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Monday, November 28, 2011

I Believe in Revision

When I hand back an essay tattooed with corrections, suggestions, and comments, I always tell my students that they will learn the most from doing revisions. I encourage bold topic choices, fastwrites, and experimental forms. In a writing class, there is no failure a revision can't correct. It is both our safety net and the gnaw on our conscious -- we can always make it better. The writer is always in flux, always between drafts, always adapting to new reactions and inspirations. We live in the journey, not the destination.

I believe in revision both in and beyond paper. That analytical red pen, both literal and figurative, is always at my finger tips. Ready to pause when a class, a dinner, or conversation turns sour. I find hope in critique, in breaking apart moments and paragraphs and examining how they could be reconstructed. One of my favorite philosophers, John Dewey, believed that revision was a creative process. It is not designed to squelch our confidence or tell us what we can't do, it is there to imagine what is possible.

One of my most devastating failures came when I applied for a full-time job at the place where I was teaching part-time. I was confident, knowing the college and the student population. After my teaching demo, I felt wonderful and believed that I was only a few short months from a living wage with benefits. But I was edged out by a newcomer with more experience and education. I could have let the hard feelings put a wall between me and my colleagues, the ones who sat through my presentation, sifted through my materials, and chose someone else. However, to be a revisionist, you must learn to listen and collaborate. I talked to the co-workers, I handed over my cover letters and teaching statements, I revised. One year later I was in a full-time tenure track position.

To believe in revision is to believe in second chances. I love my job because every semester I get a second chance – a second chance at teaching an assignment, a second chance at making a-ha moments, a second chance of winning over the crowd. While I'm a hard worker, I've never enjoyed the jobs where I knew I would be doing the same task, day in and day out. I find no comfort in repetition. I rarely even read the same book twice. In order for me to be excited each and every morning, I have to believe that I am moving forward, taking the best from yesterday and putting it into action today.

A revisionist is not a perfectionist. As a working mother of two small children, I fail often; I take on too much. But my life is richer for that. When my students misunderstand directions and have to start from scratch, I tell them it is not a loss, but a gain. We learn by doing, by revising.

-- Jennifer Niester-Mika, WRIT Center co-director

1 comment:

  1. As I tutor, I feel horrible when I talk to a student who has strayed far afield from the assignment requirements for whatever reason. The student has put in a fair amount of work-- but it's not the work that was supposed to be done. But everyone I can remember who has been in that pickle was grateful that we figured it out and that they could start over.

    Liz D.