Many writers have a secret motto that youmay or may not have heard of: Kill your darlings.
It’s a lot.
It’s just a metaphor, but a little scary, right? The reason “kill your darlings” has alot of power, though, is that it’s a memorable comparison: it reminds us that we may need a new perspectiveand to make some radical changes to our writing, even to our most darling sentences or ideas.
We work on these kinds of changes during revisionand use reflective techniques to help us effectively do this sometimes-challenging work.
That’s what we’ll learn today in StudyHall: Composition, presented by Arizona State University and Crash Course.
I’m Yumna Samie, let’s get started.
It means to see again, literally.
To perhaps look at something differently andchange our view of it.
Many compositionists divide up revision fromediting because edits change small elements of meaning, but are mostly focused on refining what’salready there.
Revision, on the other hand, is not smallor sentence-level; it’s big, usually affecting whole sentences, paragraphs, or pages.
It may result in substantial changes: youmight move paragraphs around and rewrite them to make them fit elsewhere.
Sometimes revisions are even big enough tolead us back to drafting.
Remember, we sometimes have to cut thingsthat we thought were brilliant but don’t quite fit anymore.
That’s killing our darlings! We revise before we edit because revisionis so impactful that editing for typos or formatting errors first would be a waste oftime.
While revising helps us get from a draft toa final product, many of us get hung up in the pursuit of excellence, wondering whether some writing that seemsgreat today really needs more revision.
Plato struggled with this same question ofexcellence.
He had the idea that, in some other planeor dimension, there are perfect “versions” of everything we see here on Earth.
He called them “forms.
” So all the chairs in the world are imperfectrenderings of the platonic form of a chair, and all puppies are just attempts at the perfectform of a puppy.
Even abstractions, like Earthly justice, arejust an effort to get to that platonic form.
In this view, our world is full of thingsyearning to be their perfect selves.
Regardless of whether you’ve heard of Plato’sforms before, you’ve probably approached writing projects as if there was a “platonic”solution.
You can imagine the “form” of success, but you aren’t quite sure how to perfect the draft that’s sitting there, staringup at you, and asking, “what now?” Perfection may help motivate us to reviseand edit, but the truth is that no text can be perfect: in fact, all writing exists and gets readin different contexts, so “perfect” could look like many things, anyway.
Revision is part of the work of making a textexcellent, not perfect.
Since there are things you don’t learn untilafter the draft is written, we aim for responding, not perfecting.
We want to adjust according to new information, our change in vision.
Our vision changes to achieve at least twogoals: discovery and alignment.
Discovery has to do with recognizing thatour writing could change and take a different form, even if we really liked the first version.
It’s when we take the time to address ouroptions and decide which ones would be helpful to use, and which ones we need to let go.
Another goal of revision is alignment: seeingif our work fits with what we set out to do, what our audience wants to read, and the criteriaby which we’ll be evaluated.
So for a marketing email, we would have todecide if the email covers everything listed in the planning stage, but also everything our boss is looking for.
We’d also consider what the email list subscribersactually want to read.
A note here: alignment doesn’t mean we giveup our own perspective.
It lets us deviate thoughtfully, making consideredchoices about what works for us and our particular audience.
So we might align our marketing email to whatour boss and subscribers want, but leave in a phrase or two that we believe achieves ourbroader goals.
Different kinds of revision may be necessaryto achieve discovery and alignment.
First, content revision can involve addingthings that are missing, removing things that are repetitive, or refining things that aren’taccurate.
You also could focus on structural revisions.
Structure is the way that your piece fitstogether.
That might mean sequence, what happens inwhat order, like a creative writing narrative where the zombies attack before the storystarts.
Structure could also refer to the way you’veorganized an argument, such as how you present the problem, evidence, and resolution of a research project.
When you’re drafting, you may be doing manythings unconsciously.
But when you revise, you actively review yourdrafts to see why and how they’re working.
You look for the bones, muscles, and ligamentsthat join your writing together, the phrases and paragraphs that make yourcore points.
You’re trying to evaluate if they can standon their own.
Finally, revision isn’t a one-off re-readingof your work.
Like drafting, which is recursive and sometimesneeds to be done more than once, it’s normal to have to revise more than once.
You also might move backwards to draftingor another step in the process because of what you’ve noticed during revision.
And that’s okay! We do have to remember our deadlines and balancethat pressure against the work that still needs to be done.
It’s a reality of many writing tasks, thisgive and take.
To see our work in a new light, we need waysto approach our drafts reflectively.
Three techniques that may work include Self-Review, the Talk-To, and Peer Review.
Self-Review is when you look over your ownwork and try to see it anew.
