5 Tips for Writers

The cornerstones of good writing are practice, feedback and revision.  Ideally, writers will practice writing regularly, be open to feedback, and be able to use that feedback to improve their writing.  While each writer has individual goals, everyone can more effectively reach the goal of better writing with a few general practices.

  • Write regularly—making a commitment to practice writing will help all writers improve.  Create a routine and make regular progress.  You can decide if you want to commit to a certain amount of time each week or if you want to reach a certain number of pages.  You may have to fit your writing into small pockets of time.  Ideally, you should write every day, but if you can’t then make sure you meet your weekly goals.
  • Have short- and long-term goals for writing—knowing what you want to achieve will give your writing purpose.  You might want to complete a certain assignment and get a grade.  You might have a general sense that you want to be a better writer.  You might want to be published or complete a novel or short story.  You will be more likely to reach your goals if you have a clear idea of exactly what you want to do, and develop a timeline for achieving it.
  • Ask for the feedback you want—you can control (somewhat) the feedback you get by asking questions about areas you want to work on.  All writers need good readers, people they can count on to give them valuable criticism—not just people who will say everything is great.  When you go to those people, you can get better feedback if you tell them specifically what you need.  For example, you might say, “I feel that the beginning is a little boring.  I want to find ways to make it more exciting.  Any ideas?”  Or you might say, “I had a lot of trouble proving my second point.  As a reader, what would convince you?”
  • Realize that feedback you get is ultimately just opinion—feedback may be contradictory or surprising, but you decide what to take and what to ignore.  If you ask two people to read the same piece of writing, one might say it’s fantastic, while the other says it’s boring.  A reader could give feedback suggesting you change something you absolutely don’t want to change.  You’re the author, though, so you control the final product.You’ll have to trust your instincts and decide what feedback to react to and what feedback to consider and disregard.
  • Study the elements of good writing to use as you compose and to assist you in offering feedback on others’ writing.  Read other writers and see what they do.  How do they start their work to get your attention? How do they structure their ideas?  How do they make you agree with them? How do they make you laugh?  If you read, not just for content but for writing, you’ll learn a lot as a writer.

 

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The Challenges of Teaching Writing

Rachel Toor, in The Chronicle of Higher Education, discusses a common problem with the teaching of writing in academe:  everyone thinks it’s someone else’s job.  You can read her article here:  http://chronicle.com/article/Why-We-Cant-Farm-Out-the/131708/?sid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en.  Professors in departments other than English often feel writing is outside their area of expertise.  Many of us in English departments (I’m generalizing here) feel that students should have gotten rudimentary skills and grammar in high school, so that we can focus on ideas and critical thinking and mastery.

In larger universities, graduate students teach writing, though they seldom are trained in the teaching of writing.  I always felt that writing came easily to me, so it should be easy to teach.  The problem with that is that I, probably like many others, wrote almost automatically, and the task of understanding what I did when I wrote so that I could pass it on to others was difficult.  Figuring out how to teach writing took a metacognitive approach that took me years to develop.

Good writing is the type of thing that most people know when they see it.  Evaluation is also subject to all kinds of personal caprices—“I hate dangling modifiers,”  “It drives me crazy when students don’t know how to designate a title,” “Doesn’t anyone know the difference between further and farther?” The problem is that even when a writer gets all of this perfectly, the text may not be well written.  The ideas may not be insightful or the style may not be engaging, or the argument may not be fully developed—even in a paper with perfect grammar.

Teaching writing is not an impossible task, though. If it were, my entire career would have to be classified as a failure.  It does require a balance of guiding students through the process of writing and helping them to understand and evaluate the products of writing.  It requires that students buy in to the importance of writing—and that means that they have to see writing valued in all classes.

The best thing a Writing Across the Curriculum program can do toward this end is to train professors how to evaluate student writing.  The best thing a teacher of writing can do is spend one-on-one time with students, guiding them and helping them to shape their ideas.  I know that once my students were able to see how rewarding it was to articulate an idea or gain an insight, they became excited about writing and even surprised themselves.  To me, that is what education is all about.

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Not Ready for Writing at Work

According to the National Commission on Writing, American corporations spend about $3.1 billion a year on poor writing.  The costs of the poor writing skills of employees include many things, including training programs to teach employees to write, lost goodwill and lost customers due to bad communications, the cost of mistakes due to miscommunication, the cost of recalling and reprinting documents that are written incorrectly, time wasted trying to write.

