StatueThere’s a quote about sculpt­ing, attrib­uted to Michelan­ge­lo, that I often para­phrase for stu­dents when I’m talk­ing about the art of revising:

In every block of mar­ble I see a stat­ue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and per­fect in atti­tude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the love­ly appari­tion to reveal it to the oth­er eyes as mine see it.

A first draft is often writ­ten in a kind of over­drive, with words spin­ning across the paper with­out thought to whether they all belong. That’s a valid draft­ing tech­nique, but a writer can’t stop there (how­ev­er much most stu­dents want to), because that first draft acts as a block of mar­ble. It includes such an excess of words that they imprison the per­fec­tion inside. It is only by revis­ing — hew­ing away the excess — that the essen­tial sto­ry, poem, or essay is revealed.

Pic­ture books are one of the best tools I’ve found for teach­ing the beau­ty of “less is more” in writ­ing. They are fan­tas­tic writ­ing exam­ples even for stu­dents who are well past read­ing them on a reg­u­lar basis — includ­ing mid­dle school and high school writ­ers. The com­pact pack­ages make for a quick study, and the best are great exam­ples of sto­ry­telling, poet­ic lan­guage, the clear but evoca­tive deliv­ery of infor­ma­tion, and sen­so­ry images.

Some of my past favorites that work well with old­er stu­dents include City Dog, Coun­try Frog by Mo Willems, A Leaf Can Be by Lau­ra Pur­die Salas, and Chop­sticks by Amy Krouse Rosenthal.

Read them, talk about them, and then encour­age your stu­dents to take out the chis­els and get to work!

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