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Academic Coaching & Writing

XVIII. An Academic, Writing: Learning to Revise

Apr 03, 2013 by Lee Skallerup Bessette

One of the areas that I wanted to focus on during my coaching sessions was figuring out how to meaningfully revise my work. One challenge that I face is that I am way too “close” to my own writing, making it really difficult to look critically at my work and then make any meaningful changes. Also, I’m writing about a topic I know very, very well, making it hard to know whether I’m providing enough context or information to my reader.

It’s been almost two months since I finished a draft of my first chapter, the introduction. Now that I’ve completed the second chapter, and therefore have a better idea of the direction of my book, it seemed like as good a time as any to revisit my introduction.

My coach, Moira and I sat down and looked at the introduction at our most recent meeting. Her perspective as an “outsider” was invaluable. Because she knows almost nothing about my author and topic, she was able to provide the perspective I needed to understand what was missing or in the “wrong place.” Of course, we didn’t get through the entire chapter in our hour-long meeting. So we began to strategize ways I could work through the rest of the introduction myself. Moira asked, “What kind of thinker are you?” This was a good question. I’ve never been much of a “visual” thinker or learner. But then, how did I work? I was stumped.

We kept talking through the introduction, with Moira asking questions about what a reader needed to know in each section. We (ok, Moira) finally realized that I am an oral learner/thinker who has to “talk it out.” This revelation shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise to me, but perhaps it was so obvious that I missed it. Now, I know I need to “talk out” my work when I’m trying to revise it. Because my session was being recorded, I can go back and listen to what I said to Moira and write out the revisions to the text, adding whatever is needed.

With a voice recorder on my smart phone, I can basically recreate this session for myself, “talking through” my revisions and then going back and listening to them, revising as I go. This also saves my poor husband from having to listen to me “talk out” my revising and writing. I can now talk to myself and save it for later! The next step may be to purchase some dictation software.

So far, the “talking out” has worked really, really well. I have put aside the time to write, gotten into a routine, dealt with many of my doubts, and I am now discovering that when I think out loud, I work more effectively. Revising my own writing has always been one of my biggest challenges and now I have a process to revisit my writing.

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