Working as an English tutor has given me the opportunity to explore writing more than I ever would if I were just concerned with my own composition skills. I now revel in the moments between sessions when I can study grammar or the writing process. Such reading helps me find new ways to verbalize for my tutees what I already know about composition.
These days my emphasis is on learning how to help tutees discover their optimal individual writing process. I simply adore Barbara Fine Clouse’s A Troubleshooting Guide for Writers: Strategies and Process. (See the ToC here.) In it, she offers actual techniques for overcoming difficulties at every stage of writing. The book’s introduction alone has renewed my enthusiasm about composition, and I would like to share an excerpt with you.
7 Habits of Highly Successful Writers
- Be patient. Improving a skill takes time. Just as perfecting a foul shot takes a basketball player time and practice, so too does improving your writing. If you expect too much too soon, you will become frustrated. Look for slow, steady progress rather than dramatic, overnight improvement.
- Expect to get stuck. Everyone does, even experienced, professional writers. Writer’s block and dead ends are all part of writing, so do not think there is something wrong with you if you have some trouble. Consult this text, your instructor, other experienced writers, and/or a writing center tutor when you get stuck. When you solve the problem, tuck the solution away for future reference, so the same problem does not palgue you over and over again.
- Remember that writing is really rewriting. Experienced writers work and rework drafts several times. With each revision, know that you are acting like an experienced writer.
- Talk to other writers. Find out what they do when they write, and try some of their procedures. Form a network with your classmates and other writers for support and suggestions.
- Study the responses to your writing. What does your instructor say about your writing? What do your classmates say when they read your drafts? What do people in the writing center say? Reader response is valuabel to a writer. By paying attenetion to this response and working to improve areas where readers see weaknesses, you can improve more quickly. If you do not understand a response or if you do not know how to make a change, ask for help.
- Read, read, read. Read every day — the newspaper, news-magazines, short stories, crime novels. Read anything that interests you. Notice how other writers handle introductions, conclusions, supporting detail, and transitions. Look up unfamiliar words, notice sentence structure, and observe punctuations. The more you read, the more you learn about the nature of language, and the faster your writing will improve. Furthermore, frequent reading makes you more knowledgeable, so you have more ideas for your writing.
- Do not fear mistakes. They are a natural part of learning. Take risks; try things out. If you make mistakes, embrace them as opportunities to learn. If you are afraid of making a mistake, you will never try; if you never try, you will never grow. Connect your mistakes to your writing procedures. Decide which procedures work well for you and which do not. Then consult this text and your instructor for procedures to replace ones that did not work. For example, maybe idea generation goes well for you, but revision does not. That means you need to discover new revision procedures. When your procedures work better, your writing will improve.