After years of writing short creative pieces for myself and for publication, I had a hard time initially in my graduate program shifting back to writing academic papers. It had been almost a decade since writing academic papers in my undergraduate program, and so these types of papers felt as different from each other as dog walking is from underwater basket weaving. I started revising annotations and research papers, but I would get stuck and felt overwhelmed by all the sections that weren’t great. Then I realized I could use a revision technique I learned in a creative writing class: make every line as good as your favorite line.
I find my favorite line, hopefully the best line, and try to make every other line as good. Sometimes it can be hard to identify what makes a sentence my favorite, so I try to dig in to how the sentence is put together and where it sits in the paragraph. I begin to reshape sentences, and, slowly, I start to look at the paragraphs around it and continue revising, one small unit of writing at a time.
By identifying the places in my paper where something is working well, I find my anchor. I feel less lost in the sea of revising pages and pages. I now have a way to show myself incremental improvements, which increases my ability to continue making more improvements! And, with the incremental changes, I have a placeholder if I need a break. Revising becomes about doing more of what I’m doing well rather than feeling deflated with all the ‘not great’ bits. One phrase or one sentence at a time, I build on my favorite, and eventually, the whole paper is transformed.
Virtual Writing Center Staff