Hope everyone enjoyed the Thanksgiving holiday.
We’re into the final stretch. At this point everyone should have received my feedback, as well as two peer edits. I enjoyed reading the first drafts – I saw passages of beautiful writing and evidence of rigorous reporting. Josh has a near pitch-perfect one paragraph character description. Sara reported from multiple perspectives, deepening her story immeasurably. Jana seamlessly incorporated research and wrote with humor and empathy. Molly has the raw material to produce a gripping narrative. Virtually every piece shows real promise.
Now, the next step: Revision. Many of these were quite rough, which is understandable considering they were first drafts. Some require major surgery and additional reporting, others smaller, stylistic changes. Hopefully this week has been fruitful as you’ve edited and revised.
In particular, I want to highlight three issues many of you displayed in your writing: passive voice, wordiness and backing into sentences. All suck the life out of your writing.
With that in mind, here is the plan for this week and next:
In the interest of making your stories as good as possible, here’s what I’d like you to do. You do not need to turn in your revised drafts on Monday. Instead, please further revise your stories, per the instructions below. If you’d like to come to the classroom to do it, great. If you’d prefer to do it somewhere else, that’s fine. I know writers work in different ways.
Instead, your new deadline for your revised draft is Tuesday at 8 AM (full instructions below). Before then, however, you must to do the following.
1) Read an excerpt from Strunk & White classic text, The Elements of Style. It’s short but incredibly useful. Click here and read #11 (“Use the active voice”), #12 (“Put statements in positive form”) and #13 (“omit needless words”). If you have a physical copy of the book – and you should, as it’s wonderful and cheap and portable – the numbers will be different, so go by the titles. It’s also useful to read the entry under the heading, “Use definite, specific concrete language” (which isn’t online).
2) Read the adapted excerpt I emailed you from Richard Lanham’s book. It’s a short, step-by-step method to take the fat out of your story (he calls it ‘lard’).
3) Now go through your story and use these tools. They will help not just with this story but everything you ever write. Given the extra day on your stories, I’ll expect to see evidence of it in your revised drafts. We will also be discussing Lanham and Strunk & White on Wednesday.
Then, turn in a revised draft by 8 AM on Tuesday morning and bring two copies to class on Wednesday. Your draft should be no longer than 5,000 words unless you clear it with me first. I expect everyone to read it aloud, then proofread it and spell-check it before turning it in.
Moving forward, I’ll be on campus on this Wednesday, then again the following Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Take advantage of the opportunity to talk about your story. Email if you’d like to meet this Wednesday. I’ll be available almost all morning and most of the afternoon.
This week we’ll be talking about proofreading, fact-checking and publishing these bad boys. Which means we’re getting close to the really fun stuff. I look forward to seeing all of you. And, as always, good luck!