the pulse” of the room. 
"Write down one thing that has gone well since the last workshop. One thing that hasn’t gone so well. One goal for the next workshop." Sometimes these answers relate to their writing, sometimes not. Workshop participants share their answers in class. This can help set the tone for the day’s workshop.

I also encourage students to spend the first couple of weeks of the workshop having participants generate new material. Regardless of the experience level of the participants, it’s important to give everyone time and space to create new work. Also, for workshops in prisons or shelters, the classroom is often one of the few quiet, calm places for the participants – it’s important to honor that.

You teach a college course in writing as community service and have also taught writing in correctional facilities.  Why is that important to you?
There are so many populations in our communities that are underserved, that do not have access to educational programs. I think those of us who are lucky enough to have positive and full educational experiences have a responsibility to create opportunities for underserved populations. When a population is marginalized, like prisoners or the homeless, their voices are silenced. Writing and literature can create opportunities for marginalized populations to express themselves, to combat stereotypes by sharing their stories. Whether they’re writing fiction, nonfiction, or poetry, they are sharing their observations, their perspective. Their voices are being heard.

How do your teaching and writing influence each other?
The more I’ve taught, the more I’ve realized that the advice I’ve received from my teachers is often rooted in their own struggles as writers. I don’t like to focus too much on myself when I’m teaching, but I do think it can be encouraging for my students to know that I too have struggled (and continue to struggle) with aspects of my work. This connects back to the David Mura quote earlier, that we are all learning how to write our current project.

I encourage my students to be patient, to not focus on what their work should be but what it is. Where is the current draft leading them? What aspects of the draft surprised them? In turn, my students help to remind me why I began writing in the first place: a curiosity for words and a desire to communicate with the larger world.

What else would you like to share?
Recent news: I was selected as the Fort Lyon’s Writer-in-Residence. More info here: https://lighthousewriters.org/content/fort-lyon-writer-residence  Thanks so much!

Friday, November 20, 2015

As part of our faculty interview series, today we are pleased to feature a Q & A with MFA instructor Kate Whouley, winner of the New England Book Award for her memoir Remembering the Music, Forgetting the Words. Kate teaches Mentorship Lab I, II, and III, along with our two-semester professional track course in publishing. Here Sandy Chmiel asks Kate questions about her writing practice, her music, and her philosophy of teaching. 

Will you tell us about your path to becoming a writer? 
My crooked path runs from reader to writer, with a lot of weird and wonderful attractions along the way.  My mother was a high school English teacher, and when I was a kid, I read whatever was around the house—a lot of great literature that was not necessarily age-appropriate.  I wanted stories to last indefinitely, and in third grade, I vowed to write sequels to all of Alcott and Dickens. (Note: Steinbeck, Salinger, Joyce Cary and F. Scott Fitzgerald are better saved for later years.) My grandmother, a proud Book-of-the-Month Club member and an executive secretary, wrote poetry on her Selectric typewriter, and my mother was routinely published in educational journals.  Still, I grew up with no awareness of writing as a career option.  It  took me twenty or so years of writing radio ads, catalogue copy, custom song lyrics,  greeting cards, feature articles, a magazine column and a handful of professional publications—all, while working in the book business—before I began to see the pattern—and a path to the first book of my own. 

Readers learn that you also have a musical life in your second book, Remembering the Music, Forgetting the Words. Does playing music inform your creativity as a writer?  And what else, besides writing and music, are you passionate about?

In my mind, passion fuels commitment, and I would say I am a committed musician and writer.  The musical way is all about practice and showing up, approaching each session with the intention to improve, to move toward mastery. That musician’s capacity to repeat a line or a phrase until the playing becomes effortless is invaluable to me in my writing practice—and I use my musician’s ear to test for pacing and rhythm in my prose.  Musical performance, meanwhile, demands a deep immersion in the moment—blocking out past and present in favor of the now.  When I am writing, I am happiest when I am a human-zoom:  with a close-up focus on the work and a conscious letting-go of the demands of the world beyond the writer’s room.

