It is tedious and monotonous… I can’t concentrate on it… It is difficult even to start… How many of you were thinking the same when you had to write something? I am sure, a lot. So, why isn’t everyone an excellent writer? Why isn’t it just a “natural” process? What is it about writing that prevents so many people even to start doing it?
The question is whether there are any solutions to this problem. And my answer is “Yes.” Why don’t you try a process approach to writing? Truly speaking, many people are stuck with their papers as they are mostly concerned with the final product of writing, and practically have no time for brainstorming, conceiving the idea, arranging their thoughts logically and linking them for easy reading. Process approach to writing, in its turn, is a meaningful tool which encourages learners to use drafts and revisions effectively. It is especially helpful for English language learners who are not confident in their writing skills and need more time to organize their thoughts and ideas in order to put them on paper later on.
Process writing begins with freewriting when you do not need to pay any attention to grammar, punctuation, the structure of the writing, and the way ideas are held together. Then comes the first draft. In this case, either the peers or the teacher provide comments. With the help of this kind of feedback, learners can revise, add or rewrite something in their paper. By analogy with the previous stages, the learners write their second draft and actually a final paper. And that’s all. It’s not scary and you clearly understand what you need to do. Your confidence increases immediately when you receive an excellent grade for your work.
Are you still sure that writing is a mysterious gift granted to a few lucky people? I hope, not. It is essential to realize that no one can create superior essays as easily as pen can move across paper. So, believe in yourself, practice a lot and whenever you are struggling with anything, just keep in mind that you CAN do it.
What do you think when you open a newspaper or a magazine? What is the first impression when you see a title of an article? Can you understand by the title what is it about? Will it be interesting for you or not?
I’m just a beginner in teaching. I started this new semester in my MA TESOL program with teaching a course, EN100 (which is “English Composition”). During the explanation of one of the topics (it was connected with Literacy Narrative) I showed a presentation for my students. That presentation included information about how to choose a topic, how to generate ideas, how to describe the settings and main characters, how to organize a narrative. The last slide had a name “Come up with a title.” I asked my students: “Why do you think we have this slide about the title at the very end? Why do we need to create a title at the last moment?” They didn’t know the answer. I explained to them from the point of view of an ex-journalist (previously I worked as a journalist for an online magazine in my country). What do you think my answer was? And what do you think about “the title creation at the very end”?
Now I’ll explain. When you first open your morning newspaper, what attracts you the most? What grabs your attention? How do you know that this article can be interesting for you without reading it? Right! That’s it! A title! The louder the title, the more attractive it is for a reader. Nobody will be interested in an article with the title like “Justin Bieber wrote a new love song” (except for Bieber’s fans). Boring, isn’t it? But what about this one – “A teenagers’ idol tried to kill a paparazzo”? I will definitely read these exciting news. That’s why a good writer should come up with a good idea, write it down, organize, proofread, edit everything and only at the end create a #grab_my_attention_title.
Do you want your writing to be understood and remembered? Do you want it to be organized and powerful? What if I told you that one writing technique could help with all of those things?
Using parallel structure will improve the clarity, flow, and effectiveness of your writing. For example, in The Tragedy of Julius Caesar William Shakespeare employed parallel structure to add rhythm and aid clarity, making Marc Antony’s monologue lyrical and memorable:
Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
In the first line, parallel structure also tells us that each group—friends, Romans, and countrymen—has equal importance. In the second line, the phrases, “to bury Caesar” and “to praise him,” are parallel, making the sentence easy to read with no need for the reader or listener to decipher the meaning. It is clear that the two ideas are equally significant. They are also opposite, and the parallel structure makes the opposition direct and powerful.
A favorite example of parallel structure is the “I Have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King, Jr.:
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood…
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
The repetition ties ideas together in the reader or listener’s mind. Each iteration builds on the one before it. King varies the third iteration just a bit and this, too, grabs the attention of readers and listeners.
Adapted from http://udleditions.cast.org/craft_ld_parallel.html
Once upon a time a professor handed out a writing assignment sheet. As she walked around the room, she reminded us to be consistent with verb tense, accurate with punctuation, and remember using parallel structure.* Wait . . . what?
Parallel structure is the repetition of a grammatical pattern within a sentence. Such patterns increase the clarity of your writing, making it easier for readers to follow, understand, and remember. Even if you have not heard of parallel structure, you probably have seen it in use. In the example below, two items in the list have the same form, but one is different. To make the structure parallel, revise the forms to match.
She likes biking, hiking, and to write short stories.
She likes biking, hiking, and writing short stories.
She likes to bike, hike, and write short stories.
When you connect two or more clauses or phrases with a coordinating conjunction (for, and, or, nor, but, yet, so) or with a correlative conjunction (not only…but also, either…or, neither…nor, if…then), use parallel structure.
We went to see a movie and walking around the lake.
