Hello readers. Today, I don’t want to talk to you about writing. Well that’s not true. What I have to say is in fact about writing but it’s about the writing process in general. A lot of people think that great writers are people that can sit down at their computer or typewriter and just hammer out a masterpiece with very little thought. This misconception makes people think of writers as spontaneous and eccentric wordsmiths that will lock themselves away from the world until the work is done. Well I’m sorry to disappoint you but neither Rome nor Moby Dick were built in a day. It takes time and hard work to produce good writing. And that’s why I think the most important part of any writing project is not the writing itself, its the planning and editing stages.
I cannot tell you how important it is to plan your writing. I’ve not only told other people this many times, I’ve told this to myself over and over again. “Make an outline!” I don’t care what kind of writing you are doing, essay, novel, dissertation, short story. If you don’t plan out your writing ahead of time it’s going to show. I can tell you from experience, I have never written an A paper without making some sort of outline before hand. Now I don’t mean that you have to have every sentence and argument written out in pristine bullet and numbered order. Whenever I plan out an essay or short story I’m all over the map. If I’m writing a ten page paper, then it usually takes twenty pages of legal pad paper to plan out the essay. And then only three of those pages are usually in an ordered fashion. The rest of my pre-writing is stream of consciousness and brainstorming. But that’s just me. I know students that can write a beautiful essay with an outline that takes up only half a page. But you better believe they took a good day or two to come up with something that concise. You can figure out what kind of planning works best for you but you should understand this simple point. Before you write that first introduction paragraph for an essay or the first line of dialogue for a character, you better have thought out three things, 1)where is this piece of writing going to begin? 2)Where is it going to end? 3) How am I going to get from beginning to end?
Now you’ve done all your planning and you’ve written a complete piece. It’s editing time baby. I cannot tell you how many times friends of mine have asked me to read their essays or short stories without editing it themselves. Please for the love of Herman Melville, don’t do this to people. You need to read your own writing no matter how painful it may be. Too often do I come across a sentence or paragraph that is so awkwardly worded that not even its author can figure out what he or she was trying to say. This is infuriating to both parties. But many people think that they need a fresh pair of eyes to edit for them. Usually it’s because they think they aren’t able to spot mistakes in their own writing. I understand if you’re writing a long dissertation or a novel, you might need some extra help due to time constraints. In that case, let me direct you to the CambridgeEditors website–http://www.cambridgeeditors.com/index.html.–but if you’re writing a five to ten page paper then you can definitely edit your own writing. For your own benefit, here’s a useful tip–read your essay out loud. If you read you’re own writing in your head it’s easy to overlook mistakes–even big mistakes. Reading your writing out loud will help you to hear exactly what your writing sounds like to another person. And trust me when you read an awkward sentence, it sticks out.
A lot of people have this misconception that truly great writers are these magical word magicians that can just spit out great prose without much effort or thought. One time, I got into an argument with a classmate about writing and writers. She said, “you know writers don’t just sit down and think about everything that they are going to say, they don’t plan out every metaphor and symbol before hand.” And my response was, “yes they do!” You know the scene in The Great Gatsby where Gatsby tells Nick, Daisy’s ‘voice is full of money,’? That scene went through six edits. Are there writers that can churn out works of genius without thinking? Not really. If you ever hear of a writer doing that its because he or she has been writing and planning and editing everyday for years and years. It’s like learning an instrument. No one picks up a trumpet for the first time and is suddenly able to play like Miles Davis.
Here’s what I’m trying to say. Writing takes hard work and practice, just like everything else. If you want to be a good writer you need to put in the effort, plain and simple. And that means anyone can be a writer so long as they are willing to put in the work. It’s a comforting thought.
Until next time.