Writing tips for the mid-semester

by Trent M. Kays

You learn to write by writing.–William Zinsser, from On Writing Well

Spring Break is upon us, and it’s time to revisit some writing advice. Given it’s the middle point of the semester, there’s still time for you to affect significant changes to your writing knowledge and processes. Or, at the very least, these writing tips will give you something to think about over Spring Break.

Writing is hard. It’s not that it’s physically hard but that it’s mentally challenging. It wears you out, it frustrates you, and it can turn you into a wreck. Most notably, writing is an extension of us. So, when someone harshly critiques our writing, we feel like it’s a personal assault. This is rarely the case, but it does feel like that. We all have stories about teachers who marked up our papers so badly that it looked like someone bleed out all over it.

These incidents usually are not personal, but they instead highlight the way in which the teacher was taught. So, what do we need to know to understand our own writing processes? We need to consider the following:

1. Writing is a process. Learning is a process. You will never get it all right the first time. It takes practice, and even those who suggest being naturally skilled writers still need to practice.

2. Revision is your friend. You should always revise your work. It’s hard, but it will help you weed out any incomplete thoughts or holes in your argument. Review what you wrote and ask yourself: Is there a way for me to make this clearer or more coherent.

3. Always ask for help. As a writer, I’ve gained valuable insight into my own writing from those I ask to read it. I want my readers' opinions because it helps make me a better writer. Ask your roommate or classmate to read over your work and offer constructive feedback.

4. Proofread your work. I know this seems obvious, but I've encountered many students who don't proofread. After you've finished writing a draft, read your work out loud. This will help you catch errors or odd phrasings. Then, read your work out loud backwards: start at the end and work toward the beginning. If you do these exercises a few times on a draft, you'll tidy up any incoherent parts of your writing.

5. Go to the writing center. The University of Minnesota has an awesome writing center. Trained and experienced writing teachers and tutors staff the center. These are people who are dedicated to helping you become a better writer, answering questions you have about your writing, and showing you how to refine your thoughts. (Scheduled appointments are preferred.)

6. It’s okay to give up. Well, I don’t mean give up entirely. I mean, it’s okay to take a long break from a piece of writing. If you’re frustrated, tired, and irritable, you may not be able to write productively. It’s okay to take a break, go grab a slice of pepperoni pizza, and have a soda. You should take a breather, relax, and veg out watching TV every once in a while.

These tips are simple and easy to do. As you move past the middle of the semester, you should remember that the writing process is never finished. There are stopping points, but you can always revise, start over, and try again.