We went to see a movie and walk around the lake.
We saw a movie and walked around the lake.
His cat likes not only scratching furniture but also to destroy blinds.
His cat likes not only to scratch furniture but also to destroy blinds.
His cat not only likes scratching furniture but also likes destroying blinds.
When comparing two ideas, use parallel structure.
I would rather buy groceries to cook at home than the cafeteria. (Who buys a cafeteria?)
I would rather buy groceries to cook at home than eat in the cafeteria.
I would rather receive financial aid than be working forty hours per week.
I would rather receive financial aid than work forty hours per week.
I would rather be receiving financial aid than working forty hours per week.
*Now go back to the top and re-write the second sentence using parallel structure. Write your answer in the comments on our Facebook page.
Modeled after http://www.evergreen.edu/writingcenter/handouts/grammar/parallel.pdf
What kind of image does this little bit of dialogue conjure in your mind? Did you imagine an old man from the 1920s with a cigar in his mouth or did you see some punk kid imitating a lousy movie about gangsters? Depending on dialogue, a character can be seen in many different ways for the reader. Sure, dialogue may seem a bit daunting at first, but it adds some depth to the characters or the paper that you’re writing. If you want to leave your teacher with a good impression of your writing skills, then consider throwing in some dialogue to spice up the reading.
Now even though some readers skim dialogue because it may not seem important, good dialogue can catch their attention and make them invest more time in the paper. If you spend all this time crafting dialogue that really drives home a character or statistic, then wouldn’t it be worth it for the reader to actually notice this section rather than dismiss it as something that takes up space on a page?
While some dialogue may not captivate your readers as much as it should, some good dialogue will add depth to your paper and leave your reader with the impression that you’re one of the best writers around. You will have mastered a seemingly simple practice to conjure images of grandeur or simplicity so vivid enough that they will still be thinking about these images weeks after the fact. How awesome would that be?
So the next time you’re about to skip writing out what someone has said in a paper, consider the impact that you’re taking away from the paper. What’s the feeling behind this topic? How can you convey to your reader the meaning of the passage through some speech? Does the dialogue you have make you think of a wisecracking old man with a grudge or a monotonous person with no personality? Which character would you be more interested in?
Let me paint a word picture for you my lovely reader. You wake up in the morning, it is one of the final weeks of classes and you are ready for Christmas break. You climb out of bed, stretch your arms, and are ready to greet the day; maybe you even have a little breakfast. You get ready to go to class when a sudden and startling revelation creeps into your mind. That big term paper that was talked about before Thanksgiving break is due tomorrow. Panic ensues, sanity is attacked, and suddenly all the time you wasted on whatever you deemed more important than this paper is coming back; you seem to recall yourself saying “It’s okay, I can do it later” a couple of times. You have just become a victim of the serial grader murderer named procrastination.
So, what is procrastination? Well, procrastination is where you put something off despite its importance to you. So, you have a final to study for, yet you think going out and hanging out with your friends is more important; how else are you going to get the scuttlebutt on who is dating, who is cheating, and who may secretly be a government agent? Electing to hang out with your friends and thinking “I can do it later” is procrastination. You put the pressure on yourself later for free time now. It is like taking out a loan that you must pay back, only there is no money (hopefully) and the currency is your time. Much like bouncing a check, sometimes you spend too much time that you don’t have enough time to cover the assignment when you need to do it. Another “A” lost to that merciless serial killer procrastination. He can’t keep getting away with this! Fortunately for you dear reader, I have just the solution to avoid this slasher of grades!
The solution to avoid to becoming a victim is simply doing your work before allowing your time to slip away. Now hear me out on this because, trust me, this may be a bit shocking, but you can actually do assignments like term papers, problem sets, or whatever it is you have to do, you can do it in chunks. WHAT!? I know, right! Pacing yourself! If you work for an hour on your paper, or work until you have a certain amount done, you can relax a bit and then do some other stuff, then come back to it in a day or so. If you finish early, then you can check it, revise it, and print/upload it early and have all the guiltless free time you want! Huzzah for not becoming procrastination’s newest victim. Just pace yourself and work in chunks and you will be rocking assignments in no time!
The largest issue is responsibility, when you enter college a lot of people will see you as an adult, so you will need to learn time management, make sure you find out when you have the free time to dedicate your paper. Did I just say free time? Silly me, we are college students—
WHAT IS FREE TIME!? All joking aside though, time management is important and will help you outside of college, as well, in your everyday life. Now that you know how to defeat the Jason-esque killer known as procrastination, go out and slay him. Now a moment of silence for As that have been lost in the conflict with procrastination…thank you, and have a lovely, and well budgeted, day.
What did you think of my amazing title? Did it capture your attention, draw you in like student to extra credit in the last week of class? Titles are important. Yes, your teacher probably won’t grade your title. Yes, your teacher has to read your paper regardless of how unattractive and dull your title may be.
