26 April, 2011

Revising = Winning

I've begun some substantial revisions on my largest writing project to date, something that I suppose I have to call a novel. I think it's pretty good. I think that it might become something that is pretty good. In any event, I'm loving the process of revising it. In a bit of odd synchronicity, I am also teaching revision to my Research Writing students. They do not share my love.

The Illustrious Mr. Sheen
For many of my students, revising is something they do under duress, complete with the obligatory under-the-breath "it was fine how it was" and the dreaded "this is stupid." But revise they shall. And I found a truly nifty way to show them how. I'm of the opinion that in order to revise for conciseness (my students' current writing task is revising a 4-page research paper into a 500 word essay), you have to really know what you were saying in the first place. So today, I unveiled my master plan. OK, well, that's a lie. There was no plan. My students were bored, I was desperate, and I went with it. It worked, so I'll call it a "master plan" instead of a "foolish catastrophe." Anyway, I chose a famous piece of American oratory, presented in text form. That's right, a transcription of the Charlie Sheen interview (from the Huffington Post).

It turns out that the mere mention of this foolishness is just the thing to get late-in-the-semester undergrads to rise above the lack of A/C and motivation that has permeated our classroom all month. It also turns out that Charlie Sheen's (in)famous interview in which he proclaims himself, among other things, to be winning, a bayonet, a Vatican warlock assassin, and winning, lends itself very well to rhetorical analysis and subsequent revision for conciseness. 

Here's what we found. The entire text follows a very specific structure. In a section that we identified as the introduction, Sheen states his basic thesis: I'm winning, and you are losing. He elaborates on this thesis in subsequent sections, always staying true to the basic structure. In a section on his 3 failed marriages, Sheen's premise can be restated as "I'm winning at marriage, but marriage as an institution is losing." A section discussing his ex-wife Brooke can be boiled down to "I'm winning, and Brooke is losing." Later, when Sheen claims to have "cleansed" himself of addiction, the dichotomy holds up. Charlie Sheen is winning, Alcoholics Anonymous is losing. Then he restates his original thesis, sums up his points, and gets out of there. It's neat, it's tidy, and it almost makes me think that this guy isn't quite as crazy as I thought. I mean, maybe he is winning, and by winning I mean laughing all the way to the bank. 

Charlie Sheen may or may not be a warlock assassin for the Pope, but he did give us a well-structured argument that supports its thesis; what else can a comp teacher ask for? 


  1. Thanks! it was a really fun teaching day today - always nice to do something they're not expecting. :D

  2. Nice, but you forgot the Tiger Blood! :D


  3. Tiger Blood was a big part of our rhetorical analysis, actually. :)