Last night I showed a clip from the movie Clueless to my intermediate class, and some of my students began to question why I even own that dvd, let alone know it well enough to choose a clip from it.

“What?” they asked. “Did you have your husband watch it with you last weekend or something?”

I laughed. No, I hadn’t watched it recently, but come on — Clueless is a classic. Why shouldn’t I own it?

Okay, in reality, I didn’t think of that answer on the spot. I told them I probably got it out of a $5 bargain dvd bin. I also didn’t think to tell them that, hello!, Clueless is a young-adult retelling of Emma, which makes it dang cool.

But anyway. What I showed them, and what I would show here if I weren’t so clueless with video editing (if it’s not already on YouTube, I don’t know how to put it there), is the part where Cher starts to figure out that something is wrong. She walks around questioning why it should bug her that her step-brother likes her friend, and then — as a fountain and lights come to life behind her — she has the epiphany that she likes Josh.

I don’t stop there, though. I show the awkward scene with Cher and Josh where she has no clue how to act around him, then where she goes and gets advice from her dad, followed by Cher thinking about what makes her friends likeable people and finally deciding on a course of action to make herself more likeable.

In other words, it’s a series of scenes where Cher goes through the revision process, once again proving that movies can explain the world of writing time and again.

Revision is actually a process of evaluation, and the steps Cher goes through to figure out how to remake herself are also the steps we go through to remake a piece of writing:

  1. Recognize that something is “off”
  2. Question possibilities to zero in on the issues
  3. Identify the underlying problem
  4. Brainstorm solutions
  5. Consider obstacles
  6. Seek advice
  7. Compare with others to get ideas
  8. Choose a solution
  9. Act
  10. Re-evaluate (repeat steps 1–10 as necessary)

My students pointed out plenty of tips for making these steps as effective as possible:

  • In order to even recognize something is “off” you need to reread your own writing, maybe out loud so you can hear what’s not working.
  • You need to think ahead about things like your purpose and your audience — especially about what objections your audience might have — so that you can consider those issues.
  • When you get down to step six, seeking advice, they all agreed that there’s helpful feedback and there’s not-so-helpful feedback, and to make the most of it you need to clue your critiquer in about what kind of help you need, and then you need to sift through the advice they give you and decide what will work best for you.
  • Comparing with others is all about reading as many examples of similar writing as you can to figure out what works.

These are probably pretty basic steps for most writers, but still. This blog is partially about dissecting the writing process, and I think this breakdown is worth a glance. Revision is hard; it’s a multi-step process; it’s a process of questioning and comparing and trial-and-error.

What do you think about revision? What strategies have you discovered that make it most effective for you? What advice would you give to novice writers about evaluating their own writing?

Leave a comment!

7 thoughts on “Avoiding Cluelessness: Self Evaluating and Revision

  1. The part I have the most trouble with is identifying the underlying problem. So I think seeking trusted advice earlier in the revision process is worthwhile too.

    That movie sounds pretty cute, I’ll have to check it out sometime. Especially since I want to see more of the the GIANT cell phones. XD


    1. Good point! I don’t think the order of the steps has to be set in stone; it just happens to run that way in the movie. I prefer to compare other examples much earlier, too.

      It’s an old movie, from 1995, but it is pretty funny still.


  2. I like that you call revision a multi-step process. Too often I think of it as just “reading through and fixing stuff,” and I think there should be more to it. These are really good suggestions to make revising more effective. Thanks!


    1. I’m glad it turned out to be a helpful post! 🙂 I remember being pretty clueless when it came to revising my first novel. I had no idea then how much thinking and planning was required for revision.


  3. I love Clueless! It’s also such a lesson on taking the vernacular of teenagers to the extreme. Amy Heckerling did a fantastic job with that. I never thought about it as far as the revision analogy goes, so thanks for pointing that out.


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