As for my other passions, I might list curious engagement, cats (excellent models of curious engagement), and Cape Cod in the off-season.

You are currently teaching two courses: Introduction to Publishing and Mentorship Lab.  Can you give us an example of an interesting project you are doing in one of these courses?

We’re having a lot of excitement in my Intro to Publishing course, where we have been hosting distinguished guests from the worlds of book and periodical publishing.  But I think the most interesting project in that class has been made possible by the gracious participation of Beacon Press. Each student has been assigned a contact at Beacon who plays a particular role in the publication process. After prepping for and conducting one-on-one interviews, students have been sharing their learning in three ways: on blog posts, in 5-10 minute audio/video presentations called Flash Seminars, and finally, in edited Q&A’s that would be suitable for magazine publication.

What do you do to make the online environment more dynamic?
To my mind, the challenge in a “virtual” MFA program is to create and sustain a supportive writing community that feels real, tangible, human.

I have always been tuned into the variety and distinctive cadences of our spoken language, and I love using audio online. (This may also be related to the musical background.)  In my Lab courses, I ask my students to read their work—and sometimes, the work of others—aloud, as a way of hearing what they may not see in reading or re-reading silently.   I also make a lot of audio announcements, and ask students to submit certain assignments as audio or video presentations. As powerful as I believe the written word to be, I feel that hearing each other’s human voices helps us connect more deeply and to engage more thoroughly in an online classroom setting.

What do you like best about teaching in Bay Path’s MFA program?
I love the students! They are inspiring in their dedication, their enthusiasm, and their readiness to learn and grow as writers.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

This week on the blog we are pleased to feature an essay by MFA student Mary Warren Bartlett. A student in Rita Ciresi's Mentorship Lab I course, Mary Warren wrote this beautiful piece as a response to an assignment to reflect on an ecosystem around her.
The trees look to the sky for sun and rain, and hold the rocks snugly in place with their roots. The rocks form a circle to cradle the lake.  A few rocks pop up in the middle of the water, form an island, grow a tree, and invite the ribbonsnake and a Little Blue Heron to stay. The heron snaps dragonflies out of the air, pilfers the snake’s eggs from its nest, and plucks fish out of the lake. The lake holds fish: sunfish, perch, pickerel, small mouthed bass, and at the bottom, in the cool mud, the bullheads. Gliding by the bullheads are the snapping turtles, some as big as trash can lids, and the smaller painted turtles. Snappers will eat the heads and guts of fish we toss in the lake after cleaning, before we bread and fry the silvery fillets. 
If we leave our dinner plates in the lake to soak – too lazy to wash them before bed - bullheads will eat our scraps in a sort of animated rinse cycle. The fish look in the mud for worms, on the stems of lilies for algae, and swim toward the surface to nab mosquitoes.
Spiders, making webs on the branches of trees, or across the seat of our canoe, catch flies. Dragonflies, my favorite, eat anything they can, and quickly, out-maneuvering others on the fly. Snakes eat mice, earthworms, and frogs. Mosquitoes bite us.
Catbirds, complaining from the bushes, gobble flies out of the air and worms from the soil.  They, the bears and we all eat the blueberries.  White-tailed deer, standing at the water’s edge, dine on leaves, berries, acorns and in leaner times, evergreen boughs. 
My father hangs an upside down bottle of sugar water on the back deck, between his begonias, for the hummingbirds. Ants try to get in on this treat, but a ring of Vaseline is their end. The ants not on the hummingbird feeder are inside the cabin walls, eating the beams from the inside out.
The bobcat, mysteriously slinking through the night, eats mice, fish, insects and even my grandmother’s favorite, the Canada goose, to whom she feeds cracked corn. The goose poops on her lawn in gratitude.  A brown bear, seldom seen, lumbers over a mountain peak pulling whole branches of blueberries into its mouth and spitting out twigs. He will also eat almost anything else I’ve named.
We sit in our cabin off the grid, by gas and candle-light, with our castile soap, sure that the animals appreciate the lack of lather and motor oil in the lake. The truth is that they don’t know any other lake, oil or soap, because as a community we have agreed, incorporated and mandated loving care of our lake, land, flora, and fauna. 
Only we know there is another way, as we pack up, climb into cars and trucks, slam doors, turn keys, and roll down off the mountain to join other societies each October. And count the days until May. 

