Just Try It For Today: A Revision Prompt Challenge

If you’ve ever had a writing teacher, you’ve most likely heard the phrase “kill your darlings” when it comes to revision. In respect to this, one of my theatre professors gave the following advice to my class years ago, “I always tell playwrights to turn to their favorite part of their play, and cut it. Nine times out of ten, it’s only there because they like it, not because it forwards the story.”

How do we push ourselves to make the BIG revisions that are necessary?

How can we push ourselves to make the BIG revisions?

Nine times out of ten, I can personally attest to that. Yet it’s still so hard to do.

It’s painful to revise, period. By its very nature, the process demands that you question literally everything you did in your first draft. Not only that, but revision also demands that you have all the answers regarding word choice, plot, structure, tone, and everything in between. Your attempts at solutions manifest through the tedious process of cutting, rewriting, or restructuring on a small and large scale. All the while you wonder, how will you know if the changes will be successful? How will you know if you’re doing the right thing?

You don’t.  At least, not for a while. So the biggest question of all becomes, “How do I make myself okay with that?”

When I work with writers of all genres and skill levels (including myself), my answer to this existential writer’s crisis is the Just Try It for Today revision challenge. These prompts challenge the writer to make a drastic change – one that might not even make sense at first! I’ve provided three versions of this exercise, each specifically tailored to particular genres.  Don’t worry about it, don’t question it, just try one for today – you’ll be glad you did!

JUST TRY IT FOR TODAY REVISION PROMPTS:

Genres: Prose, Playwriting, Poetry, Memoir/Creative Non-Fiction
Writing Process: Revision, Conflict, Setting, Character Development, Plot, Story Arc

To select a Just Try it For Today prompt, you can do one of three things:

  1. Random Generator. Write each option on a slip of paper and pick out of a hat, or assign each option a number(s) and roll some dice.
  2. The Choice is Yours. When I have this option, I usually pick one that makes me groan – the biggest challenge often yields the largest payoff!
  3. Choose Your Own Adventure. Create a prompt of your own (or have a writer friend create one for you). Remember, it should be a prompt which requires drastic changes!

Version #1 – For Plays and Prose (Fiction)
Considering a play or work of fiction can be upwards of one hundred pages or more, embracing large changes can be hard when we can’t know for sure how it will affect the whole. The Just Try It For Today revision prompts help us cultivate a playful spirit, while providing a vehicle for us to learn valuable things about our work that we may not have discovered otherwise.

Select an entire scene or chapter to focus on, or an excerpt that is at least 2 – 3 pages. Pick pages that you know need work, or if you’re really brave pick the excerpt that’s your favorite. Then choose one of the Just Try It For Today prompts below:

  1. A male character is now female, or a female character is now male. OR, switch the gender of ALL the characters.
  2. Change the location. If the setting was public, make it private. If the setting was private, make it public.
  3. Subtract a character from this scene/chapter. OR, add one.
  4. The character who speaks the most now speaks the least, and the character who speaks the least now speaks the most.
  5. The protagonist is now the antagonist, or the antagonist is now the protagonist. OR, a featured character is now the main character.
  6. One character in this excerpt must: enter too early, enter too late, exit too soon, or exit too late.
  7. Something (or someone) must be one of the following: lost, broken, stolen, found, or recovered.

After completing the revision, reflect by generating the following lists:

  • List at least five creative choices or details that this version has in common with your original pages. These are details and choices you should focus on and make even stronger in your “official” revision.
  • List at least seven creative choices or details that are vastly different than your original pages.
  • List at least five new things you learned about this excerpt, or the story/play as a whole.

Finally, using the lists above, choose at least one to incorporate in your “official” revision. As for the rest, you can breathe a sigh of relief – it was just for today!

Version #2 – Poetry
Elasticity is a great tool to break poetic patterns, stretching a poet to express ideas and images in new styles and rhythms. Select an entire poem to focus on, or an excerpt that is 4 – 8 lines long. Pick a section that you know needs work, or if you’re really brave pick the section that’s your favorite. Then select one of the Just Try It For Today prompts below:

  1. Reinvent this section using a form of poetry that’s opposite your poem in shape and structure. (You can find a list of types of form poetry here.)
  2. If your poem doesn’t rhyme, make it rhyme. If your poem rhymes, break those rhymes.
  3. Change the narrative voice of the poem to: a speaker who participates, a speaker who is present but observes, or a speaker who is completely outside the actions of the poem.
  4. Change the address by shifting it to “I,” “We/Us,” “You,” or “It/They/Them.”
  5. Rely heavily on one of the following poetic devices: Onomatopoeia, alliteration, metaphor, or repetition.
  6. Cut the number of words used in half, without losing any key details.

After completing the revision, reflect by generating the following lists:

  • List at least five creative choices or details that this version has in common with your original poem. These are details and choices you should make even stronger in your “official” revision.
  • List at least seven creative choices or details that are vastly different than your original.
  • List at least five new things you learned about this excerpt, or the poem as a whole.

Finally, using the lists above, choose at least one to incorporate in your “official” revision. As for the rest, you can breathe a sigh of relief – it was just for today!

Version #3 – Memoir and Creative Non-Fiction
This genre can be the most challenging to revise, because the events are often true and have a deep link to the author. A Just Try It For Today revision prompt can help a creative non-fiction writer feel more elastic and playful when it comes to how they narrate their story.

Select an excerpt that focuses on an event, and make sure the excerpt is at least 1-3 pages long. Pick a section that you know isn’t working right, or if you’re really brave pick the section that’s your favorite. Then, choose one of the Just Try It For Today prompts below:

  1. Change the point of view to: another individual who was involved, an individual who observed, or from a third person omniscient point of view.
  2. Change the address by shifting the narrative to “I,” “We/Us,” “You,” or “It/They/Them.”
  3. Retell this story as if it was a dream or a myth, drawing heavily on symbolism, imagery, and the “magical realism” present in dreams and myth.
  4. Change the location. If the setting was public, make it private. If the setting was private, make it public.
  5. A male character is now female, or a female character is now male. OR, switch the gender of ALL the characters.
  6. The character who speaks the most now speaks the least, and the character who speaks the least now speaks the most.
  7. If there is dialogue, remove all dialogue and tell the same story (without losing any key points). If there is no dialogue, make at least half the text dialogue.

After completing the revision, reflect by generating the following lists:

  • List at least five creative choices or details that this version has in common with your original pages. These are details and choices you should make even stronger in your “official” revision.
  • List at least seven creative choices or details that are vastly different than your original pages.
  • List at least five new things you learned about this excerpt, or the story as a whole.

Finally, using the lists above, choose at least one to incorporate in your “official” revision. As for the rest, you can breathe a sigh of relief – it was just for today!

Good luck revising! Remember, whenever I post an activity, prompt, or guiding writing exercise in the Support For Writers section of my site, I will always write a blog post about the activity as well. That way, if you follow my blog you’ll always know when new exercises become available. Add to the Just Try it For Today prompt bank by offering a prompt of your own in the comments!

Speaking of writing, TODAY is the official launch date of Empowered Women of Social Media!  You can visit here to read a recent blog post about my mission as an artist and how that connects to my awesome chapter in this book.  As you may have seen on my Facebook and Twitter, I was thrilled that my chapter received a beautiful review just hours after the launch. I encourage you to purchase the book on Kindle TODAY, the only day you can buy it for just .99 cents. Purchase your copy here!

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