Yet colleges, at least the ones I have been associated with, put a lot into their writing programs.  Most offer two classes, introductory composition and researching.  All have a tutoring lab to offer additional assistance to students.  Writing Across the Curriculum programs validate the need for writing in all disciplines.

Why isn’t this working?  The reasons are many and complicated, but two are at the forefront for me.

The first is student attitudes.  Most of the students who register for my writing classes—and I’m sure the same is true for the majority of programs—do so only because they are required.  When I take a little poll of my classes, asking who took the class because they love to write or because they really want to learn to write, usually only two or three students raise their hands.

In general, students aren’t convinced that writing will play a major part of their careers.  They also aren’t convinced they can learn to write: some people are born with the talent and some are not, they believe.  These students, when presented with information about how to write better pretty much ignore it and continue to do what they have always done, even if ineffective.

The second reason is students want rules and structure.  It’s also easier to teach writing as a set of rules and structures—that is why the Five-paragraph Theme and grammar instruction are so pervasive, especially in high school.  Students today are trained to learn the right and wrong answers. Writing isn’t like that.  The best writing teachers offer guidelines and teach the process.  What makes good writing depends so much on context, audience, and purpose.  Students hate that kind of ambiguity.

The “rules” of writing taught in college for academic writing don’t transfer to the workplace.  Students need to learn the critical thinking and analytical skills to assess their various writing situations and make decisions about how to communicate effectively.  That is difficult to teach, difficult to learn, and difficult to grade.

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Not Ready for College Writing

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, 44% of college professors feel that their students are not prepared for entry-level college writing.  That figure feels low to me.  Almost all of my colleagues seem to feel that at least some percentage of their students are not adequately prepared to write college papers. Why is this happening?  My experience has been in teaching college students to write for over 15 years at diverse places, including a four-year public university, a four-year private university, a business college with non-traditional students, and a community college.  That experience has led me to a few insights into the shortcomings of our system.

First, high school students are learning different skills to succeed in high school than those they need in college.  In high school, teachers have to contend with many competing demands: discipline, curriculum requirements, testing, content-specific reporting.

Students learn to answer content related questions to show that they know required information and to report facts culled from research.  That is very different from what I would expect of my students in a college class, which may be way the 2010 Deloitte Education Survey states that only 31% of high school teachers think their students are ready for college.

In college, I expect students to be able to apply critical thinking skills to formulate original insights into their topics.  I expect them to synthesize information from their research into well-developed academic arguments.  And I expect them to offer credible evidence for the claims they make.  College students need to offer logically developed and organized papers. These are the standards of college-level work, along with being able to integrate sufficient breadth and depth knowledge on a topic (perhaps the single point of intersection with high school expectations).

The situation seems to be this: high schools tend to focus (largely but not exclusively) on other skills than those colleges expect, and nothing to enhance writing skills happens during the summer between students graduating from high school and beginning college.

What’s the solution?  Additional writing classes in high school? Summer writing workshops to prepare students?  More remedial classes (those these are often portrayed as the road to dropping out)?

I have often thought that even in college, if we truly wanted students to learn to write, instead of offering one or two semesters of writing classes, we would assign each student to a writing workshop and provide each with an individual tutor.  The students would continue in the workshop and with the tutor until they could reach a basic level of competence.  Of course, the expense of this, through student tuition or other means, would be enormous.  I’m hoping that the Writer’s Alley Interactive Writing Tutorial can offer a more cost-effective way of helping students work toward writing competence.

I would love to hear your solutions to this problem.

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Question Everything

“Critical thinking! That sounds so negative.”  I’ve heard students make these and similar comments.  I think that those were my thoughts when I was first introduced to the concept of critical thinking, too.  I try to explain that critical thinking is not criticizing; it’s a way of approaching the world that goes beyond a naïve belief in superficial optimism and opens thinking up to new ways of looking at the world.

My first real experience with critical thinking came in a political science class in college.  Quite frankly, I was so busy trying to remember the definition of “nation-state” that I had little brain power left over for any kind of thinking.  I took everything that was presented in the class as absolute fact. I had always been good at taking information and remembering and presenting it—that was why school was easy for me.  The final paper I wrote for that class was an attempt to regurgitate the facts as accurately as possible.  When a friend of mine asked me about the paper, I told him what I had written was good enough.  He was not convinced.

