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An Invitation to Revise: A Round-table Workshop for Writers

Women in Travel Summit
3/28/2015
Welcome and thank you so much for joining me today! My name is Kristin Winet and I am a
travel writer/blogger and graduate student in Rhetoric and Composition at the University of
Arizona. I have been teaching writing for the past six years and working as a freelancer in the
travel industry since 2010. I’m excited for us to share our work with each other!
(10) I would bet that everyone in this room—at one time or another—has called themselves a
“writer.” And why shouldn’t we? Whether we’re blogging, writing pitches, crafting feature
stories, working on a memoir, or posting updates on our social media channels, we are writing.
Writing is inherent to what we do; it is in the very fiber of our insatiable need to tell stories.
But how often, in this busy world of travel, blogging, posting, and sharing, do we actually take to
revise? How many of us in this room substantially revise our pieces, with more than just a onceover, check-for-typos kind of thing? Or, when you do revise, what do you actually do? What is
your process?
According to Adrienne Rich in her excellent essay “Writing as Re-Vision,” the word re-vision
has two crucial parts: “re”, which means to “again,” and “vision,” or, “to see.” So, when we
revise, we attempt to “see again,” to look at a piece with fresh eyes, to think about our work from
a more critical, distanced perspective. I know this is difficult, especially with deadlines,
impending trips, the juggling of life, family, kids, work, etc. It’s also particularly difficult
because, as Robert Atwan (series editor for the Best American series) writes, too much firstperson narrative these days is not writing—but typing. The memoirist types out what happened,
word by word, sentence by sentence, transcribing what she or he believes happens. It seems
sincere, honest, and conversational….and yet, life is not that way. Nor should our writing be.
Imagine the possibilities if we just took a little more time to rest with our work, to let it speak to
us, to let it cry out for better words, more compelling descriptions, less static telling and more
active showing? What if we allowed ourselves just a little bit of time to play with our words, the
essence of our livelihoods? Furthermore, how much literariness do we/should we even want?
Trying to expand upon this medium and use it to create publications that are not just deadlines,
not just typing: that’s what today’s workshop is all about. This is an informal workshop—an
invitation, as the title suggest—to carve out a little bit of time to practice the fine art of revision,
to work on a piece we’ve been struggling with, to read our revisions aloud, and to get feedback
from all the other strong, wonderful women in this room.
(pass out worksheet)
(20) I’d like for each one of us to warm-up with a little exercise. This is an excerpt from a blog
post a student wrote for one of my writing classes (the writer will remain anonymous). It is a
typical travel blog post; the writing is serviceable and salvageable, and it does tell a story. BUT:
it lacks energy. It lacks detail. It relies on far too many “to be” verbs…”I was, I wasn’t, she was,

he wasn’t….” which makes it fall, for all intents and purposes, flat. Though the experience is
obviously of importance to the writer, it doesn’t have any purpose—or real connection to—its
audience.
What I want you to do is read over this passage and, without changing ANY of the substance,
revise it so that the moment shines as it should. Rearrange sequence, take out the clichés, add
specificity, change the verbs—it’s up to you. Make it have meaning.
(ask participants to share their revisions and talk about what they changed)
(20) Now, let’s turn to our own work. If you didn’t bring something, find a blog post you
struggled with. Using that same razor-sharp attention to detail, I’d like for you to:
1. Define, in your mind, what the experience is that you want to write about. Maybe it’s
about the first time you tasted raclette in Switzerland last summer, or the time you stayed
at a hostel in Cambodia. Sit quietly, take your time, let the memory resurface, and hold it
there.
2. Share your experience with the person sitting next to you. How did you tell the story?
Where did you start? What detail did you include? What did you leave out? Try to
remember where your listener was the most interested.
3. Now, start writing it down—dramatize it, think about the elements of storytelling: setting,
character, dialogue, tension, emotions, revelations. Don’t use the verb “to be” and avoid
“telling” us about it as much as you can—show us!
4. Go back to your original work. How are you opening the story? Where are you showing?
Telling? Where are the clichés? Start revising this work with that new attention to detail
and the new purpose you have.
5. Has your purpose shifted/changed? What is your piece really about now?
Let me explain how this has worked for me in my own writing. A few years ago, on my first
press trip to Taiwan, I heard a story about these women called betelnut princesses. If you haven’t
heard of them, they are women who stand in glass houses and sell betelnut to truckers and men
who are driving on the roads late at night and need to stay awake. They dress in scantily-clad
costumes and wait in those little glass houses for customers. I wanted to see one—because I was
interested and, as a feminist, a little concerned—but all I saw, all week, were empty glass houses
on the sides of the road or women sitting in them like cashiers at a parking garage. The
experience often surfaced when I sat down to write about my trip, but it seemed too trivial since I
hadn’t actually seen anything. I tried to write about it a few times but always got frustrated.
But then, I did this very exercise, and I found myself writing not about the lack of princesses I
saw but about my longing to understand why I felt so unfeminine among the Taiwanese women
I’m met on my journey, how they wondered why I didn’t wear more makeup or 3-inch platform
heels with crop tops to the discoes. I never would have realized this had I not let my work sit
with me for a while.
(10) Now, let’s hear a paragraph or two from your revisions. Don’t be afraid to share your work
—this is a safe space!