I wanted to follow up my previous post about audience by unpacking this idea of pushing aside the things that prevent you from getting words on the page, and look at some ways to move past those things.
At some point in our lives, many of us experience the trauma of getting back a paper that we worked really hard on, and finding a sea of red marks. Our eyes swiftly skim the lines looking for the fatal flaw in our work — there must be some reason for all this symbolic blood on our papers. Unfortunately, many students come to internalize these marks and comments, which were usually written with the best intentions, but are still a puzzling teaching practice. All of a sudden, by attempting to help these students become better writers, these teachers have succeeded in doing the exact opposite. They’ve branded these students as “bad writers.”
I’m sure I’ve mentioned this time and again on this blog, but I don’t actually believe that bad writers exist. Writing is a practice, and given the right tools, an appropriate length of time, and ample support, practically anyone can produce a “good” piece of writing.
The trick here is eliminating all the reasons for not getting words on the page, and making sure that you allow yourself time for revision once you’ve gotten words on the page.
Writing Problem #1 — Maybe you’re terrified to write even a short paragraph. Being asked to write 300 words seems like an impossible task for you.
Solving this kind of problem happens through forcing yourself to write frequently about things that you care about in extremely low stakes settings. Perhaps you keep a journal where you write about your life. Maybe you aim to write 300 words worth of facebook statuses a day. The point here is that you hold yourself accountable for practicing putting words out there. The more you do this, the better you’re going to get.
Once you’ve gotten comfortable with this, you raise the stakes and begin figuring out ways to edit and improve upon what you’re writing. You begin exploring sentence revision, organization, and other concerns.
Writing Problem # 2 — You have no problem getting words on the page. You can free-write the shit out of just about anything, but somehow you still get D’s on almost every paper you turn in.
The trick here, my friends, is learning the art of revision. This was one of the hardest lessons for me to learn. I was brilliant, and I knew that anything I produced would be brilliant, too. I had no idea what anyone was talking about when they asked me to revise what I’d written. Regardless of whatever high horse I was on at the time, you do actually have to learn how to move past the free-writing phase in order to grow as a writer. Once you get the basics down, revision can actually be a really fun process. It can sometimes feel like working a puzzle.
I’m definitely going to follow up with strategies for revision, mainly because it’s fun for me.