Friday, November 6, 2015

For our guest post this week, we are pleased to feature a clever essay by second-year MFA student Anne Pinkerton. Anne wrote this piece for Kate Whouley's course, "Introduction to Publishing," and in it she gives us a whole new way of looking at the term "running head."  

Running Head

The term running head conjures odd images for me. Immediately, I think in literal terms of a cartoonish, disembodied human head with disproportionately small legs fleeing a scene. Maybe a little like Mr. Potato Head if he were really on the go, though in my mind’s eye, he is always just standing around.
Running head also makes me think of racing thoughts, a chronic condition I suffer from. It’s got an anxious angle, this term – it sounds like too much on the brain plus rushing, an equation for stress. That reaction tells you a bit about me.
The actual meaning is quite different. It’s downright calm and very helpful: Text at the top of a standard book page that usually contains book, chapter or section title information. So “running” simply refers to ongoing—as in, happening throughout a book—and “head” just describes the positioning on the page. As a part-time graphic designer, I’m surprised not to know this term already. I’ve always called it a page header! But I’ve only officially laid out one long-form book, and I just made it up as I went along. Because I’m creative. Translation: fraud.
Anyway. Terminology. Upon further research, running head has poetic possibilities. One book design site refers to the “atmosphere you can create with running heads.” I love this, as any designer would, because it implies (correctly) that the look and feel of a layout, including font face and size, spacing, margins, location of page numbers, etc. all have an impact on how the actual text comes across. They help shape the way the story is presented overall.
Running head also plays a critical role in orientation. A reader often puts down a book, with or without marking his or her spot, and has to figure out where they left off when they open it back up again. The running head tells them in which chapter they have landed and maybe the section and page number too, and could include the author’s name and/or book title as well (just for reinforcement, I guess). It’s all kind of like a little icon on a map saying: “You are here.”
Running heads are not to be used for chapter openings, table of content pages and the like, because hopefully you know where you are at that moment from actual titles. (If you don’t, there may be larger concerns to consider.) Anything else, longer than one page, is apparently supposed to have running heads, if the body of the book is set up that way. There are rules.
So, running head is a marriage of form and function, one of my favorite things.

Lastly, and I really, really love this add-on from writer Joel Friedlander, “If you take the running heads off of your book pages, the pages are likely to look quite bare, like they went out and forgot to put their clothes on.” Talk about a vision of embodiment. Now I have stark naked detached heads on the brain. That’ll keep my mind racing.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Interview with Elizabeth Gilbert

For our guest post this week, enjoy this interview between the incomparable Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and a new book on creativity, Big Magic, and Brooke Warner of SheWrites Press. Filled with her trademark wisdom, wit, and inspiring advice for writers, this interview with Liz is pure joy.  

This post is part of a series with Elizabeth Gilbert leading up to a SheWrites co-sponsored event with her: Writing, Truth and Community in Napa Valley on Nov. 7, 2015. 

In preparation for our upcoming Elizabeth Gilbert LIVE workshop event – Writing, Truth and Community in Napa Valley on Nov. 7 – I interviewed the always amazing Elizabeth Gilbert. Liz is best known for her best-selling memoir Eat, Pray, Love, which sold more than 10 million copies worldwide. She’s also the author of six other books including two novels, another memoir, a collection of short stories and a biography and now Big Magic, which is her first self-help book though you’d never know it.

This is just a small excerpt of what we talked about—and an example of the types of inspiring nuggets you'll get all day long at the Elizabeth Gilbert Live event in Napa this November.
Here's what Liz had to say about capturing the creativity in your own life and finding inspiration in everything.
BW: When and how did you become an ambassador for creativity?

LG: Accidentally. Like most interesting things in life, I’ve been engaged forever in my own mind with these questions, about how to live the most sane and generative and joyful possible relationship with creativity because of the work I’ve been doing my whole life. It took me a long time before I was willing to share with people some of the ways I believe creativity is engaged with us, much less with the ways we’ve engaged with it.

