Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.
~ William Faulkner ~
Students, no matter what they study, need to deal with academic writing, whether it’s research, essays, scientific articles, or fictional pieces of writing. And it doesn’t matter if those students will become writers after they graduate. Nearly every study program presupposes writing skills development and performing writing tasks. And practically everyone in college or university has had the feeling at least once that he or she is a rather miserable writer. There are a few reasons why students think this way.
Lack of time ruins everything
How can you possibly have enough time for everything? Your to-do list includes a wide variety of tasks for each day, maybe including yoga, a book club, going out to see your friends, on top of all the work you have to do – there’s no end to it all! But you still need enough sleep to feel fresh tomorrow. How can you stay creative if your schedule is so intense? People can work intellectually only when they have enough rest, aren’t hungry, and nothing disturbs them.
Lack of time not only frustrates you, it can lead to other troubles as well, such as the temptation to plagiarize. If your daily routine exhausts you, you’ll probably want to spend as little time as possible doing homework assignments. Writing demands concentration you may not have after a long day, so why not use some materials from the Internet or find a paper from someone else? This is a very bad idea and a temptation you must avoid.
Plagiarism is a dangerous thing. It can be of different types, and sometimes it’s difficult for students to recognize it. You can even plagiarize by accident without knowing it! Keep both eyes open when dealing with plagiarism and check everything you write with a plagiarism checker like Unplag.com or the consequences can hit you like a ton of bricks.
Both fiction and non-fiction reading can provide a great boost to your writing skills. You get a chance to experience breathtaking adventures right there from your couch. And learn amazing facts. And find inspiration in the books you read. Writing is practice, while reading is learning. When reading, you’re a sponge that absorbs the writing styles of various writers and shapes your own style. There’s one little point, though: You still need to find your own “voice.”
Some writers fail to find their own voice. Instead, they get lost in other writers’ styles and at worst engage in imitation, which is actually a kind of plagiarism. Those writers who tend to copy rather than create anything original are usually treated with disrespect. It’s definitely a disappointing start.
This is what Stephen King thinks about reading and writing:
If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.
Will you follow a piece of advice given by one of the best writers ever?
The remedy for imitating is to have more practice. First drafts will be hard to write. Be ready to face it. But a terrible first draft is normal. It’s natural and you shouldn’t think you’ll never be good at what you do. You just have to keep at it.
Every single thing you write, each essay or research paper, takes you closer to your goal of becoming a great writer. Writing style only appears after lots of hard work. Yes, it’s going to be tough, but the best part is that the world is your oyster. Work hard and you’ll get what you strive for.
Here’s one more practical tip from Stephen King on hard work and inspiration:
There is a muse, but he’s not going to come fluttering down into your writing room and scatter creative fairy-dust all over your typewriter or computer.”
If you feel unsure while writing, try some of the writing exercises mentioned below, because they really do help:
- Freewriting. Don’t think too much about your ideas; just put down everything that comes to your mind. In the end you’ll get a text from this stream-of-consciousness technique. This exercise is a great warm-up activity. What you write may not make much or any sense at all, but that’s okay. It’s just to get you into the flow of writing.
- Detailed description. Pick a person you know and start describing them. Try to include as many details about this person as possible, such as name, age, gender, origin, social status, religion, political views, life goals, etc.
- Alternative point of view. Choose a story (you can take your favorite book) and choose an antagonist. Now try to tell the story from that character’s point of view. Also try picking secondary characters and write how you think they might see the story.
- Continue dialog. Do you like catching random phrases from two talking strangers that pass you by? Start with a phrase you heard by chance, and continue it. Imagine where the conversation might go with this phrase as a starting point.
- Mind your grammar and style. Writing basics like grammar and style should be among the things you know just well enough. A good writer is one who writes clear, grammatically correct texts. But if you want to improve your knowledge, here are some websites that will help you:
- The University of Iowa started a website called Dr. Grammar. It provides assistance to anyone who needs a little help with grammar. Users can find dictionaries, handbooks, guides, and other helpful materials on the site.
- Writing Forward has a convenient interface – users see separate tabs for creative writing, poetry, and grammar, along with writing tips, writing exercises, and ideas.
- AP Stylebook is an invaluable resource for those who write, especially for students in higher education as it is a common style required for papers. Apart from consulting the stylebook, website visitors can also use the “Ask editor” option and leave a question regarding things they are interested in. AP Stylebook also has a Twitter account, and thanks to it you can receive information about updates and writing tips right in your Twitter news feed.
- EnglishGrammar suggests a vast list of topics to check, covering business, creative and essay writing, parts of speech, full lessons, punctuation, spelling, style guide, grammar rules, and more. Lessons are downloadable, and users are also welcome to take online exercises, watch videos, and try out some helpful study tools.
- Writer’s Digest is a cool resource to read since a great number of articles on writing are available there. Tutorials, webinars, tips, workshops, and many other niceties round out the website too, and visitors can download and enjoy all these materials any time they like.
- Common Errors in English Usage is a collection that helps you learn more about errors and how to avoid them in your own writing. Based on this website, the book Common Errors in English Usage was also recently published.
- Better Writing Skills gives an overview of the most critical mistakes people usually make in their writing (e.g., which vs. that, who vs. whom, who’s vs. whose, and many others). Website visitors can also take writing training courses and read training manuals for better understanding.
And as a bonus, check the list below of habits that good writers have. Maybe you’ll want to borrow some of them!
- Read more books, manuals, magazines, and newspapers.
- Before you start writing, brainstorm and make a plan first.
- Note ideas right away because you’ll quickly forget them.
- Finish everything you start.
- Don’t be afraid to destroy drafts if they don’t satisfy you.
- Write daily, at least a single page.
- When writing, avoid language clichés.
- Don’t procrastinate or extend deadlines.
As you can see, there are all kinds of ways to continue developing your writing skills, and as you do so, you’ll find your own unique writing voice.
This article was contributed by guest author Nancy Lin.