For the first time in a long while I am tutoring writing one-on-one. I enjoy it so much, but I forgot how much of a difficult undertaking it really is. Writing is such a murky, fickle art. No two writing pieces are ever the same–save plagiarism, oh my–and in fact, even the same piece of writing from conception to publication is hardly recognizable when comparing the first draft to the last.
As I am tutoring, I find myself saying so many things to my students that are just as amorphous as the task of writing itself. When working with students–especially ones who do not enjoy writing–I find that their goal is to finish the task, usually an essay, as quickly as possible with adherence to the most general rules: five paragraphs, a thesis statement, evidence, and maybe a little analysis. And it doesn’t matter if the ideas are insightful, they are present.
So, I want to try to focus on some other ideas about writing in my teaching practice this year. The ones that aren’t as concrete as the formula we use to teach kids how to compose an essay.
- It’s important to know what you are writing about. Make sure you understand the subject of your writing before you start writing about it. If you’re lost when it comes to analyzing the literature or other content, your reader will be lost in your words.
- The more you focus on the subject of your writing (i.e. a book, a literary criticism, an historical event) the more you will find that your ideas about it change. When you start analyzing something, it is the time during which you know the least about it. While you are writing and working with the subject you will learn new things about it. Don’t be afraid to change your ideas about a subject. Just because an idea came before another doesn’t make it immalleable.
- Stop writing. You need to take breaks. Writing is a huge undertaking that requires a lot of mental energy. Take your time and refresh your brain with a little down time.
- Revision is the most important step. Yes, I’m making a judgment here, but I really believe I have a solid point! It takes a lot to get your ideas on the paper, but it takes even more strength and belief in your own work to add, delete, and move around sentences, paragraphs, and ideas in order to improve upon something. Don’t get attached to your words, otherwise, they will rule you and your writing will suffer.
- They don’t call it the writing process for nothin’. It is a process, and like any process it takes time. We live in a time of instant gratification, and writing products do not suit such the need for immediate indulgence. It’s a journey and you have to take it if you want to be proud of where you end up.
So, to my students, this art we call writing is messy–as I suppose is the nature of any art. You will see new and different things as you delve deeper in a subject, you will change your mind about what to write and about how to write it. You will understand, eventually, that no piece of writing is ever truly finished. But if you take your time and embrace the challenges that go along with this art I promise you, you will find that the process can be satisfying. Just keep going. Keep reading. Keep learning. And keep writing.