Revising Your Essay


by Andrea Tate

Putting the final touches on your essay, by cleaning it up and styling it, will give you notice: “Hey Andrea, I liked your last essay. It made me think,” instead of a nebulous “like” on Facebook. We all do it. We click “like” without even reading. I won’t get into the good and bad of that right now. Today, I want to focus on the importance of revision.

As writers, most of us have heard Anne Lamott’s term “shitty first drafts.” Take it to heart, if you haven’t already. Unless you have a supernatural gift that allows you to write a brilliant first draft, please accept Anne’s proclamation—your first drafts are shitty! And, more importantly, they should be. Write your shitty draft, then use the tools of revision to style it into something people want to look at, and hopefully even discuss.

There are a few simple tools you can begin with, and the most important one is: practice distance. Put some distance between you and your first draft. Let it sit for a few days and then go back to it with fresh eyes. Another tool is to check you audience. Honestly take a look at your essay to see if it has a universal appeal or are you alienating certain demographics.

Mary Karr, the author of The Liar’s Club, has this to say about revision.

  …one of the things I do is rewrite, rethink, and reconsider…I say to myself, is this true? Can I say that? Is that right? And if I don’t feel 100 percent certain that I can. I really try not to put it in.

And of course, there is James Michener’s quote regarding revision:

              I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.

I’ve seen writers confuse proofreading with rewriting. There is no use going through an essay looking for misused commas when you haven’t fully made the point you intended to make. Proofreading is the last step and shouldn’t be bothered with until you essay has gone through the full revision process. In Latin revision means to visit again, or to look at again. I can’t tell you how many times of I’ve written an essay that completely changed after revision—from crappy to not so crappy at all.

Andrea will help you revise your essay in her hands-on course: The Personal Essay: Let’s Get Personal, starting September 8th. 

Andrea Tate received her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Antioch University Los Angeles and recently finished an internship in the English Department at Santa Barbara City College where she assisted students in learning the tools necessary for revision. As a former literary journal editor, Andrea informs writers what editors are looking for in an essay, and how to make sure your essay is ready for submission. Andrea teaches memoir writing at The Hillcrest Center for the Arts, and online personal essay workshops forinspiration2publication. Her essays can be found onRole/Reboot, A Daily Dose of Lit, and Bleed. Her story “You” was published in the anthology Extract(s) in 2014, and is part of the memoir she is currently revising titled Self-Made Mom. Andrea is an award winning theatre director and an advocate the theatre arts for children and teens. Her next book, Real Acting, focuses on ways in which theatre arts can teach diverse groups of children to organically express themselves in today’s society.