Writing vs. Editing

Carol Rigolot
Director of the Council for the Humanities, Princeton University

Course: Contemporary American Prose

Unit I: An early exercise  on writing and editing

Lesson objective: To prepare students to write their first paper by emphasizing the differences between writing and editing as separate activities, emerging from different parts of the brain. We’ll begin, in the preceding class, with a brief discussion about these two processes, citing some ideas from Ayn Rand’s Art of Nonfiction:


Relies on subconscious with minimal interference from the conscious mind

Involves brainstorming and unexpected associations or constellations of ideas

Is personal and quirky; can tap into emotions

vs. editing

Here, the conscious mind dominates

Writer tries to be objective and impersonal, to stand outside the text and read it as if it were written by someone else

Total estimated time: 50 minutes

Work completed before class: In this unit, students are reading short profiles. I will ask them to read and annotate one of the profiles with particular attention in preparation for a “special” activity.

1.  Students will be paired up in groups of 3. They will spend 10 minutes in creative brainstorming, mapping ideas about the profile on a blackboard or large paper.

2.  We’ll then switch into editing mode. Students will look at their maps and structure them into constellations of ideas worth pursuing (10 minutes)

3.  Each student will then have 10 minutes to draft an opening paragraph for a paper, based on one thread of ideas.

4.  Students will  pass drafts to a partner to revise (5 minutes)

5.  Students will then read the revised drafts aloud to the whole class, so we can see 12 different approaches to the same material  (10 minutes).

6.  Wrap up: observations about what we learned (5 minutes).

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