Response #9 – Sue Miller’s “A Lecture on Revision”

As we head into the final two weeks of the semester, I would like to ask you to start thinking about revising, refining, polishing and deepening one of your four essays. In  her essay “A Lecture on Revision,” Sue Miller gives us some pretty wonderful insights on how to think about revising.

In the exercise for this week, I’ll ask you to:

  • take up Miller’s idea of “the dragon,” or how you might deepen your essay by looking closely at the what is the core struggle you are grappling in the work.
  • As she also implores us, to keep in mind a reader, to make the work of consequence for a reader. Another way of thinking about this is to project out, to give a reader not only our story, but to help readers in thinking about their own lives and struggles.
  • To consider the other word she uses: “center.” What is at the center of the essay you’re writing? Once this is determined, we can deepen the meaning of the essay by writing toward this core.

In your response this week, discuss what you have learned about revision from this essay, and how you might begin revising your own work.

Please post by Tuesday(ish), April 21.

 

11 Comments for “Response #9 – Sue Miller’s “A Lecture on Revision””

Lucie Anderson

says:

I really enjoyed reading this essay on revision. Typically, revision is not my strong suit. Most of the time, writing is a cathartic experience for me, so I have not yet spent a lot of time looking back at old work that I have written and revised it. For the most part, I only revise in classes when it is assigned. However, I like the idea of identifying the “dragons” of each character in a story. First, it makes me excited to revise because calling something a dragon makes it more exciting. Second, it is helpful to manifest this idea of a looming problem as a physical being I can picture. Third, I like that Sue Miller challenges the writer to identify separate dragons for separate people- I imagine this adds a great deal of dimension and complexity to a story that I hadn’t considered before. In the world of nonfiction, identifying your dragon as the writer may be very helpful in finding the story’s center and giving meaning and life to all the peripheral elements of the story. I am excited to give this line of thinking a try as I revise my final piece for the course.

Jennifer Karulski

says:

I hadn’t thought about my essay having a point other than to introduce a person. That was the core. After reading Miller’s essay, I see that there are ways of adding more meaning. I especially liked how she covered how to make it meaningful to the reader. Why does anyone want to read about my aunt? No one cares, but my Mama, right?
She was an interesting person who led an interesting life, but I need to tie it in more with how the reader can be involved as more than just a recipient of my story, but act more as a participant, being able to relate something from it to their own life.
Good advice from the essay was to consider what the subject was struggling with, but also what the author is grappling with. Why did I choose to write about her? Do I have unresolved issues regarding her death, our relationship while she was still alive? These are things I need to think about as I look for the “center” of this essay.

Hunter Young

says:

I found this essay to be pretty useful. The part that I have always had a hard time doing is revising. With fiction, it’s difficult; with non-fiction, it seems nearly impossible. When I am writing non-fiction, it feels almost stream of consciousness as I remember things. The first pass seems like the truest form. Going back and shifting anything in the story–which I have written to be the “truth” of what I experienced–would turn it into fiction. However, Miller gives some great tips. As Lucie noted above, the idea of turning things into “dragons.” For me, I read this as a way to distance yourself from what you believe to be true. If you see something fantastical instead of something true, then you will start to view things a little more objectively. This leads in me into the next point that really interested me in this essay: Questioning yourself. As I’ve stated, I write a lot of non-fiction very stream of consciousness, but there has to be some reason that the things that come out do rather than others. Miller suggests questioning why things are there and through that questioning, you will reveal the real truth in some kind of way. I don’t try to question myself much, which I probably need to do in order to figure some things out, because then what else am I doing this for? One last thing that really intrigued me was how Miller was prompted by all of these writings about her father to write fiction. After reading this essay, I went back and re-read my 4 essays over this semester, and there was a very evident theme throughout them all. As a fiction writer, sitting down and writing dozens of pages about something in my life feels unnatural. However, after reading Miller’s piece, I think it would be really great to use a fictional story to parse through the things I wonder about in the real world.