But then I gave a Ted Talk in 2009, that it ended up being watched by millions of people, where I basically did talk about genies and fairies and some of the more magical, mystical aspects of creativity, and people were so responsive to it. After that I felt like I had a sign around my neck that said, “Please come to me with your questions and anxieties about creativity,” because people started to bring me all their obstacles and issues and their curiosities, and so at some point it felt like the most efficient thing to do would be to sit down and put it all in one book and lay it out there, and if was useful to people they were welcome to make use to it, and if not, you know, as you were. No hard feelings!

BW: Do you have a preferred genre?

LG: The most difficult genre for me is writing novels, but it’s also the most rewarding. It’s difficult because you have to invent an entire world, but it’s also tremendously exciting because you get to invent an entire world. So you have a lot of pressure on yourself because you have to create a whole universe and make it sound plausible, but you also have all the power in that universe. I feel like I’m at the height of my power whenever I write fiction.

BW: What’s your advice to writers who want to cross genres?

LG: My advice is please, try to get out of your genre and out of your rut, and try to remember that there are so many different kinds of writing, but in the end it’s all the same—it’s all just storytelling.

BW: How did your Facebook community inspire your book?

LG: I can say that this book would not exist in this form without the engagement that I’ve had on that Facebook page over the last three or four years, without a doubt.

I’ve been thinking for over twelve years about writing a book about creativity and I’ve been holding back for a couple of reasons. One is that I think that I honestly didn’t feel that I quite had the authority yet. I needed to feel like I had a few more books under my belt, that I could really stand on my record. You know, if I was going to throw myself out there and say, I’m going to tell you how to do this thing, then I had to know that I was smoking what I was selling, basically. Right?

But the other thing that made me hesitate was I was unsure how to tell this story. When I talk about how all writing is storytelling, I didn’t know if I should write a heavily academic, heavily researched book about the neurobiology and the psychology of storytelling, and the history and the culture of creativity.
I didn’t know if I should write it as a series of interviews with artists I admired. I didn’t know I should travel all over the world and write about how different cultures view creativity. There’s so many ways that I could have written this book.

But after years of having conversations, literally every single day, on Facebook with people who kept coming to me with the same questions, with the same fears, with the same obstacles, I finally just realized, Oh, just write to them! Just write to them because you know how to talk to them. Use the voice you use on Facebook, and keep it very simple, and keep it anecdotal.

I love to say about Big Magic there’s not a single fact in there. I’ve always written really heavily researched books, but this book has no footnotes. It’s all from my own lived experience, from my personal encounters with creativity over the years. It’s all very conversational, and I think it would have been impossible for me to have stepped into that voice if I hadn’t been using that voice every single day on social media, so without a doubt, I think that community inspires me as much as I try and inspire them.

BW: What is one small thing that writers can do if they want to summon creative energy, particularly if they’re stuck?

LG: You know, one of the things that you hear people say a lot is, it’s almost a cliché, you’ll hear somebody say “I don’t have a creative bone in my body.” You’ve heard people say that, I’ve heard people say that.

I always ask people to take that sentence, I don’t have a creative bone in my body, and to take the word “creative” out and to replace it with the word “curious,” and then to see how totally wrong and bizarre that sounds. Nobody would ever walk around saying I don’t have a curious bone in my body.

If you’re living a life where you allow yourself to engage in a daily manner with your curiosity, then you will start very soon to be living your creative life, and it’s your obligation, I think, to pay attention to your curiosity, and to ask yourself every day what you’re interested in.

That’s the juice right there, and I think the mistakes that people often make about creativity and inspiration is that they’re all waiting for the lightning bolt and for the big dramatic vocation, the calling, you know, the tower of flame in the desert, the passion, and that’s not what a creative life is.

A creative life is more of a scavenger hunt, following a trail of breadcrumbs, than it is lightning in a bottle. So the trick in this is to respect your curiosity and to follow it and then to trust it, and to see where it leads. I can guarantee you’re going to live a much more expanded, much more interesting, much more engaged, and much less depressed life.

