Dr. J’s favorite editing suggestions:
- Imagine your writing is your side of a conversation with another person. If you were telling someone this story, would you do so in the order you used in your first draft?
- Your best editor is an imaginary, insatiable three-year-old who says “How do you know” or “Why does that matter” after every single sentence. Does the narrative you’re telling pass the “three-year-old test”? If not, then there’s still more critical thinking to be done in order to fully flesh out your ideas (and make them toddler-proof!).
What’s “good writing”?
You may organize essays in this class however you like. You won’t see any formulaic 5-paragraph essay topics in this course (although you can certainly write one of those if that’s comfortable for you!). The important thing is that your essay displays the features of good writing:
Good writing contains interesting ideas. This is the most important aspect of good writing—are you saying something new, exciting, provocative, and that’s not predictable?
Good writing expresses those ideas clearly. Clarity is one of the most difficult things to master as a writer—have you stated your ideas in such a way that the reader understands where you are coming from, has all the pieces, and receives information in a logical order? This means supporting your ideas with specific, vivid examples—musical details from a specific song, an anecdote or brief story, or a detail that brings your idea to life and grounds it in reality.
Good writing is engaging. The most enjoyable things to read feel like a conversation between the reader and the author—as you read, you have a sense of the person writing, their sense of humor, their personality, and the things that make them unique, and this makes you want to keep reading. This comes through in their word choice, their style, how they convey their ideas (e.g., what imagery, metaphors, similes they choose to use), and the artfulness of their presentation. Sound a little vague? That’s because we’re talking about the art of writing, and art, as you know (even after only a week or two in this class!) is subjective.
Good writing follows through. Building on the concept that good writing expresses interesting ideas in a conversational manner, keep in mind that good writing also impels the reader to keep thinking about the subject in a new way. Your essay can do this by answering questions like: “Why does it matter?,” “So what?,” “What happens next?,” or “How does this relate to the world or the bigger picture?” Be aware of the implicit questions your writing raises, and don’t just leave them hanging there, unanswered.
Good writing isn’t repetitive. This is the trickiest thing for many young writers coming out of high school! We’re often taught to reuse whole phrases from the introduction to form topic sentences or to restate the introduction as the conclusion of our essays, for example. Practical, formulaic, easy to teach—but BORING! Uninspired! Unexciting! Another trap is redundancy, or saying the same thing with different words (see what I did there?). As you reread your drafts, watch out for the habit of saying the same idea multiple times or in multiple places in your essay—pick the strongest version and get rid of the others!
Read the assignment prompt. Begin every assignment by reading the essay prompt all the way through, making sure that you understand everything that’s expected of you. Return to this step throughout the writing process—it’s your job to make sure that you’re fulfilling the assignment requirements!
The four basic techniques of editing (“ARMS”):
- Add. Show why you think what you think. Provide examples.
- Remove. Remove anything (it could a word, or a sentence, or a half a page) that doesn’t actually address your main point. Remove repetitious ideas or redundant statements.
- Move. Try to imagine someone reading this for the first time. What would be confusing about the order that things are presented in? You can change the order of paragraphs or of sentences within a paragraph and end up with a completely different essay.
- Substitute. Try a different anecdote, a different example, or even a different word.
How to improve your skills as a writer:
- 10 Rules of Writing: http://indianquarterly.com/10-rules-of-writing/
- How to Be a Better Writer: http://time.com/3584611/write-better-tips-from-harvard/
- 5 steps to writing a book: https://medium.com/the-mission/the-5-draft-method-to-writing-a-best-selling-book-3df3d532c9c0
Dale Trumbore, Staying Composed (2019)
John Warner, Why They Can’t Write (2018)
some more General tips:
- The introduction is usually a bad place to start. You don’t know what you’re going to write about until you start writing, but the intro requires you to know what you’re about to write—it’s a recipe for writer’s block!
- Pick an idea from your brainstorming and simply start writing. Don’t edit, don’t second guess, just get your ideas on paper (or on the screen). You’ll often find that you can get into a “groove” if you just keep writing (10 minutes is a good goal if you’re using a timer) with no distractions (put the phone away, turn music off, find a quiet space).
- After you’ve written, take the night off! Reread what you’ve written the next day. It’s important to give yourself distance from what you’ve written so you can approach it a little more objectively, and you’ll also find that a good night’s sleep can help you figure out new things to say, better ways to phrase an idea, or see how good (or weak) your previous work was.
- Try putting your sentences (or even whole paragraphs!) in different orders—the flow of how your ideas is presented is important and can change the entire scope of an essay. Oftentimes the order that we come up with ideas isn’t the best order for sharing them with a reader.
- Write your introduction last. Once you’ve figured out what your essay says, it’s easier to welcome a reader into it.
- Read your essay or sections of it out loud. Imagine that you’re speaking to someone as you do so. It’s easier to notice awkward grammar, usage, or word order when you have to say it out loud.
- Let someone else read your essay and tell you what they liked about it and something they still don’t understand after reading it. Fix whatever is unclear—if one reader had difficulty understanding your wording, logic, or point, someone else probably will, too!
- Use the campus Writing Center. They’re there to help you expand and deepen your skills as a writer so that you feel more confident about this assignment and more prepared for future assignments.
- Don’t print at the last minute. Technology can be problematic, and there’s not always a stapler handy when you need it.
- Reread the essay prompt and rubric to grade yourself before you turn anything in.