Monday, March 25, 2013

Real Revision by Kate Messner

"Author's aren't writers, we're rewriters!" Kate Messner would pump her fists in agreement with Linda Sue Park's statement. This professional book gives readers a glimpse into the labor-intensive process of making books and revising them, as well as, scaffolded lessons that show steps to achieve the goal of writing a book or becoming a better writer. Mini-lessons and larger units are presented that individuals or teachers can use in the classroom. Messner teaches a middle school creative writing course, but these are not just lessons for older kids, I found several lessons I want to try with the younger students. Our second graders do character studies and I could use some of the character idea sheets in the Appendix then follow up with Linda Urban idea web. An electricity of excitement is coursing through me - I cannot wait to try some of these activities. But I'm getting ahead of myself. First, the layout of the book.

The chapters move from revising content and ideas, to organization and language in writing, to conventions. At the end of each chapter is a mentor author and strategies employed for writing. This infusion of other authors' strategies gives the book a collective voice that adds a richness and depth to the novel as a whole. The chapters are short and easy-to-read and Messner's use of strong verbs highlights her point of writing strong sentences for interest. Stories strengthen points such as the time she grew worms as research for her Marty McGuire book. Messner doesn't mention picture books and while she has written one that my students really like, her examples focus on middle grade books and higher. I was hoping for her thoughts on picture books, but maybe they are so different they would have derailed the focus of this book.

I particularly liked the sections on creating characters, researching, and organizing the plot: "As an author, I know my characters are real when I start shopping for them." Messner tells the story of finding an art-themed pin in a store that she thought her character, Gianna, would love. The impressive photo of her "shrunken" manuscript with sticky notes all over it to make sure plot is balanced, will either inspire or scare would-be writers. On second thought... I take that back. I like how Messner balances the humungous overwhelming novel with smaller, more manageable lessons for the beginning writer. Many would look at the novel-writing and shout, "No way!" but then a study of the mini-lesson might lead to the thought, "I can do that." A nice balance is struck that makes the task seem possible.

Confession time. I really don't like revising. Gasp. I know... whoop-de-doo... me and 99% of the population. Linda Sue Park said she revised, "When My Name was Keoko," 37, or was it 38, times! Messner revised "The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z" 12 times. Time to embrace revision and stop being a whiny-head, AND realize first drafts are usually crummy. And seconds. And thirds. You get the idea. I went to Messner's website and asked for information because I'd like her as a visiting author. I don't have a whole lot of say in visiting authors at our school, but after reading this book I would love to have this teacher-author come and drop some pearls of writing wisdom. The best part of this book for me is its authenticity. Messner writes with experience and empathy for the struggling writer that rings true to those who love this difficult craft.

4 Smileys

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