1. Let your mind go play, then bring it back in
How many times have you written a paper the night before it was due? Is that a guilty smile that I see? Students who procrastinate skip the most crucial steps of the writing process, in which the most creative work is accomplished: brainstorming. Give yourself the opportunity to let your mind go wild, to look at all of the angles and shades of the question that you are exploring. Have a conversation with a friend (or a writing counselor!) about the topic of your paper; they might challenge your perspective, opening the door for a more nuanced analysis. Then, only after you have given your mind some play time, outline. Organize all of these ideas and visions in a written blueprint. The writing process is much more than drafting so plan accordingly. (Did you know that J.K. Rowling outlined the entire arc of the Harry Potter series beforehand?)
2. Do your research before embarking on the journey
In Supernatural, a TV show about two demon-hunting brothers, protagonists Sam and Dean Winchester always research any biblical or mythical lore, news articles, and suspects before going head-to-head with a monster. They accumulate the knowledge necessary to construct an effective combat strategy so when they do meet the angel/demon/vampire/what-have-you, they don’t, you know, die. Approach your writing project like the Winchester brothers: do your research so that your argument doesn’t fall flat on its face. If you’re writing an essay, and you have to incorporate evidence from texts, read the texts before building an argument. This sounds obvious, but several students don’t even glance at the readings before coming in for a session to compose an outline or a thesis statement.
3. Style is the secret ingredient
Personally, I believe that polished writing is not only grammatically sound; it is stylistically engaging. Do you use active verbs? Diverse sentence structures and lengths? Em-dashes for emphasis? The best way to strengthen your writing style is to reread written work that you admire and see what makes it tick. Take out your pen and make notes on the page. Underline the words that intrigue you and circle punctuation (other than standard periods and commas) that hold the sentences together or move them forward. Employ technical devices that infuse your writing with personality.
4. Phone a friend (Translation: Visit a writing counselor)
One of the most difficult skills to develop as a writer is self-discipline. Let’s face it: when it’s a challenge to crank out one sentence that we’re satisfied with, the thought of spending all of this time and effort brainstorming, outlining, and revising may seem extraneous and overwhelming. Remember that the writing process need not be solitary. Writing is inherently collaborative in that we as writers gather our ideas from the world around us. Brainstorm by having a conversation with a friend or a writing counselor. Ask someone to look over your paper and offer their feedback. Motivate yourself by staying accountable to these point people–and eventually, you’ll become much more accountable to yourself.
Want to get started? Schedule a session with the Writing Success Program now!