Instead, he made me sit down with him, go over the paper and question what I had written.  As I looked it over and asked myself questions, I found I made new connections and had new insights.  As a result, the paper I turned in was better than any other “A” paper I had written up to that point.  More importantly, I was thrilled to see my ideas come to life, at really creating a new world view.  It felt powerful, and my most thrilling moments teaching have been in seeing students realize that same power in their writing.

Another time, I was in a class which involved my acting as a Big Sister to a thirteen-year old girl with a troubled home life.  At nineteen, I was full of visions of myself befriending her and changing her life.  I still remember the first time I picked her up.  She lived in a downtrodden house on a crowded street.  I knocked on the door, and her mother answered.

“I hope you can teach this girl how to behave, so I don’t have to kick her out every day,” she said as she nodded over her shoulder.  I could see a young girl standing behind her in a gloomy hallway, crowded with old furniture and the smell of old food.  I didn’t even know how to respond, other than nodding.  Later, after we had gone out for dinner and were walking across campus back to her neighborhood, LaRita told me about how she and her friends came out on campus to have fun.  They ran around old buildings, talked laughed and even got into a few fist fights.

“You should die and come back black,” she told me. “Black people really know how to have fun.”  LaRita had a sense of cool, a feeling of confidence in her own life that I rarely had.  When I thought about it, though, I wondered what in her life gave her that sense.  Compared to the spacious, light life I had, hers seemed, from everything I saw, cramped and dark.  The contrast led me to investigate many of the assumptions I held about life, about where happiness comes from, about what is important.  Of course, the answers evolve and change as life changes, but LaRita always remains with me in spirit.

As I wrote my final paper for that class, I tried to question my initial thinking about how the experience would be.  I may have provided LaRita with some fun times away from her house and someone to talk to, but she provided me with something, too:  questions to consider, to challenge my conventional thinking about life—that is at the heart of critical thinking.

While I tend to link critical thinking to my experiences writing about different aspects of life, it goes much deeper—critical thinking for me is at the heart of what it means to really experience an education. In class after class, textbook after textbook, lecture after lecture, I continue to ask questions, aloud, silently, in writing:  Is this really true?  How is this biased?  How does it match my experience with the world?  What are the underlying assumptions?  Do they fit with my assumptions?  What experiences led to this, and how different are they from my own?  What world view is operating here? Why?  Why?  Why?  Like a two-year-old, I am confused, excited and curious about the world I am emerging into.  I question everything.

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Language Changes

The Wall Street Journal recently published an article about the birth and death of words.  A group of physicists used mathematical formulas on texts available through the Internet to calculate how our lexicon is changing.  This new form of study, “culturnomics,” uses math to track cultural phenomena.

I’ve always been amenable to the changes that flow through our language usage.  After all, without them, we would be saying things like, “Thou shall not use your iPod at the dinner table, Jebediah.”

But I find my acceptance of them is pretty arbitrary. I don’t make my children say, “May I go outside?” I do correct them, however, when they say, “Jamie and me want to go outside,” or “I did good on my math test.”  I don’t know what my standard is exactly, except some vague feeling that the latter two statements sound bad to me.

Most upsetting is the disappearance of adverbs.  People don’t do things “really well.”  Instead, they perform “real good.”  Advice to writers often admonishes them against using adverbs and recommends stronger verbs.  To me, though, “He cradled her lovingly in his arms” has much more impact than “He cradled her in his arms.”

I guess what it comes down to is that in culture, as in technology, there are early adopters and late adopters—and those of us who fall betwixt and between.

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Giving Feedback and Gaining Insight

As a facilitator of a writing group, I have found that giving feedback to any writer can be a tricky process.  Many members of my writing group are reluctant to give criticism to others because they feel that they are not expert enough at writing themselves to be able to help others.  I tell them the same thing I tell my students:  you may not feel like an expert at writing, but you are an expert at what you can understand and what appeals to you.

That’s what most writers need and want—to gain insight into how others see their work.  A reader’s feedback is helpful in guiding the writer in making revisions, and it can affect the writer’s self-assessment, but it’s not the final word. I’ve even had the experience where two different readers have marked the same passage, one saying, “This is fantastic,” and the other saying, “This is difficult to understand.”  Ultimately, writers will take the feedback and decide for themselves what they will follow and what they will ignore.

