Category Archives: The Writing Process

Why write well?

Non-English majors in undergraduate composition courses may wonder why writng well matters. Teachers and tutors can argue for future usefulness until we’re blue in the face, but I think we might do better to answer students’ apprehensions with an example.

In a section of her book One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding, journalist Rebecca Mead describes a decrepit old house in a tiny Wisconsin town:

One splintered house at the low end of town, near the riverbank, seems some time ago to have buckled to its knees like a drunk, and having decided there was nothing much worth standing up for after that, simply stayed in that position.

Let’s ask our students what the difference is between the preceding sentence and this one: A house near the river has started to collapse.

Then, we address their concern directly: You should endeavor to write as well as you can because … well, why wouldn’t you?


Gretchen Rubin’s “13 Tips for Actually Getting Some Writing Done”

Author Gretchen Rubin offers thirteen very useful, very simple tips to get you writing. Below is an excerpt, but please click here to read the entire blog entry.

One of the challenges of writing is…writing. Here are some tips that I’ve found most useful for myself, for actually getting words onto the page:

1. Write something every work-day, and preferably, every day; don’t wait for inspiration to strike. Staying inside a project keeps you engaged, keeps your mind working, and keeps ideas flowing. Also, perhaps surprisingly, it’s often easier to do something almost every day than to do it three times a week. (This may be related to the abstainer/moderator split.)

2. Remember that if you have even just fifteen minutes, you can get something done. Don’t mislead yourself, as I did for several years, with thoughts like, “If I don’t have three or four hours clear, there’s no point in starting.”

3. Don’t binge on writing. Staying up all night, not leaving your house for days, abandoning all other priorities in your life — these habits lead to burn-out.

If you enjoy this entry, become a regular reader of her Happiness Project blog and look for her book, The Happiness Project, late this year.


7 Habits of Highly Successful Writers

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
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Posted by on 3 October 08 in Inspiration, The Writing Process


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