Focus Your Trip

ButterheadEvery year my mom and I took my nephews and niece to the Min­neso­ta State Fair. We have cer­tain faith­ful fam­i­ly rit­u­als that we always repeat: mini-donuts as soon as we’re through the front gates. The big slide. Vig­i­lant avoid­ance of the giant walk­ing French fry man because he ter­ri­fies my niece. The but­ter head ren­di­tions of the dairy princesses.

Imag­ine my bemuse­ment at the fact that there are MN State Fair vis­i­tors who nev­er both­er with the but­ter heads. But the but­ter head haters are actu­al­ly fol­low­ing a sound prin­ci­ple: when you’re in the mid­dle of an over­whelm­ing expe­ri­ence, you’re often bet­ter off choos­ing to focus on only a few key things.

That explains why trav­el­ing to the fair with a grown-up friend one year felt like a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ence to me. We focused on entire­ly dif­fer­ent things than I do when I’m herd­ing the kids, and I actu­al­ly got to spend some qual­i­ty time in the Cre­ative Arts build­ing. I expe­ri­enced the fair in a whole new way.

The same con­cept holds true for me when I set out to revise a piece of writ­ing. If I try to see and do every­thing in one vis­it, the task quick­ly becomes over­whelm­ing. But if I make sev­er­al dif­fer­ent revi­sion trips, pick­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent to focus on each time, then I can revise quite effec­tive­ly. One time through, I might focus exclu­sive­ly on my over­all orga­ni­za­tion. Anoth­er trip, I might keep my atten­tion riv­et­ed on strength­en­ing my verbs. Still anoth­er trip, I might watch specif­i­cal­ly for ways to add atmosphere.

Tell your stu­dents this: When they set out to revise, a whole lot of dif­fer­ent things will all try to grab their atten­tion at once. They’re prob­a­bly going to get more out of the expe­ri­ence if they break down the revis­ing task into sev­er­al dif­fer­ent trips. Encour­age them to focus their atten­tion on a few key things each time. They can always make the trip again to focus on some­thing dif­fer­ent; after all, the fair­grounds are open for twelve long days.

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