Along with giving a writer insight into his or her work, giving feedback can help you as a writer.  You will learn how to take a step back from a written text and evaluate it on a set of criteria.  These criteria will probably start off as unstated and unexplored, but the more you give feedback, the more you will see a pattern.

Ideally, you will be able to transfer the skill of giving feedback to others into evaluating your own writing as a reader would.  Of course, it is more difficult to step away from the personal involvement you have with your writing to view it as an outsider, but it is possible.

The starting point for good feedback is to understand the writer’s goals and purpose for the work.  You can compare this to what you took as the main purpose of the text and see if there is a match:  “You seem to be trying to do______________. What I got from the text was _____________________.”

Next, you should find what the writer does right and comment on it—these are strategies you want to encourage the writer to use and enhance:  “I really liked the way you used humor to get your point across.”  “You offer a lot of good support here.”

When you move to making suggestions for improvement, you can critique at a number of levels:

  • Point out a problem:  “This doesn’t seem to work.  I’m not sure why.”
  • Define the problem, “The character seems too flat.”  “This contradicts previous ideas in the text.” “You seem to be telling rather than showing what is happening.” “I find this difficult to follow.”
  • Suggest alternatives:  “Maybe you could show the character doing…”  “You could support this by…”

Pay attention to your gut reactions—what you like and what you don’t like (at a minimum, you can write a smiley face or a question mark in the margins to indicate your feelings, but you will want to work toward doing more). Responses that focus on your own reaction can give the writer insight (for example, “I found this confusing because…” or “This didn’t seem real to me because…” or “I really could relate to this…” or “This seems too obvious because…”).

You don’t want to give too much feedback, which will just overwhelm and frustrate the writer, so you will want to focus on some core writing skills:

  • Effective introductions and conclusions,
  • Clarity of purpose or thesis,
  • Structure or organization,
  • Use of concrete language and description to engage a reader
  • Ability to create interest for intended reader
  • Development of ideas or use of support and specific detail,
  • Style and clarity of expression, (word choice and use of clichés),
  • Grammar and mechanics.

A summary statement at the end of the feedback might also be helpful to the writer.  You can target two areas the writer did well and three that might still need to work.  This will give you more insight into the passages you consider strong and weak writing, allowing you to view your own work critically.

When I make comments, I like to think of the writing as a conversation.  Each paragraph is a statement the writer is making to me, and in the margin, I give my reply.  Often that reply is in the form of a question:  “What other details can you provide to make this more lively?” “Do you have any specific support for this?”  “Do you think this idea belongs after the same topic on page 1?”  Questions allow the writer to feel that I am exploring the text with him or her instead of attacking it from the outside.  They also allow the writer freedom to respond.

Open any book and turn to the “Acknowledgements” page.  On it you will find many of the people who provided the valuable service of giving the writer feedback.  In the process of writing, those readers gained skills to become better writers themselves.  As a writer and a teacher critiquing to others is one of the challenges of the job—but it’s much less challenging than the skill you are working toward: critiquing your own work.

 

 

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Grateful Reverence

William Makepeace Thackeray says of the British Museum, “It seems to me one cannot sit down in that place without a heart full of grateful reverence.”  He was thankful for the “bountiful books” and “the truth I find there.”

I understand his attitude of grateful reverence.  In a way, my bookcases are altars in reverence of the written word.  In fact, my entire house is a worship place for writing.  Almost every surface has one or several books on it.  Add to that the computers for composing and the numerous notepads for generating ideas, and it is clear that I’m kind of crazy about books.  My husband has even told our kids, “Mommy loves you more than she loves her books—and that’s a big deal.”

I can’t help it; the creative energy that goes into writing even the shortest poem or essay is a miracle to me.  Writing can capture all of life—from the expression of the human condition, to the creation of new ideas, to the description of the minute details of life on earth.  You can create the world with words.

Even in our anti-intellectual society, I think most people admire the ability to write.  This ability is associated with intelligence and education and artistic accomplishment.  It’s an easy jump to conclude that the converse is true of those who cannot write, which can explain why students who struggle with writing often feel a deep, personal dread of writing.

