Exercise #9 – Revision Exercise – Interviewing Your Draft

For this week’s exercise, choose one of the four essays you have written this semester. Consider choosing not necessarily the one that you think is the best so far, but the one that you think has the most meaningful thing to say.

Many times the key to revision is learning to “listen’ to what our draft is trying to tell us. Writers have to be ruthlessly honest with ourselves about what is and what is not on the page as opposed to what we hope is on the page. One technique I find useful is to interrogate the draft. Interviewing the draft can help you help think more deeply about what it is you hope to accomplish. Here are some questions to ask about your draft:


  1. What is the one thing I wanted to say, the single most important message I intended to deliver?
  2. What single message does the draft deliver?
  3. To whom is the message being sent?
  4. Does everything in the draft support the intended message? If not, do the digressions serve a different purpose?
  5. What are the most effective elements in the draft?
  6. What are the most underdeveloped parts of the drafts? Where does the draft break down or take a turn?
  7. Are the reader’s questions all answered by the end of the draft?
  8. Is the voice of the draft appropriate to the reader? Does that voice stay consistent?
  9. Is there anything that can be cut?
  10. Are the portions of information adequate? Is it saying something the reader already knows, or does it provide new insight or information?
  11. What do you want the reader to think feel or do after reading the draft? If you were the reader, would you think, feel that way, or take that action?

And, from the Sue Miller Essay, “Lecture on Revision,” here are two additional questions (from p. 350).

  • What drew you to write this essay?
  • What is the central struggle (center) of the essay? Has that struggle been made clear to the reader?

It may be that not all of these questions are relevant to your essay, but the majority should be. Work to answer at least 10 of them.

Make sure you identify at the top of your page which of your essays you have chosen.

Please email to me by April 23.

Exercise #8 – List of Characteristics

In your last exercise, and in the Toth essay, different  people were characterized along a single theme. For this exercise, think of a person you’d like to profile for your Exercise #4. Make a list of 30 or more traits for that person. Try to avoid synonyms. Try to find the contradictions, complexities.

You can paste your  list directly into an  email to me by Thursday, April 9.

Exercise #7 – The Classification Essay

Classification essays, are essays that  organize by categories that fit under a specific classification.  Technically, the things categories can be anything, but for this assignment, I’m going to ask that you write specifically about people, since this will lead into your essay #4 – The Portrait or Profile.

Using  Susan Allen Toth’s essay “Going to the Movies” as a model, write a four section classification about people you know, have known, or know about. In her essay, Toth uses men she once dated, but you might use anyone – family members, celebrity crushes, teachers you’ve had, people from the neighborhood where you grew up, friends.

Here’s a website with a list you might find helpful:


Due by Thursday, April 2. Please email to dlfarmer@alaska.edu


Exercise #5 – Research

Museum of the North

Option 1: Go to a museum near you. Many of you are here in Fairbanks, so I recommend the Museum of the North. But any museum will do. There are even virtual museums online.

Find one work in the museum – could be art, could be a historical artifact. One.

Describe this thing you have chosen. Write what it is about that work that intrigues you.  What questions do you have about it? What would you like to know about in relation to it? Jot down some of these ideas and questions. For example, I am looking at a painting by Rockwell Kent. Here are my questions: Who was Rockwell Kent? Why is this painting called Voyageurs? How did the museum get this painting? This painting was done in the early 1920’s: what were paintbrushes made out of?

Perhaps you’ll come to more questions: AHA! I just found out Rockwell Kent did the original illustrations for Moby  Dick.  Did Rockwell Kent know Herman Melville? What did they say about each other? Research can be fun (discovery!), illuminating, heartbreaking. I think too often, we fear it, or see it as drudgery. Learn to embrace it, and you will be a better writer.

Now, research the piece you have chosen. Google and Wikipedia are very useful, but try not to rely on only them. Go to a library. Check a local bookstore. It is okay to ask people at the museum, or other people – just verify they know what they’re talking about!

In roughly 2 pages – Write a description of item or work. What intrigues you? What questions do you have? Jot down 5-6 questions, and then seek the answers. Write a summary of this research. Due by email, Thursday, February 27, emailed to dlfarmer@alaska.edu

Exercise #4 – Mimicking E.B. White

Think of the place  you started writing about in Exercise #3. Now, take the paragraph you chose for your Response #4, and write your version of it to fit your topic.

For example, here is White’s first sentence:

“One summer, along about 1904, a camp was rented by my father on a lake in Maine, and we were taken there for the month of August.”

I am writing about a trip to Jamaica. So,

One  spring,  shortly after we we married, a flight was booked by my wife and I to Montego Bay in Jamaica, where we rode our bicycles to the white sandy beach town of Negril.  

Notice, I didn’t worry about sticking exactly to the syntax of the sentence. And while the phrasing “a camp was booked” worked for White, I’m not sure it does for me. So, I’m going to re-write it:

One  spring,  shortly after we we married, my wife and I booked a flight to Montego Bay in Jamaica, where we rode bicycles to the white sandy beach town of Negril.

After you complete a full paragraph, write two more that follow logically. You can continue to mimic White, or simply write your own. You might also write one paragraph before and one after the one you mimic. As long as you finish with three paragraphs, any order is fine.  Due Feb. 13. Email to dlfarmer@alaska.edu.



Exercise #3 – Writing about Place

For your next essay assignment, I will ask you to write about a specific place you have been. This could be a favorite place that you visit often, or a place you have travelled to. This exercise will hopefully get you started on that essay, so keep that in mind as you begin.

Using Gretchen Legler’s essay as a model, write about this place in five parts. One paragraph each is fine, but try to make each part as different as possible. In other words, write about this place in five different ways.

Here are some questions to get you started:

  1. What was the worst thing that ever happened at this place?
  2. What was the best thing that ever happened at this place?
  3. What emotions describe this place?
  4. What colors do you think of when you think of this place?
  5. Write five words that define this place. Now, choose one of these words and focus only on it. (Think of Legler’s “wind”.)
  6. What happened at this place 100 hundred years before you were born?
  7. When you were last at this place, what things in your life were you thinking about?
  8. Read any books lately? Can you relate this place with something you’ve read?
  9. If this place could talk, what would it say? What questions would you ask it?

Don’t feel that you need to answer all of these, or any of them at all. And feel free to adapt them, or to write your own. The goal is to find new and fresh ways to write about the place.


Exercise #2

Chapter 2 in your text book has some terrific ideas about keeping journals, and the “Ways In” exercises at end of chapter are wonderful. I hope at some point you’ll take advantage of them. But this week’s exercise is taken from the Alice Walker essay, toward the end when she uses “I remember.”

Using this prompt of “I Remember,” write 3 or more very specific moments from your past. Use this as a way in to your “Memoir Essay,” due on Jan 30.

This exercise should be emailed to me by Thursday, Jan. 23.