Last updated 1/23/19 9:47 PM, 5/24/19 9:13 AM
IMPORTANT: This message was sent to my classes in spring 2016, but the tips are still relevant today.
Soon, our first Review Draft (RD) will be due. I’m excited and hope you are, too.
For me, writing is more than just an academic exercise. It’s a medium for personal expression. Think of all the decisions you make every minute of every day to let the world know who you are. You shout your existence in your choice of clothing, hairstyle, accessories, car, music, physical activity, friends, books, movies, residence, restaurant, food – you name it, and it’s probably a key to your identity.
For most, this is all the expression they need. And that’s fine.
For some, however, this isn’t enough. They feel a need to express the values, the thoughts and feelings behind their outward appearance and behavior. This is the part of self that can’t be directly observed by others. It can only be communicated via language, through words.
“So much depends upon a red wheel barrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens.” You’re probably familiar with this short poem published in 1923 by William Carlos Williams. I omitted the original formatting to bring it closer to the prose we’re writing.
Here’s another, from an anonymous 16th century poet: “O western wind, when wilt thou blow that the small rain down can rain? Christ, that my love were in my arms and I in my bed again!” As in the previous poem, I’ve omitted the formatting.
Williams was a medical doctor and looked the part. The persona longing for the return of a lover is anonymous. Observing both, from the outside, we probably wouldn’t be able to fathom the depth of their thoughts and feelings. It’s only through their words, communicated and recorded in writing, that we can enter their inner world. And once we enter, their experiences become ours, memories encoded by our hippocampus as sensory images. We literally see and feel as they do.
This is the power of writing, as some of you have suggested in your self-introduction at the beginning of this course. The greater our mastery, the greater our ability to share the thoughts and feelings that define who we are.
Let’s face it. We’re all gifted in one way or another. We all have great thoughts worthy of publication and recognition. The problem is, most of us lack the skills needed to express them. Thus, they remain bottled up inside, all dressed up but nowhere to go.
And this is where college writing courses step in. They are the outlets, the training grounds for novice writers. This is probably the only opportunity most of us will ever encounter to hone this life skill. The fact that freshman composition is a prerequisite for most college courses should tell us that writing is a skill fundamental to learning and advancement in every field. It’s a means to objectify or operationalize the learning that’s occurring between our ears. Unlike multiple choice tests, essays reveal our ability to think – to analyze, infer, interpret, manipulate, extrapolate, own, apply, transfer, and adapt ideas.
Finally, the fact that you’re in this writing or writing intensive (WI) course says a lot about your commitment to growing as a writer. You know it’s important, and you want to excel at it. You realize, deep down, that it’s ultimately a means to become fully aware of not merely who you are but who you can become.
The more adept we become as writers, the greater our opportunity to impact the worlds we choose to inhabit. If he had not attended the Stratford grammar school where he learned basic reading and writing skills, Shakespeare’s thirty-eight plays and 150 or more poems might never have been written. He would have died as the bard that never was. And the world would have been darker for it.
Our RD1 will be due soon. See our course schedule.
1. If you haven’t yet, I’d suggest posting a preliminary draft the night before the due date or even earlier. Next, after a good night’s rest, use the remaining time, days or hours, to review and revise it. Remember, our expectation is that your RD is not a “rough” draft but a draft worthy of review by classmates who will be devoting precious time to suggest improvements. We expect to see a finished product with evidence of extensive revision.
2. If you haven’t been able to adjust the settings for your blog, don’t hesitate to email me (email@example.com) your username and password. I’ll log in to see what I can do. I’m standing by to respond to this as well as any other questions.
3. If you run into problems and are unable to post your RD in your blog or are unable to get into your blog, don’t panic. Email the RD to me, and I’ll post it in your blog for you or post it in a group blog. In either case, I’ll send you the URL to share with your classmates in the Laulima forum for sharing it. If you want me to post your RD in your blog, be sure to include your WordPress username and password. Keep in mind that this is a temporary solution. I won’t be able to do this for you with all of our remaining drafts. The expectation is that you’ll solve the blog problem by the time our next draft is due.
4. If you have any questions about how to post a draft in your blog or how to post the URL for your RD1 in our Laulima forum for submitting it, email me and I’ll point you to guidelines. Alternately, email classmates who have successfully posted their drafts and URLs.
5. Above all else, don’t stress over the small stuff. At least not yet. In our first RD session, the big stuff is submitting your complete RD1 on time. If your blog settings are off, if the formatting looks weird, or if the URL that you share doesn’t work, it’s not that big a deal. This is our first paper, after all. We’ll work around these problems. We’ll learn and do better the next go around.
6. If you’re experiencing writer’s block, there are solutions. The most common cause is exhaustion. If you’re tired, you won’t be able to think, and if you can’t think, you can’t write. So take a siesta. For some, physical activity might be revitalizing. Go for a walk, a swim. For others, a mental break might work. Listen to your favorite music or watch a video. Return to your writing refreshed, and ideas are bound to flow. Sometimes, switching to a different medium for composing helps to break the bottleneck. For example, I do most of my writing on the computer. However, when ideas don’t flow, I break away from the keyboard and monitor and turn to paper and fountain pen. For some reason, the act of physically passing thoughts through my hand to a pen and onto paper is liberating. The words forming on paper seem to be directly connected to what I’m thinking. The sensation is one of dumping raw thoughts onto paper. Experiment and find a workaround that’s right for you.1 See the additional tips on beating writer’s block in the endnote below.
7. When it comes to writing mechanics, don’t be foolish. If you’re not using Grammarly or a similar grammar checker, you’re a fool. It’s free and will easily and automatically load into your WordPress editor, UH mail composer, text editor, MS Word or other word processor. It’ll catch a wide range of errors as you write. It won’t catch them all, but it will dramatically improve your drafts.
8. Finally, if you’re prone to procrastination and entertaining thoughts about submitting a late draft and, in preparation, already have a few excuses in mind – my suggestion is don’t do it. Late is a decision. It’s not an accident. And it’s a bad decision for all the reasons that you already know. The first step toward improving as a writer is to make good decisions. A poor paper is basically a series of bad decisions. You don’t need me to explain what this means. Think about it for a few seconds, and you’ll get it. By the same token, a good paper is basically the result of a series of good decisions. And the most important good decision you can make right now is to submit a complete, competently written RD1 by the deadline. See our late policy. For partial credit, a late RD must be submitted within 24 hours of the original deadline. After 24 hours, you won’t receive any credit.
1 Among the many other causes of writer’s block is overediting, and one form of this is the tendency to reread the entire paper from the very beginning after adding a new sentence. This process of writing a sentence, then rereading all the sentences that you’ve written earlier, slows writing to a crawl, especially as the draft grows longer. It also obstructs spontaneity and the natural flow of your thoughts. The best remedy for this is to write in timed segments. For example, write for five minutes without stopping to reread what you’ve written. After five minutes, allow yourself to stop and reread. Over time, extend the period to ten minutes, then twenty minutes, until you break the habit. Another cause is chronological thinking. When you can’t seem to get started, here’s a simple trick. Don’t begin at the beginning. Begin somewhere in the middle where you’re presenting the most important idea or supporting information. Build that part with no thought to the rest of the paper. You’ll be amazed at how quickly your paper comes together. You can always add an intro and lead-up as well as closing and conclusion later. The best part is that your paper will be automatically focused on the main idea (thesis)!