Friday, October 16, 2015

For our guest blog post this week, we are delighted to feature a Q&A with novelist, memoirist, and MFA faculty member Rita Ciresi.  A gifted writer and exceptional teacher, Rita teaches Mentorship Lab I, II, and III, working closely with small groups of students to help them find their voice and make their language sing.  Here she shares with Sandy Chmiel her thoughts on writing, teaching, and the special way her Italian heritage informs her writing.  

Q & A with MFA faculty member Rita Ciresi

You write both fiction and nonfiction.  Do you prefer one more than the other?  If so, in what way?

Each has its own challenges and rewards, and puts me in an entirely different headspace.  When I'm writing fiction, I feel as if I'm in a dream world of my own making.  And since I'm starting from scratch--with just a snippet of dialogue or a shadow of a character—every small detail needs to gestate a while before it gets born on the page.  With creative nonfiction, I'm mostly writing from personal experience, and so the characters, dialogue, plot line, etc. are already there.  I can just spill out the material, then restructure and revise over and over again.

Do you find it more challenging to work with students in an online-only format rather than in a traditional classroom setting?  Is it difficult to make connections with your online students?

Years ago, before sophisticated delivery platforms such as Blackboard and Canvas were available to faculty, I taught a distance-learning course for a well-known national writing organization.  The communication I had with my students was through the U.S. mail and (for those who had the technology), email on those old-fashioned amber computer screens (Yes!  Remember them?).  At that time I had my doubts about whether or not I could communicate effectively with my students.  But I soon discovered that after the first trade of letters or emails, I grew extremely close to my students--in fact, maybe even closer than I could face to face, as we were trading and critiquing memoirs and personal essays in which the writer revealed quite a bit about him/herself.   Now, in the Bay Path MFA in Creative Nonfiction program, we can use all of the technology at our disposal to grow closer as a class—VoiceThread, Canvas, Google docs all help us to get to know one another with lightning speed.  But I think the essential nature of what we're studying--creative nonfiction--is the key to our getting to know one another quickly.  Many of the students in the Bay Path program are writing memoir, and our subject matter often demands that we lay it all out on the line right away.  I might argue that creative nonfiction is almost better discussed and critiqued in a platform such as Canvas—as students might be more willing to take risks and open up in the online environment.   

 How do you assess/evaluate your online students?

Students come to our program with different skill sets and specific goals.  Our focus on revision and improvement allows for student success across the board.   

Which part of the Mentorship Lab courses do you most enjoy?

I love it all--but what I most value is the sense of community we have in the Bay Path program.  

What kinds of books do you read in your spare time? Do you have a favorite author?

Although I love to get lost in the drama of a novel, the older I get, the more I want to learn about something new when I sit down to read.  So I read mostly nonfiction--memoirs, collections of personal essays, and history written for a popular audience.  I have a strong interest in medical narratives, written from the point of view of patients, physicians, nurses, and caregivers.  Please join me on Goodreads.com, where I chronicle my reading loves (and sometimes my dislikes!)  

What, besides writing, are you passionate about?

Yoga, reading, and walking on the beach.  

You often draw upon your Italian-American heritage.  Have you ever lived in or visited Italy?  

Although I've never been to Sicily, where my father was born, nor have I visited the hometown of my maternal grandparents, I've had the pleasure of visiting Italy as a tourist six or seven times and was lucky enough to be a visiting writer at the American Academy in Rome some years back.  Italy is a beautiful country and has a rich and interesting culture.   There's a big difference, however, between being "Italian" and "Italian American”—and this is subject matter that I've explored in both my fiction and nonfiction.  

Is there anything else you would like to share?

I'm proud to be part of the inaugural faculty of the Bay Path program and value the relationships I've forged with my colleagues and students.   

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Clearing the Way for Words

February, the grimmest of all months in New England, is also the best month for featuring guest writers on my blog.  They inspire me, lift my spirits, and turn my focus back not just to the work, but to the joy of writing.  And joy is just what is needed during these long weeks of darkness, ice, snow, and temperatures so cold they rival the North Pole (not hyperbole, I've checked!).

