13 things writing students need to know

It’s obvious when a class’s honeymoon period is over. It happens after the first essay is graded and it feels like deflated balloons. No eye contact. Sagging shoulders. Grumbling. From some anyway.

As a writer and teacher of writing, I’m acutely aware that the process of receiving feedback is tough. Believe me, I’ve cried over bad reviews before. Writing is personal and involves vulnerability. To be critiqued is painful, irritating, angering. But, it’s part of the process and often makes the writing better. If you don’t give up.

Reflecting over conversations with students the last few weeks, students relatively new to writing, and definitely new to the academic variety, I’ve developed 13 things writing students need to know:

1. Writing is hard. That discomfort you feel? Totally normal. Writing, especially in a new style, is damn difficult. Work through it.

2. Writing is a way of knowing. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard “Where should I start?” over the last couple weeks. The answer? I have no idea. Writing is a process of discovery and sometimes you don’t know what you think until you start writing. That means stop procrastinating (see #11 below).

3. Editing is not optional. Typos. Changes in tense and point-of-view. Easy things to fix with careful editing. Do it.

4. There is no one “right” way. The cool thing about writing? It allows for individual style and creativity. That means there’s no one correct way to write an assignment. So stop looking for it please.

5. Writing is really hard. And often, not very fun. That’s why people give up. But with practice, it gets easier, I swear.

6. I’m “looking for” great ideas. Second most popular question lately? “What are you looking for?” I’m looking for great ideas written well. And, oh, all of those things I spell out on the assignment sheet.

7. Grammar is not a suggestion. All of your great ideas get buried if the grammar is ugly. Fix it.

8. The writing center is your friend. Seriously. Speaking of grammar, there are people who can help. Struggling with the mechanics of writing? Get thee to the writing center, STAT.

9. “Shitty first drafts” are A-okay. You have to start somewhere and as Anne Lamott says, “Get it all down. Let it pour out of you onto the page. Write an incredibly shitty, self-indulgent, whiny, mewling first draft.” And then, reference number three, and edit, edit, edit. The best writing goes through several iterations.

10. Writing is really, REALLY hard. But worth it. People who can write well and communicate ideas clearly stand out in every realm of life.

11. Stop procrastinating. The sooner you start writing, the faster the pain will be over. Although I feel a kettle and pot situation as I’m Queen of Procrastination, take my advice. You’ll feel better.

12. Grades do not signal my regard for you. Know that even if your writing needs improvement, I still probably like you a lot. (Unless you keep talking out of turn in class, then who knows. (ha!)).

13. I believe in you. Writing is difficult but I believe in you, despite what you might think with all of the ink dripping from your papers.


Other writing things:

  • Dos and Don’ts of Dissertation Writing
  • Grief accumulated: Thoughts on secondary trauma, writing, and resilience
  • A grateful heart: A man who understands writing deadlines
  • Other Thursday 13s:

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