Murphy Wisdom, Revision, & My Process – aTi 2014

Writing Tips on the Fly

One of the most interesting topics during our workshop arose in an offhanded manner. While we were workshopping someone’s draft, Peter commented that you should always line break on a noun or verb. I had never heard him say that before. Normally, I break where it feels right (which maybe sounds . . . . arbitrary?). I’d say these feelings are rooted in the sound of the language or if there is movement in the words. Typically, that is also my vague attempt at explaining line breaking to my students when they ask. After this brief conversation, I did find myself being more cognizant of where and how I was breaking my lines and using my white space. I found myself pausing to make sure that the word I broke on was the desired part of speech. I am also happy to have a more concrete approach to share with my students. But I would also say there is something to be said for paying attention to where your instincts lead you.

In terms of teaching, I think this little glimpse demonstrates what can come from open conversation. In our classrooms, the pace can be rather frenetic. The amount of content, skills and standards we are required to cover is overwhelming. What are we losing out on by simply talking? What lessons might our students gain if we spent time just in conversation about our reading and writing?



Peter shared some examples of Robert Hayden’s early drafts and published work. One in particular, Monet’s “Waterlilies,” caught our attention. There was such a shift in the poem, which demonstrates the power of revision. The earlier draft lacked the clarity and power of language Hayden developed as he crafted this piece. Most students confuse revision with editing. Being able to show them how something can change from one draft to another might be more effective than simply talking about the difference.


My Process

Normally, I exclusively compose poetry longhand and type my prose. For some reason, this year I found it impossible to work on my poems in composition book beyond an initial draft. I start with just scraps of words and phrases, maybe a line here or there. Once I find a more solid direction, I slap some lines down and see where it takes me. After that initial draft, I can start crafting the piece into something cleaner or more focused. It was at this point in the process that I surprisingly found myself needing my MacBook.   Although, it was definitely more convenient in terms of moving things around, I missed revising by hand.

It is important for me to write things down. Especially when we go on field trips and have a prompt, I write down lots of random information and just my observations in case I figure out how to use them later. I try to gather as much information as I can from whatever is at my disposal. For example, when we went to the lighthouse I read all the placards on the wall and all of the ones displayed outside. I also tend to do quite a bit of Internet work, especially when I am writing about a topic that I have not experienced myself or when I want more technical information, because it offers me more material to work with.


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