Thursday, July 10, 2008

Writing about Writing

LOL. : )

And so I've gone back to school. Yep, that's right. It's been three weeks now and so far, I've done pretty well.

I'm taking English Compostion and I tell you, three years of blogging were good practice for getting homework done in that class. If nothing else, I've learned to come up with an idea and write a fairly lengthy essay in a day or so.

So, since I have to write for English Comp One, I decided, why not post my essays here? Heck I'll even tell you what I get on them and what the professor's comments were. So far so good, but hey, who's to say it will keep going that way.

All that being said, please don't forget about donating to the Re-Education of Deborah fund (email me now, ask me how) and here's my first essay about, of all things, how to go about writing an essay.

The Steps in the Writing Process

Much like the famed five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – there are also five steps to the writing process; getting started, organizing, drafting, revising and editing. The process for both grieving and writing appear to have much in common, namely that although one may not experience all of the stages or even go through the steps in the order presented, the final steps of acceptance and editing are assured.

When setting out on the task of writing there is a feeling of eager challenge and a wealth of ideas may race through your mind. Unfortunately when you sit down with pen in hand or hands poised over the keyboard, that wealth and eagerness may suddenly dry up into what is termed “writers block”. The theme you thought solid only moments ago seems pointless. Suddenly no idea seems good enough and denial kicks in.

“I’ll just wait and see if I really want to even do this. I’m sure that I can come up with an excuse that would cause any professor to burst into tears.” The fact remains: Anyone who has the time and imagination to render their professor to tears with excuses has the time and wherewithal to write an essay.

When a writer is at a loss for what to write there are several means of creating ideas. Brainstorming is giving yourself a time limit to write a list of ideas without stopping “no matter how silly or dull or irrelevant they seem.” Freewriting also uses a time limit but instead of just writing down ideas, you are free to follow your thoughts “wherever they lead, paying no attention to completeness or correctness or even sense.” For exploring your own ideas use your journal or start one for future writing.

“I can do this. I will do this. I’ll show that professor!”

Anger sets in as you set about organizing your first draft but anger can be positive if it spurs one to positive action. An idea comes to mind and it seems, if not well developed, good enough to build on. It is important to stop and ask: “What is the overall message you want to convey?”

Once you have established a strong central theme, decide on the best way to tell your story. An essay can be developed in many ways; through narration, by example, using forms of analysis, comparison and contrast, cause and effect or argument and persuasion to get ideas across. No matter which method of development you decide to use, the important thing is to keep writing without regard to the finer details just yet. Revising and editing will come later. “Awkwardness, repetition, wrong words, grammatical errors, spelling mistakes – these and other more superficial concerns can be attended to in a later draft.”

In the stages of grief, bargaining and promising is usually done with a higher power. In writing, drafting is promise made to yourself. If kept, it means focusing more on what you want to say rather than how you want to say it. “You pressure yourself needlessly if you try to produce a well-developed, coherent, interesting and grammatically correct paper all at once.”

The meat of an essay is developed during the drafting phase. Ideas that may have only been one or two words are expounded into sentences and then paragraphs. Your main theme is developed further and details fall into place. Now that there’s a “middle” to your essay, you can now decide how best to introduce your theme and how you would like to conclude your essay.

“…Revision occurs beneath the lines, in the deeper meaning and structure of the essay.” At this point, having done the bulk of your work through getting started, organizing and drafting, you may find that your work still doesn’t read the way you wanted. A paragraph at the end of your draft may work better as your introduction. Possibly, you drifted away from your theme and wound up writing about something else altogether. It may be discouraging to go back and virtually begin again on what may be an entirely new theme.

The challenge may lie in establishing a new tone. “Tone can range from casual to urgent, humorous to serious, sad to elated, pleased to angry, personal to distant.” “Your readers will be interested more in the substance of your writing…indeed an approach that is too familiar or unserious or hostile could put them off.” “A warm and light hearted tone may be just right…and a touch of anger may help to grab the reader’s attention…”

“Editing occurs more between the lines, on the surface of the essay.” Using checklists for revision and editing will draw a fine line between the two and ensure that you don’t forget a crucial step or miss errors. Use a dictionary to make sure you’re using the right word. “The denotation of a word is its dictionary meaning. For instance “reward is different from award and sites is different from cites. Substituting one for the other will confuse readers momentarily, and several such confusions can undermine readers’ patience.”

Ask other writers to read your draft and allow them to point out errors or problems. Read your draft out loud or into a tape recorder. If you are working on a computer, work from a printout rather than on the computer screen. Be critical of your own work and keep a list of changes you still need to make or advice you got from others. Go over your checklists and notes and proof your final draft even if you’ve run it through a spell checker.

I once read the quote, “The secret of becoming a writer is that you have to write.” Writing, it seems, is easy; writing well, however, takes effort to master. Accept that with time, work and following the stages of the writing process you can produce a good written work.


Works Cited
Aaron, Jane E. The Compact Reader. Bedford/St. Martin's, 2003
Chaos Manor Musings. Pournell, Jerry. How to Get My Job. February 2007
Kuhbler Ross, Elisabeth and Kessler, David. On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss. Scribner, 2005
*****
This one got me an 18 out of 20.
Comments from the professor:
You open with a great attention-grabbing device. MLA format doesn't use footnotes. You can read about MLA documentation in section 46a of the handbook.

1 comment:

  1. Stages of grief? I know I sure experience depression every time I sit down to write! Maybe not so far apart after all.

    Thanks!

    kamper - Happy Valley News

    ReplyDelete

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