Isabelle Jacobson

says:

I think the most important takeaway for my revisions for the final is maintaining consistency for the reader. I am revising my piece Mother, Sun, Daughter and through discussions with Dr. Farmer I realized that the piece had deep personal connections in the first few sections, but the last scene of the piece didn’t fully connect because I don’t think I was as attached to that section as an author. The inconsistency in the reader’s connection to the piece can totally ruin the final moments that are meant to establish a lesson or a theme in the reader’s mind. Especially for a personal piece, I need to make the reader connect the whole way through or else I lose them and they won’t relate to or understand the experiences I want to convey and that will hurt the ultimate takeaway from the piece.

In addition to consistency in content, I also want to work on sentence structure. I’m not sure yet if this will cause me to make huge changes or smaller sentence-level edits, but I really hope to clean it up so it reads clearly but still contains the nice imagery and sensory details. I think immersing the reader in the world to show them why they should care about the piece is crucial.

Erika Goddard

says:

Ever since I was little, story-telling has always been a part of me to the point that writing comes almost naturally, whether it is through fiction or poetry. Revision, however, has always been an issue as I constantly have to wonder what I can do to make the story or poem more dramatic, exciting, or interesting for the reader. Rewriting a non-fiction piece is even worse as it feels like over dramatizing something will make a scene or memory unrealistic, but parts can also can be important to the essay can be seen as boring to the reader, so there is a conflict of interest. And while I have heard from others of how they hate revising and can completely understand the issue, it never really helped. But with this essay, it not only helps, it sheds new light onto revision.
I really like the identifying a problem one comes across as a dragon and that there are separate dragons for separate people. It adds more depth to each individual story and is easier to understand them once the problem, or dragon, is made clear and thus find the center of the story.
While I’m still deciding one which essay that I want to revisit, I want to be able to bring forth of which ever center it is. For either one, I want to bring out more emotion out of them to so it can be more interesting for the reader without overdramatizing it.

Diana Ramstad

says:

I really enjoyed this essay, I actually enjoy revising my work and editing it and working on making it stronger. When it comes to writing about my Father which was my choice at times this is a struggle as I remember him as he is alive while he has actually passed. I want to write not just a small bit about my father but a real person who was interesting and bring that out to people.

For me what I need to work on as a writer is to have faith that people want to hear my stories and work on that extra something that keeps my writing popping that adds a richness, humour and a connection for people who are reading the story. That is a big part of what I need to work on. I always need to work on sentence structure, pulling out unique and interesting words not just using the same one’s over and over again. The Journey of being a better writer is really important to me and I am enjoying that particular Journey.

Aubri stogsdill

says:

This essay was interesting and helpful. Writing, especially creative nonfiction, is extremely intimate. Writers are often allowing readers into vulnerable parts of their hearts. This essay was so telling of the realities that Miller discovered in her own heart regarding the loss of her parents, especially her father. One of the biggest takeaways for me was just how much time and effort Miller put into trying to figure out what it was she was trying to say, and that she actually worked to discover that through the process of writing and revision. Miller pointed out that as she wrote and revised, she discovered different assets of herself, the situation, and her father. She constantly asked herself why she had put different sections where they were and what she could discover based on her choice of organization. While she was the one putting in the work to write the memoir, it almost as if it built itself through the process.

There is such a depth of meaning in Miller’s whole process of revision, a depth that I don’t personally possess on the topic. Yet, reading about this process has inspired me to take a deeper look at what I’ve written and WHY I’ve written it. As I go into revision, I want to be more intentional about discovering things about myself and my experiences, and do my best to bring readers along with me through that process. I also want to ask myself more consistently, “what is it that I am trying to say?” and “how to I best capture the conclusions I have come to?”