Still, after spending all those hours over your assignment till it shines like the literary gem it is (or that you hope it is), it’s a shame to finish it off with a boring name. It would be as if Vincent Van Gogh, after painting Starry Night, decided to call it Oil Painting of a Town in the Dark Using Lots of Blue Pigment and Swirly Strokes.
Now while a great title will not save your grade if your paper is awful, a good title does start your paper strong. You’ve all heard how first impressions are important. Well, your title makes the first impression on the reader. If your title is mediocre but the introduction is brilliant, you can still recover from that initial lapse, but wouldn’t it be so much better if your reader was impressed from the very beginning?
So the next time you’re about to turn in that writing assignment you finished in the wee hours of the morning, take a moment and look at the top. What’s the title? What is the first thing your teacher will read when they start to grade your paper, the thirteenth such they’ve looked at that day? Is it ordinary and banal like “Aural Influences of the Late Eighteenth Century,” a name that says, “Come read me, all insomniacs”? Or does it have flare like, “Classical Music: Tunes Written by Dead Guys”? Which would you want to read?
Students frequently make the mistake of using the same word frequently in their paper which frequently makes the writing sound rough. Did that sentence sound bad? As you’ve probably guessed, it’s because I used the same word three times in a single sentence.
This problem relates to a concept I call word frequency. Every word has a frequency with which it can be used in a given length of time. If you use it more often than that, a signal goes to your reader’s brain that says, “Hey, I just read this word one line ago.” This causes your reader to start thinking about your writing when they should be thinking about the amazing insight of your message.
While few students violate this rule to the extent of the opening sentence of this post, it’s not uncommon to see essays with sentences like, “I had a great week last week.” Although this sentence is grammatically correct, it sounds clunky because it uses the word “week” twice within a three-word space. A better wording would be, “Last week was great.” Now, you’re only using “week” once, and you’ve reduced the sentence by almost half.
So now, you understand the word frequency rule and can be sure never to violate this rule again. Better yet, you can read through articles about this rule and laugh at the author when they repeat the same word three times in their concluding paragraph.
In psychology, there’s a concept called “egocentrism.” Now before you start thinking of that stuck-up acquaintance you just can’t stand, know that in this context, it refers to young children who haven’t yet learned to think from other people’s perspectives. For example, a child who hasn’t progressed past egocentrism might nod when asked a question over the telephone. They assume that everyone has their knowledge and their view point.
Often, we do this in our writing. Remember that paper you wrote when the Muse spoke to your heart and the words just flowed? And then, your teacher looked at it and gave you a 72 percent. There are a number of reasons this may have happened. (Defiance of grammar laws is often a culprit.) But maybe the reason your brilliant essay didn’t click with your teacher is that it just didn’t make sense. Think about it. Did you organize your topic logically? Did you transition from one point to another smoothly? Was that stellar piece of reasoning as clear as you thought?
Your reader doesn’t have your perspective or your background. Something that’s as obvious to you as the school colors may be utter murk to your reader. So remember to ask, “How will my words sound to the reader?” Don’t nod on the telephone when you write.
I always loved reading as a child, but loving reading doesn’t make you a writer. Then I began to write down my own stories—journals of my fantastical tales of superheroes based off of my best friends and science fiction adventures about alien cows and radioactive corn. I wrote about anything and everything I could imagine, but my young self only saw writing as a fun pastime. It was my future goal—at that time, I couldn’t even comprehend the thought: I am a writer.
Still, I kept writing. When I made my way into high school, I faced the ultimate challenge of the casual fiction writer—non-fiction essays. I struggled with each essay, barely grazing the top of the C range for grades. I remember spending countless hours surrounded by several short stacks of flashcards—each covering a point I wanted to discuss. I would lie on my bed covered in books and rest my eyes while I thought about the topic again and again, waiting for the words to separate themselves from the darkness. They rarely did, but my persistence paid off in the Lord of the Flies paper when I received what I assumed would have won Most Backhanded Comment the Year. My teacher told the class, “I was surprised. This student”—because of course she wouldn’t say names—“wrote better than I thought he or she ever could.” When she handed my paper back after class, it had a lovely B- on it and red marks splattered across the text.
Her words shocked me, enraged me, caused the acute destruction of my pride—she praised the thing my perfectionism deemed a failure. My anger at this comment, at her nonchalance and even at my lack of skill in writing festered until I felt it would bubble the acid right out of my stomach, splashing her with violent bouts of word vomit—I remained silent. My only recognizable thought—I’ll show her.
I bottled up the rage, forced it into a small box in the back of my brain and fed from it each time I wrote a paper for her class, or any other. These words and their lack of hope in my future success—which I’m now sure she never meant in that way—fueled my motivation and my passion for writing. In that moment I remained silent and proclaimed my future success. To spite her doubts and despite my own, I became a writer.