NOTE: Although IWC Intern Louis Martinez originally wrote this article for college students, it works for writers at all stages of their lives and careers. Even experienced fiction writers can apply it to their short stories or novels. So read it with your work in mind.
College Success in Three Simple Steps
Do you want to write decent papers but can’t seem to no matter how hard you try? Well, guess what? You’re in luck. It’s actually not that hard if you follow this simple, three-step writing process.
First things first, the planning phase. Otherwise known as “prewriting.” I don’t recall ever writing a great paper without thinking. It’s important to take some time to consider just what it is you want to say. You can’t put your thoughts into words before your thoughts even exist.
Now, planning doesn’t have to involve some extravagant web of ideas or a spiffy outline. Believe me, I never do that stuff, and I never get anything less than an A on my papers. What’s important is that you stop before you write. Stop, and take a moment to think. Think about what you’re going to write before you try and write.
What I normally do is just that, think. I think about what I want to convey, what I want to craft into an effective piece of written communication. And I think about it a lot.
I usually think about what I want to write for days before I sit down with my computer and start running that keyboard. I form connections with other thoughts and experiences I have throughout the day. I ponder the message when I’m in my bed, staring up at the ceiling while I wait for sleep to come over me.
I’m sure we’ve all heard some broken record of a person tell us to “think before speaking,” or something along those pestering lines. As obnoxious as those people can be, they’re not wrong.
Think before you speak. Think before you act. And, if want your writing to impress, think before you write as well.
Check out The Write at Home Blog for more strategic ways to plan your piece of writing.
This is the part where you create your rough draft, and the nexus through which I have seen far too many of my fellow college students convolute the writing process.
Drafting is simple. Just put your thoughts into words. Don’t worry about the finer details. That’s the next stage. Right now, just write down everything you came up with during your planning. Don’t stop and think too much about it or go back and change things before you’re done. Just write.
Do not attempt to edit while you draft. I’ve witnessed many students working on their drafts, then stopping to ponder if what they wrote could be said any better. Yes, it almost certainly can be, but if you stop to edit before you finish drafting, you cut off your train of potentially brilliant ideas before it gets to its destination. And the bad thing about losing this track is you may never get it back. Stay the course. Do not deviate, lest you derail the train.
In speaking with those around me at school and at work (I work at my school), one of the most recurrent topics of conversation is low grades on papers. A few questions later, the problem becomes clear, and all too common. People are submitting their rough drafts as final copies. Then they come to me wondering why they can’t seem to get a decent grade on anything they write, pleading for me to share my wisdom, as if I am some kind of literary guru.
Here’s the thing. Rough drafts are never pretty. Not even mine. They’re “rough drafts.” Reference.com does a great job at spelling it out here.
If you turn in a paper you wrote the day it was due without a second glance, don’t bother contemplating why you received such a low grade. You submitted a rough draft, and you’re probably going to get a rough grade.
I say “probably” because I’ve gotten A’s on papers I wrote at the last minute. But hey, that’s just Overconfident Louis being overconfident. Don’t be like him. Be like me, Regular Louis.
Now for the last step, and the one many of my peers skip completely. Editing.
I’ve heard the excuses. Over and over, people tell me they write best when they’re under pressure, when they wait until the last minute to put anything down. That’s cute, but no.
You may work faster when you’re under that kind of pressure, but not better. Trust me, I’ve read the stuff some people turn in. It’s not pretty. Like I said in the previous section, it’s called a rough draft for a good reason. It’s rough, and it hurts to look at.
Please, after you finish writing your paper. Go back and rewrite it. Fix all the errors. Spruce up those sentences that just don’t sound right when you read them again and say them out load. Take out all the unnecessary filler that makes you sound like a rambling buffoon.
Give yourself ample time to go through the entire writing process: planning, drafting, and editing. Give each stage your full attention. Do not neglect this linear progression. Take it seriously, and you will find yourself on the way toward good writing.