Here, for your pleasure and inspiration, is guest Susan Ito, faculty member in our MFA program (Contemporary Women's Stories, Generational Histories: Writing about Family) and one of the best writing guides I know:

Creating the Way for Words

I’ve been dealing with some writing “stuckness” in the past month or so. And I’ve been aware that it’s had to do with both inner and outer obstacles. The writing was just not happening.  Read more...

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Once again, a terrific blog post by Jill Jepson in her"Breakfast with the Muse" column for SheWrites:


My music teacher recently said something that sounded very familiar. “When I tell students to practice a piece, they sometimes think I mean play it four or five times. But that’s not what practice is. Practicing means picking apart a piece measure by measure. Playing small sections not five or six times, but fifty or sixty or a hundred times. Playing it until it feels perfect, flawless, effortless. It is that focused, continual, repeated work that makes you a good musician. That’s what practice is.”

I smiled to myself as he spoke because I have had a similar experience with my writing students. For years, I’ve been telling my students they need to revise, revise, revise. It has taken me a long to time realize that they don't always understand what I mean when I say it.

“I printed out my story and searched for every mistake,” one of my students said in a class last year.

“I corrected every misspelling, punctuation error, and typo.” That, to her, was revising.

Another student said she was fine with revising three times, but complained that revising more than that was “boring.” Others described revising as going through the comments I’d made and making a few very specific changes.

Even writers who are striving to become professionals often seem to think that revising consists of these things: A few read-overs to identify and correct mistakes. There! Done! But revising is far, far more than what these aspiring writers believe. And it isn’t until you understand revision that you will be able to take your writing beyond the rough, lifeless, and clumsy to something glowing with life and energy.

1. Revising is not just correcting errors. Going through your work to identify misspellings, grammatical errors, and punctuation mistakes is important, but it isn’t revising, it’s editing. Revising isn’t about correcting errors—at least, it’s not just about that—it’s about going through every aspect of your work with an eye to transforming the mediocre into the brilliant.

2. Revising is not a one-time thing. It also isn’t a two-time, three-time, or four-time thing. You don’t simply write a work then “go over it” to make sure it’s the way you want it. Revising is an ongoing, repeated, constant process. It may take dozens and dozens of readings over weeks or months. You must revise so many times that you can’t imagine there is a single thing that could be improved in your work—then you must revise many more times after that.

3. Revising is specific. You don’t just revise an essay or story. You revise individual passages, paragraphs, sentences, and words. You must isolate tiny sections and read them again and again. You must home in on the most minute aspects of your writing, aware that the choice of one word over another or the alteration of a single sentence can make the difference between a work that is fluid and luminous and one that is awkward and dull.

4. Revising is holistic.  Even as you focus on the minutiae of your writing, you must also look at it as a whole. You must see how every paragraph weaves into a unified work that flows seamlessly from beginning to end.

5. Revising is layered. Revising means looking at words, then sentences, then paragraphs, then passages, then the entire piece. Some writers go through their work considering just the nouns, then again to look at only the adjectives, then again to consider just the adverbs, and on and on. Revision is too complicated to be done in one sweep. It is a matter of peeling back layer after layer.

6. Revising uses the ear. The sound of your words, the rhythm of your sentences, the flow of your prose: These are all things you need to consider when you revise. Read aloud. Listen. Revision involves the mind, but it also depends on the ear.

7. Revising is slow and hard. There is no such thing as a “quick once-over” in revision. Revision is complex, challenging, and difficult. It is hard work that requires great commitment and diligence.

8. Revising is a skill. It doesn’t come naturally. It must be practiced. Over months and years of revising, you gradually become better at it. You never become perfect. You practice your entire life.
No one has ever written a brilliant novel or memoir in one writing. Every work you read and love and admire has been revised dozens—perhaps hundreds—of times. If you are a writer, you must commit yourself to true, deep revision. It is your lifeblood: The one thing that will bring your writing to life.

Jill Jepson is the author of Writing as a Sacred Path.