That means that much of the job of teaching writing is overcoming the insecurities and frustrations of students and awakening a sense of grateful reverence for the word and the world.  The best way I have found to do that is to give students step-by-step guidance until they are able to work on their own and to ask them questions to draw out their insights and knowledge until they are confident in their own thinking.  Students also gain confidence when they understand the conventions of good writing—the common structures of texts and techniques for communicating to their audience.

If students can achieve an attitude of grateful reverence for the world, they are on the path toward being able to describe and embrace it in writing.  Observation and curiosity are the tools of writers–and for those who appreciate the world around them.

 

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10 Myths about Writing–part 2

Myth 6:  Writing is not important for math and science people.

I frequently have students in my class who say, “I’m going to be a ________________ (fill in the blank with any math, science or technical field), so I’ll never have to write.” It’s true that there are many entry-level positions in these fields that don’t require much writing.  However, it’s also true that for most of these areas, promotions depend on being able to communicate ideas to others, often in writing.  In fact, according to the National Commission on Writing, 66% of salaried employees must write as some part of their careers.

Myth 7:  You should write like you speak.

I once conducted a classroom ethnography during which I recorded and transcribed all class discussions over the course of a semester.  While I was in the class, I was amazed at how articulate and clear the students were.  When I got home to transcribe my tapes, I was shocked.

The discussion that seemed so clear suddenly became disjointed.  Students and professor paused and ummmmed throughout their speech.  They left gaps in ideas, started one point, dropped it in the middle and started on entirely unrelated topics.  They backtracked, skipped and misused words and said, “you know” all the time—even when nobody could possibly know.

The discussion sounded great to me because I was a listener, not a reader. When we speak and others listen, there are nonverbal cues, people ask questions and clarify—and, most importantly, there’s no permanent record. Advocates of writing as you speak do not take into account the significant differences between the speaking situation and the writing situation, where we have to fill in the gaps, predict what a reader will need without nonverbal cues, and create a logical flow of ideas because there are no listeners to assist with the development of ideas.

Sometimes it is a good idea to jot down ideas as though speaking to someone, but if the writer stops there, the text can be jumbled and incomprehensible—which is where good revising comes in (see #8).

Myth 8:  Once the words are on the page, the work is done.

Many students and novice writers sit down to write, type the words on the screen and then print out their papers, thinking they are done.  Getting some words on the page is not the only goal of writing, though.  Writing is a process, and for most experienced writers, writing a draft is far from the last stage in the process.

The draft is like the clay of writing.  The real work in writing is in taking the clay and molding it into an expressive sculpture, a written piece that accomplishes the writer’s purpose and provides the reader with an experience.  For this reasons, most writers spend a good proportion of their writing time revising.  One of my college professors told my class that Ernest Hemingway revised A Sun Also Rises over 46 times until he got it the way he wanted it.  Is that true?  I think it probably was.

Revising doesn’t mean going though the paper to correct any grammar errors (that’s editing, and it’s important, but best saved to last).  Revising requires looking at a paper with critical eyes and reworking it to achieve a writing goal—it means adding explanation and detail, taking out passages that don’t work, moving things around to create a flow to the work, and rethinking ideas.

Myth 9:  Writing reflects personal worth.

Many of my students come to class afraid to write because they feel that if they do poorly, it exposes their ignorance and weaknesses. Comments on their papers feel like personal attacks.  When they write about their own lives, those comments feel like a rejection of their experiences.

I remember my college roommate asked me to read one of her papers and give her feedback.  Even though the feedback I gave was benign, when I handed it to her, she started crying.  What she really wanted was for me to read her paper and tell her it was perfect as it was—which would have been a personal validation.

As a person whose profession is to give feedback and as a writer in a writers’ group who gets feedback, I understand how personal it feels.  The truth, is though, that a poorly written piece, or one that gets unfavorable feedback, is no more a reflection on the writer’s worth than a bad hair day is a reflection of a head’s value.  It’s just a starting point, with lots of room for improvement.

Myth 10:  Writing is only a skill needed to achieve the end goal of a career.

There seems to be a trickle up effect for writing.  We’re supposed to practice writing in middle school to prepare us to write in high school.  We write in high school to prepare us for college, and we write in college to prepare for a career.

But writing is much more than a practical means to an end.  Writers can enjoy the creative process of writing without having their career as a goal.  Writing can be personal expression, creative outlet and means of communicating with others.  Writing can be esthetic pleasure, simply for the sake of the beauty of the words on the page.

