Dear Young People,
My advice to you for improving your writing is to develop effective writing habits NOW. I cannot emphasize this enough. You will be writing in some shape or form for the rest of your life, so by developing these skills early on, you are truly investing in yourself and will save your future self many mountains of angst!
Where do you start when trying to develop effective writing habits? I think the best place to begin is to reflect on how you view writing right now. For most of us, the thought of writing can be pretty daunting. Why do we feel that way? While working on my master’s degree, I finally realized the main reason I found writing unnerving was that I was expecting perfection.
I used to begin every writing session staring at the computer screen and trying to formulate the perfect sentence in my mind. I would sit there for what felt like a really long time, thinking over and over how I could best phrase something, and I would type it out only when I decided it was perfect. That’s why writing wasn’t ever my favorite! Approaching writing that way is incredibly stressful and time-consuming. However, this all changed when I took my first writing workshop with Dr. Pat Goodson during my time at graduate school at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas.
Dr. Goodson completely changed the way I approach writing. The biggest epiphany I had during her workshop was that writing is a PROCESS. Yes, I always knew that there was a first draft, second draft, final draft, etc., but I never realized just how messy the very first draft could be. For me, that was where my trouble began—the act of just trying to get the words on paper during the initial composition.
Dr. Goodson emphasized that when you are writing, there is a difference between generating versus editing. You do not need to do both at the same time. We did an exercise of “free writing” on a prompt she presented, and we wrote continuously for two minutes straight. No editing, no worrying about how it sounded, no worries over correct punctuation/grammar or not — the emphasis in this exercise was for us to dump all of our words and ideas out. Then, just like a sculptor, once all the clay is poured out onto the table, THEN you go back and sculpt, and in our case, edit/reorganize the text. This approach completely changed my perspective on writing. I no longer felt stressed to get it perfect the very first time I put words to paper. In turn, this writing habit decreased my anxiety and increased my productivity.
Other tips I’ve learned along the way are:
Another strategy Dr. Goodson suggested was for us to have practice writing sessions. Too often, we only write when we need to: school papers, research publications, reports, etc. However, if we write daily (even for just five minutes), utilizing those effective writing habits every day, then when the time comes when we need to write something that will be evaluated at a high level, we approach the task more comfortably and confidently.
A writing log (record of date, start/stop time, of when you are writing), and a writing partner are both good for accountability when trying to practice writing. In addition, a writing partner not only helps via the feedback offered but also gives you the opportunity to give feedback and reflect on your own writing, as in: “Hmm, Stacey sure used a lot of transitional phrases in her report, so am I using too many transition words, too?” Or: “Wow, the diction Stacey used in her essay is really effective–am I using the correct word choice or style for the point I’m trying to make?”
I touched on this a little above, but I think it deserves its own bullet point. Feedback is imperative in the writing process. Traditionally, we receive this at the very end when our teachers/professors provide feedback after we submit the paper for evaluation and a grade. By the same token, though, a writing coach or partner can help improve your quality of writing along the way, in small chunks. How wonderful it is to receive advice when you’ve only written two paragraphs versus once your done with a five-page essay and then may need to start from scratch!
How do you work best when writing? Is there a particular location, or time of day? What works or doesn’t work for you in regard to a working environment? Also, what is it about writing that makes you feel “blocked”? Being aware of these things will aid in future writing, because once you are cognizant of these factors, you can make adjustments toward improving your future writing self.
Young writer (out there in cyber land), I hope these points have helped! If anything, I hope they get you thinking about how you approach writing and what you can do to improve. Remember, you can have the most captivating story, the most interesting research, the most innovative idea, but if you can’t get it on paper effectively, we are all at a loss. The world wants to read what you have to say!
So, I leave you with this. Invest in yourself. What are your writing goals? Where are you now in comparison to those goals, and how are you going to get there? Develop a set of strategies, along with a system of support, and I promise you that your writing will be more productive and, in turn, you will be a more successful writer.
I wish you all the best in your future writing endeavors!
Entomologist – Domestic Identifier.
USDA-APHIS-PPQ in College Station, Texas