When one thinks of Henry David Thoreau, the classic image that comes to mind is of a man who lived alone in the woods, attempting to live simply using only that which he deemed necessary. After all, one of his most famous sayings from Walden is “Simplify, simplify.” However, for someone who was so adamant on preaching simplicity, the number of times Thoreau used the term simplicity (or variations) was actually quite low. The word simple was used 25 times, simply was used 19, simplicity was used 10, and simplify was used only twice.
This brings up some interesting observations and questions. Why do certain sayings stick out to us and become memorable, especially if the words in the saying are rarely used? Generally, in order to remember something, we have to drill it into our heads, and read it and see it often to embed it. It seems that that is the opposite here. Here, the lack of frequency of certain words is what seems to be the key to remembering it. The lack of the variations of simplicity is also interesting from a message point of view. By not using those particular words frequently, Thoreau is being simple in using the term “simple,” and direct in the language he is using for his overall message of living simply. Whether he did this on purpose or not, the idea is interesting to think about.
Writing this post about my revision practice is hard, because it is something I do with everything. It comes naturally and I usually don’t consciously think about doing it. I quickly re-read every text I send and every Instagram caption I write. I would never turn in a paper or send an email to a boss or a professor without going back over what I have written.
However, I certainly choose when to revise with purpose. If I am texting a friend or parent, I do not put as much time or care when re-reading the text because the stakes are lower. If I misspell a word or don’t use proper punctuation, my close friends and family probably do not care. I am comfortable with them, they know me, and it does not matter if I make a mistake. Academics and the workplace are different. Essays and assignments must have, among other things, proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation in order to receive a high grade. A boss wants to make sure they have hired a smart and competent individual. In both of these areas, professionalism is important, and part of that comes from being able to communicate ideas and thoughts in a proper way, which is why revising your work is so important.
When revising, I look for spelling errors, grammatical errors, and check the overall flow of the sentence to ensure I like the way it sounds. If I am unsure about the sound or flow, I read the sentence out-loud, as hearing the words highlights awkwardness in a way that reading words silently on a page cannot. For thesis, topic, or concluding statements, I usually write slightly different versions of the same sentence, and the one I end up using is usually a combination of all the different ideas. For paragraphs, I generally try to write down as much as I can, and then go back over and revise. I find it is better and quicker to write down all your thoughts and then sift through them, rather than trying to make things perfect sentence by sentence. Looking back on past assignments and how I am handling this one, I’d say that my revision process includes the classic look-over, but I think it is a lot more verbal than the average person’s. I have no idea why, but I think I’ll stick with it.
The process of annotating is one that I associate purely with academics. Throughout middle and high school, my English teachers would do random “annotation checks” where they would walk around the class to see if our books were marked up, and then give us a grade. This annoyed me, and I now have a very negative association with annotating, but it did drive into my mind a helpful process to use when reading texts. Underlining and starring important phrases or events in a book or play made me slow down my reading pace, as I had to determine what was happening and then react to it. Stars, brackets, and underlining also made it easier to find quotes and evidence to use for papers. If I did not understand something, I put question marks next to what confused me, and it allowed me to form questions for class. I wrote simple reactions (sad/happy face, ugh, ew, no, yes) in the margins, and also wrote short summaries at the end of some pages or chapters to help me mull through and determine the important parts of what I had read. I also added comments from class discussions in the margins to enhance my understanding of the text.
When reading for pleasure, I rarely, if ever, annotate. The process of annotating, at least for me, disrupts the flow of reading and takes the joy out of the process in the first place. If I enjoy a specific phrase or sentence, I might underline it, but it is uncommon that I take the time to do that. I want to experience the book as I read it, and not have to worry about underlining phrases or looking for particular imagery. For some people, annotating might add to their reading experience, but because I have such a negative association with annotations, it does not. If I want to analyze a book, I will annotate; if reading for the sake of reading, I will leave the book untouched.