The 5 Things I Know I Should Do When Writing But Don’t Actually Do

I am a hypocritical writer. After spending a lot of time in writing-related courses, I feel like I have a pretty good  understanding of what we are all supposed to do to make a good paper. And I agree with these things. Still, for some unintelligible reason, I don’t actually do them. So here’s a list of those things that I should do and tell others to do but don’t actually do:

1. Get started early.

Sometimes I get things done early but, when it comes to writing, I live in procrastination nation. (That was supposed to by funny.) We hear it again and again that we need to start our first drafts early so we have time to revise, and some classes even require drafts to be turned in a week or so before the final is due. But I can’t seem to write (at least, not write well) unless the assignment is due the next day. Which is horrible but, nevertheless, true. It’s led me to some pretty interesting all-nighters in Club UgLi and a few nearly-traumatic coffee overdose experiences.

2. Outline first.

“Turn in an outline of your paper on Tuesday.” Nope. That’s not happening. If an outline is assigned to me, I will probably just make up some bulleted list that won’t actually relate to my paper in any way and pretend that it does. I know deep down I really should outline, because it would help keep me on track and add a fragment of structure to my disheveled thought process. But whenever I try (which I don’t do often), I get stuck and just have to start writing the actual thing. Like many areas of my life, my organizational process when writing is a hot mess.

3. Journal every day.

This one I really wish I followed. I think journals are so important, and that they’re something I would really treasure when I’m old and wondering what I actually did in my college years. When I was younger, I was an avid journaler and would write pages of nonsense (including quotes that I thought were deep in the seventh grade, thoughts about the meaning of life, and who I sat with at lunch) in various Hello Kitty notebooks. Looking back on these now, they are seriously hilarious and I thank young-Allison for actually writing on the reg. But the excuse I give now  is the same excuse I give for just about everything else–that I don’t have the time.

4. Have a clear thesis.

I’m sorry, but if I could fit the main idea of my paper in 140 characters then I would’ve just tweeted it instead of putting out ten pages. Teachers would always tell me to have a thesis that follows the observation-argument layout and plainly presents the main idea of the paper. I have such a difficult time doing this. A lot of times I will write the whole paper, think it’s great, and realize I didn’t have a sentence that could be considered a thesis. At that point, I’ll usually just throw something in at the end of the introduction. This is probably not a great thing to do but, in my sassy defense, if they want the main idea of my paper then they can actually read my paper.

5. Write in Times New Roman.

Sure, I’ll turn in my stuff in 12-point TNR like any student. But all I can picture when I see that font is an old, gray man in a mauve robe sitting on a plush armchair smoking a pipe in a rustic library whilst reading a leather-bound book entitled “Antiquity.” Come on, people. This is the future. Let’s switch the Helvetica already.

tnr

Show, Don’t Tell

One of the many things I admire about writing is description. I admire writers who are able to paint pictures through their words. They show, they do not tell.

Whenever I am asked to read another person’s piece of writing the first thing that pops into my head is the phrase “make sure to show, not tell.” This advice has been drilled into my head ever since I can remember, and in turn I try to drill it into as many other heads as I can. However, although I preach these words of wisdom, I am not always one to initially follow them. Before I start any piece of writing I remind myself to show, not tell. But like clock work I finish writing my piece, only to go back and realize that there are so many places that I could have shown and not told. Showing, not telling, is a skill. Although I have not yet mastered it, I try my best to recognize it and look out for it when reviewing others’ and my own writing. Description develops writing; it enhances the picture in a reader’s mind. I hope that over time I will become better at showing. Until then I will still preach it to my peers, even if I haven’t mastered it yet.

Preachin’ to the Choir

I think the list of things about writing that I know I “should” do but sometimes (or often) don’t do could go on forever. But something I have come to appreciate, especially after beginning this minor, is the beauty in how much freedom writing truly gives me. If I want to write in all CAPITALS, bold every other word, or have line breaks

at

random

times, I can.

And that is a great feeling. Even the fact that I just began that sentence with the word “and” is something I was always taught to never do. I think my tendency to break the rules of writing has increased since beginning the Gateway course–and I am very grateful for this. That being said, there are still instances where I know I should be writing in a certain way, but still do not do so. One example that comes to mind is the “he or she” rule. Rather than writing something like, “someone does what they want to do,” I know it should read, “someone does what he or she wants to do.” But unless it looks or sounds completely ridiculous, I still sometimes include a “they” here and there instead. Oops.

Something less grammatical that I tend to do but probably shouldn’t is planning out every detail of my essay/assignment. It is definitely good to have an outline and clear idea of where a piece of writing will go, but the organizational freak in me always seems to appear when I sit down to write and takes this notion to a whole new level. People are always saying to just sit down and write, let the magic happen, but that is way too risky for me. I like to plan out the definite structure and content, even including the exact quotes from sources that I will use. I think I do this because it makes me feel more sure of my writing. Even if I veer off from my original plan, at least I was following some sort of plan in the first place. But, I still do want to try and just sit down and let the words flow from my mind for a piece of writing in the near future!

When I am asked for advice about writing, I often suggest to others that they read their writing out loud to help catch grammar mistakes or parts where the structure just isn’t working. But I often do not practice what I preach. It seems I never set aside time to read my writing out loud before submitting it or declaring myself finished. I don’t really know why I avoid this task. I think I would rather stay in my head when I write–it’s a little scary to hear your own words read aloud for the first time. But even just from writing this blog post I know I really should listen to my own advice. Maybe this prompt had a hidden agenda? Either way, for my next piece of writing I plan on reading it aloud as the first step in my revision process.

I’m not a writer, but I want to be.

Even as a Minor in Writing student, I still don’t really consider myself a writer. I know that probably doesn’t make much sense, but it’s true. When I picture writers, I see people who just write for fun. I see people who write daily about anything and everything. I wish I was one of those people. I never really take time out of my day just to spend some time writing, although I know I should and wish I would. Several times I have considered starting a blog of my own, but I never do it because I don’t actually know what I’d write about. That’s my problem, I suppose. I have even tried out tumblr (back in high school when all my friends decided it was cool), but I guess it just wasn’t really my thing. That type of writing just doesn’t come easily to me. In fact, I’ve actually had quite the time writing this blog post. I am a perfectionist and want everything to be absolutely perfect before I submit it. This whole blogging this is very different from the academic writing I’m good at. I find enjoyment in spending hours editing and re-editing my academic pieces.

I’ve tried to convince my friends to join the minor because I truly believe in the importance of being a skilled writer, regardless of the field a student decides to pursue. From that, I should probably follow my own advice and realize that in order to become a better writer, I need to put more time into it. But at the same time, put less time into it. Not all writing has to be perfectly edited. Sometimes I need to write just to write. If I am able to do this, I think I will finally be able to consider myself a writer. But until then….