What does revision look like?

I reiterate my desire, in future (and present) classes, to show students what drafting and revising look like on the page. I remember fondly Library of Congress exhibitions of authors’ draft manuscripts – I remember seeing pages from William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Flannery O’Connor … Online, the LOC offers photos of such revisions. For example, there are pages of Langston Hughes’s poetry, draft after draft.

An interesting post from the Poynter Institute, “How Writers Can Learn from Documented Cases of Revision,” references a book, Songs in the Rough, which looks at music in draft form. In its pages we learn how lyrics from “Heartbreak Hotel” went from

Since my baby left me I’ve got a new place to dwell
I walk down a lonely street to Heartbreak Hotel


Since my baby left me I found a new place to dwell
Down at the end of ‘Lonely Street’ to ‘Heartbreak Hotel.’

The writer goes on to reference one of my favorite songs, “This Land Is Your Land,” and its numerous iterations. I think of Michael Day‘s frequent admonitions to provide students rhetorical occasions to produce content that is meant to be changed (alternatively, “the sacrificial draft”).

Writers like us, baby we were born to fail.

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