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10 Myths about Writing–part 1

Myth 1:  Either you’re born with writing talent or not, and if you’re not, there’s nothing you can do.

Many people see writing as a talent and believe, perhaps, that writers are born with full-fledged novels, research papers or business presentations already in mind.  Non-writers think writers sit down to the computer screen, and beautiful, clear prose pours forth from their minds.  They automatically know where all the commas go and have the perfect synonym for “happiness” at their fingertips.  Without this natural, inborn ability, everybody else is relegated to non-writing status, having to struggle with communicating in clear, correct language only when absolutely necessary.

I do actually believe that some people are born with natural writing ability.  Their writing is a form of art that others can admire and enjoy but rarely equal.  However, almost all of these writers put a huge amount of work into their craft.  They spend an enormous amount of time reading the works of others and honing their skills.  Most writers not only make a regular practice of writing, but they also put in time revising and reworking their texts until they are as close to satisfied as they can get.  I believe that writers become more motivated if writing is something they enjoy and feel confident about, which may be why we perceive natural talent as a phenomenon.

Even people who don’t feel they have a natural talent for writing can become accomplished and skillful writers, though.  They have to follow the example of writers considered naturally talented and read, practice, and revise to achieve this.  By learning the process of writing and breaking down the often daunting and abstract task of writing into manageable stages, anyone can learn to write. I have seen students come to writing classes claiming that they can’t write because they don’t have a natural talent for it—and I have seen those same students learn to write excellent and persuasive papers and stories.

Myth 2:  Correct grammar = good writing

When I have asked students what they think they need to learn most in order to become good writers, the majority respond that they need to improve their grammar skills.  While it’s true that readers’ perceptions of writing is often shaped by grammar—more grammatical errors means a harsher critique of the writer—deeper issues are more important.

Grammar is the shine put on a text.  Just as it’s possible to have a shiny car that doesn’t run, it’s possible to have a grammatically correct paper that just doesn’t work.  A paper that doesn’t have substance, isn’t logically organized, doesn’t provide clear ideas or isn’t interesting can’t be saved by using good grammar.  Even if every sentence is grammatically correct, if the writing isn’t engaging, well developed and thought provoking, the text is no good.

Myth 3:  Grammar and spelling reflect intelligence.

Grammar isn’t just a superficial issue, though.  The rules of grammar provide a consistent framework for communicating in writing.  Following those rules is one way of ensuring that ideas are clear and can be interpreted by the largest possible audience. Writers learn most of those rules by reading and by communicating at home and school.

A writer’s knowledge of correct grammar is largely dependent on what is learned, and it isn’t a reflection of intelligence or ability.  Different levels of reading, different homes and different schools often provide varied exposure to correct grammar.  Unfortunately, a text with a lot of grammatical errors makes the writer look ignorant and uneducated—which means that a lot of great material is overlooked because of this inaccurate judgment.   That’s why many writers seek help (see #4).

Grammar used in writing, then is due to exposure to correct grammar and has nothing to do with intelligence; however, any writer can use his or her intelligence to learn grammar and to read over a written text carefully looking for errors that must be corrected.

MYTH 4:  If you need help, you’re not a good writer.

Most colleges and universities provide free tutoring to help students improve their papers.  Even though the service is free (or actually paid for indirectly from tuition), few students use tutoring labs.  In my classes, if three out of 20 students sought outside help, that was bordering on miraculous.

The truth is that all writers need help.  Professional writers join writers’ groups and often seek others to read and comment on their works.  Just turn to the acknowledgement page of any book and read over the list of names of people who provided feedback to the authors.

Writers need help from readers and editors to find errors that they missed because after reading a text 50 times, it’s difficult see what’s right on the page.  They need help finding ideas that need to be clarified and places where more detail and evidence will get a reader to understand better.  Writers need help from others just to gain an outsider’s perspective on their ideas.   Good writers actually seek this kind of help.

Myth 5:  Writing is something people do in isolation.

There is a romantic notion (actually derived from the Romantic Period) of writers isolated in their ivory towers producing work that reflects their individual brilliance—and often troubled and rebellious minds.  This notion is mainly a fantasy.  It ignores millions of co-authored works, as well as the input writers get from editors and other readers.

Mainly, though, it ignores the fact that most—though not all—writers write for an audience.  Their ideas need to be expressed in a manner that will reach that audience and have the effect the writer is striving to achieve.

 

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