Prompts for generating missing text
- Go to a place in your draft where you need to say more. Write to explain. Exhaust yourself. Principle: In early drafts, writers make associative leaps between elements, but don’t explain their terms fully. But why exhaust yourself? When you write a little bit too much, you force a little past what you know.
- Go to a place in the draft where you seem to be getting at your idea. Write to explain what that idea might be. Principle: Since many writers get to their ideas only at the end of their draft, this allows the writer to know that she has work to do in other places in the draft. It makes an idea specific when it was previously only almost said or implied.
- Find a key image or key language in your draft. Write to explain what this image or language might mean. Principle: Images and even individual words often contain ideas and questions that reveal themselves with closer reading and writing.
Prompts for making connections
- Write an unexpected, but connected story that comes to mind as you read your draft. You may not know how it fits, but write about it anyway. Principle: Writers often need help with the show/don’t tell problem. A surprising story can also offer a tension or highlight a dilemma that the writer may be ignoring or can’t yet see.
- Use a passage from another text to resist or doubt something you are writing about. Write to explain the counterargument. Principle: Good writers often include counterarguments to demonstrate that they understand the complexity of the issue they are exploring.
- Write a paragraph in which you incorporate two texts. Put these texts in conversation with one another. (How do they extend, confirm, complicate, contradict, correct, or debate one another?) Principle: Typical compare-and-contrast paragraphs or essays can be derailed because the motivation is insufficiently articulated. Putting texts in conversation around an idea or a question can help.
Prompts for clarifying an essay’s focus or argument
- Rewrite completely the beginning of your draft to articulate specifically the problem your essay is exploring, or to change its focus, tone, or contract. Principle: Early beginnings are often just a placeholder. Writers often need to create a new beginning to accommodate new thinking.
- Rewrite completely the ending of your draft to account for how your thinking has changed from the beginning and middle of your essay. Principle: Similar to the previous one, but endings are often even more difficult for writers than introductions.
Note: These ideas are extracted from a longer list of suggestions for revision by Carley Moore, New York University, and Nicole Wallack, Columbia University, Associates of the Institute for Writing & Thinking.