Liz

says:

I liked reading Miller’s personal history of revision. I was very struck by the idea that her first several revisions didn’t get at the core of HER part in the story, which is a fascinating thing to realize — that someone else’s story is actually your story of that person’s story. This would work great for me if I were revising my profile, but I’m actually planning to revise my place essay so I have slightly different struggles.

The first person voice perspective was interesting too. I’m revising a piece that was written in the second person, which I’d never tried before, but I’m going to attempt to keep it and see if it works. The center of my piece, in thinking about it, is my children, and the fact that they have always been a part of my life, even before they were born. So maybe that translates to the meaning of family… Which means that perhaps the core struggle has to do with how we can “re-see” our lives, or whether that’s even okay. Should we be rewriting history, or looking back and making sense of what was happening at that time, with all the knowledge we had then but no more? This in a sense is what Miller does too: she has to determine whether to rewrite her father. I may look back at her essay as I rewrite my own.

Logan McGinnis

says:

I enjoyed reading this essay and can definitely relate to the struggles of revising. Something i hadn’t quite thought about before was the idea of having a center core to the story. She talks about going back over and over again never satisfied with what she’d written. I too often feel this way. Sometimes i think it’s simply because a write is never satisfied but then again I haven’t worked on something so deep for so long.

When i’m writing i sometimes find that the story tries writing itself. I start out with an idea in mind but then without even realizing i just keep writing unaware that my story is pushing into a completely different direction. I think that sometimes the story knows best and I should just let it flow rather than force it into being something it’s not.

Ana Hinkle

says:

Wow! Miller’s essay hit me in my gut within the first few sentences. I felt this essay was written for me. Yes! Yes! Yes! The topic of my memoir essay was my father, who also suffered from Alzheimer’s and eventually died from it. My father’s illness, demise, and death has always been at the forefront of my thoughts and really the reason I chose to enroll in a creative nonfiction writing class so I could channel my grief and sadness over my father’s diagnosis and death and write as a way to make sense of it all. Having similar stories enabled me to connect deeper to Miller’s guidance on revision.

Like Miller, in seeking to understand my father’s diagnosis and for me, medical history, I asked my mother for his medical records and without hesitation, she sent them to me. What I can learn from Miller, is figuring out what my dragon is and why I want to tell this story. I’ve always thought that readers would appreciate a firsthand account of what it was like to experience Alzheimer’s Disease. But how do I tell the story in a way that draws in the reader and isn’t a story all about me and my feelings? I’m also struggling with separating my story from Miller’s. I need to ensure my revisions work to tell my story. It’s challenging to separate my feelings from hers as there are so many similarities so I need to unearth what sets our stories apart.

Stefanie Burich

says:

I greatly enjoyed Miller’s article on revision and learnt a lot from her process of revising her memoir. It’s somewhat of a relief to hear how a professional author struggles and moves through her struggles, and I was grateful for her sharing that process. I thought it was helpful to hear that the author spends several years revising her work, shifting what she identifies as her problems and addressing each of them in different ways. In general I tend to focus more on products than processes, and sometimes I lack faith in (cumbersome or elaborate) processes as a means to an improved product. I have to remind myself that ‘working towards’ is as useful as ‘having accomplished’, and essays like Miller’s help me step back and focus on the process. I often wonder how some of my favorite authors ‘just come up with’ paragraphs after paragraphs of quote-worthy prose. I assume that there is a lengthy revision process. I really like her passage about the dragon and her secularized use thereof. What’s the dragon in my story, and what’s the narrator’s dragon? In academic essays we have our thesis statements, clearly defined dragons that guide our writing. Similarly, in creative writing we need some sort of thesis statement, a conflict or point that our narrative revolves around. It forces the author to think more deeply, something which the revision process may help with, and it allows the reader to be drawn into the writing, to explore along with the author, and to hopefully come to a resolution. I will need to think about my dragons and address them in my essay. I will also need to develop faith in the process of revision and trust that, like anything, spending time with my work will reveal deeper meanings for me and the reader.

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