Self-Review can be limited because we oftenget into a rut when it comes to how we see our own work, glazing over everything by saying, “seemsfine, ” or “it’s hopeless!” Many people return to the guidelines for aproject after the drafting step in order to see if they might have missed something that was importantin the original goals.
Using tools like a checklist or a particularset of reflective questions can really help us to side step our own particular biases, try to see the work in a different way, and– yes — kill our darlings by letting go of that joke that we’re proud of but doesn’treally fit with the rest of the piece.
The Talk-To is an example of a reflectivetool that can help you self-review.
Composition scholar Kathleen Blake Yanceydescribes it in her book, “Reflection in the Writing Classroom”.
The idea is to read your text while adoptingmultiple perspectives on purpose, hoping to generate new insights or make changes.
We start a Talk-To by imagining our text isthe best thing we’ve ever read.
Then, we doubt that the text has any goodqualities at all.
And we take notes on both these perspectives.
Holding these two opposing views in our mindscan really help us land on an in-between view that allows us to make useful changes.
We can continue the Talk-To by thinking aboutwhat an expert or a writing professor would think of the text.
Finally, we agree or disagree with this imaginaryexpert’s opinion and take notes describing our thoughts from each mindset.
All these notes offer a ton of informationto consider while revising, and by using that information, we can emphasize strengths and improve weaknessesas we revise.
To gain even more insight, we can turn toothers.
Peer Review is one of the most popular waysto see our writing in a new light.
It’s done in all kinds of academic fields, as well as a lot of workplaces and among professional writers and authors.
Peer review is when someone who is in a similarplace to you – a coworker or fellow student, for instance – reads your work and gives youfeedback.
This feedback draws attention to things youmight miss on your own, letting you glimpse what others see in your work.
In peer review, you can ask the reviewer toread your work in a certain way.
At work, your co-worker may know the specifictone that your boss likes, and you could ask them if they think it fits your boss’ expectations.
At school, you might have a complex assignmentwith many requirements, and your peer could help you by checking offeach requirement as they read.
You can ask a question or just ask for generalthoughts from your reviewer.
However, there are limits to how much thisprocess can help you.
There are peer reviewers who do unhelpfulthings, like encouraging you with positive commentswithout helping you see where your draft falls short.
Peer reviewers are also peers; they usuallyaren’t experts who have written endlessly on this topic — unless, of course, you’re also an expertwho’s written endlessly on this topic.
Their feedback is valuable, but you can’tnecessarily incorporate it all without questioning it.
All these strategies contribute insights tohelp us revise.
For a look at how revision might play outin real life, let’s see a Writer in Action.
Will works in social media marketing, andhe’s creating a batch of tweets for his employer, a major producer of stuffed marsupials.
He’s written his draft and wants to seeit from a different perspective.
His coworker, who focuses on Facebook, readsthe draft and suggests ways to make the tweets a little longer and more in-depth, includingmore facts about koalas, wombats, and wallabies.
Will thinks about the suggestions, and realizesthat a little bit more detail would be good.
But he doesn’t want his tweets to be aslong as his co-workers’s Facebook posts, which work under a different set of expectations.
This helps him balance discovery of a wayto improve with his alignment to the task at hand.
He gives himself a little break from workingon the tweets to respond to some emails, and then he comes back to them.
He pulls up a competitor’s twitter page, Mad4Marsupials, and considers their most-favorited posts.
He compares them to his own posts as a formof self-review.
He realizes that he wants to use more variedlanguage in some tweets, changing the content, and he wants to move some of the most excitingstatements to the beginning of each tweet, shifting the structure.
He also realizes he should cut the #KOALATYtimeat the end of every post.
In an earlier draft, he thought it’d befunny and memorable, but he’s ready to kill his darlings for more cohesive content.
By the end of the day, he doesn’t make anykind of grammatical edits, because in the course of revising, even some of his mostpromising tweets have changed a lot.
He’ll return to them the next morning tocheck for clarity and typos, but for today, he’s happy with his revisions.
Will is a Writer in Action! Being open to change is hard for a lot ofus, but we need to do it in writing and in life.
Having to review your work, make changes, and then do it again is pretty normal.
So consider review techniques that will helpyou gain a different perspective on your work to improve it.
As you write, try to leave time so that youcan actually make the changes you uncover in this process.
That scary command “Kill your darlings”is a bit harsh, but being willing to let go of even cherished turns of phrase to makeroom for better writing is essential to our improvement.
Tune in next time where we’ll brush up onour editing skills and work to remove any barriers between our intended meaning andour readers’ understanding of our work.
No red pen required! Thanks for watching Study Hall: Composition, which is produced by Arizona State University and the Crash Course team at Complexly.
If you liked this video and want to keep learningwith us here in Study Hall, be sure to subscribe.
You can learn more about ASU and the videosproduced by Crash Course in the links in the description.
See you next time!.