Becoming a Better Writer: Advice from Students

2 0 610

“You need to take this class because you’ll be a better writer at the end of the year. And at the end of the year, being a better writer will mean more to you than it does now.” – Stretch Writing Cohort 2014-15

Advice for new first-year college writers often can focus more on neat and complete products rather than on the process itself. For instance, these 10 Ways to Ruin a College Paper seem appropriate for preparing a final product, but such tips do not account for the messiness that often accompanies a writer’s first efforts at composing.

Indeed, in following such a checklist, students risk reducing writing to its most surface features: thesis, support, and correctness. While necessary for a finished written product, these features do not include the hard work of the physical act of writing.

In other words, even if they know these features by heart, their knowledge of the list does not guarantee that students can generate a perfect written product for each new set of audiences, purposes, and settings. Additionally, with the transition to college writing and the more analytic requirements of academic essays, as well as new social situations and time management issues, new college writers may feel disappointed with the outcomes of their first completed essays.

With that said, the best teachers for new students may be students that have recently experienced and survived these frustrations. Who better to address new students’ immediate concerns than writers that have recently dealt with similar circumstances—and survived to tell the tale?

On the final day of April and the last day of classes, writers in the second semester of a yearlong Stretch class offered their insights to next year’s Stretch students. These now-seasoned writers propose that writing remains not only a skill set but also a practice of learning and doing. Indeed, writing involves several intersecting practices, such as reading, working with verbs, choosing difficult topics, and participating in class. Unlike a checklist of basic skills, these writers’ suggestions demonstrate the amount of time and energy that students need to devote to the writing process itself in order to create a satisfying written product.

From the Students
The following descriptions from my students offer a compelling record of now-former Stretch students’ best practices for becoming better writers.

USING BOLD VERBS: Using bold verbs that make a statement gives the text more depth and makes the text sound smoother in some ways. I used this process in Work Project 2 to give my writing more detail and to be able to easily relate passages from the text to the golf course. An example of using a stronger verb is instead of saying “the metal was heated until it was red”. I could say “the temperature of the iron immensely increased till it gleamed a vibrant red”. This is also an example of giving more detail to make the text more interesting.

READING: Once English 101 comes to an end I am going to have to continue to get better not only as a writer but a reader as well.  I am going to have to continue to write papers, letters, what ever the case may be to get me more comfortable with putting things on paper.  Other than writing, I also want to start reading more.  I believe most of the problems I face [with] writing come from my lack of reading.  If I started to read more I could expand my knowledge of plots, vocabulary, transitions, main ideas, etc.  And these are what will bring my writing to the next level.

CHOOSING DIFFICULT TOPICS: I learned to choose harder topics rather than the easier ones. I would always choose the easier ones not because they had easy topics to understand, but it would also create an easier thinking process while writing the paper rather than struggling the whole way through. Now I choose the harder topics because I realized that I could actually write about the harder topics and get better grades with them because of how well they were written.

PARTICIPATING IN CLASS: I found that participating with these three strategies really brought my writing together as well as helped me create the best papers I could for each project:

  1. If I prepared myself to write in class for the whole hour of workshop, then I would get further with my writing. As opposed to just coming to class and not really knowing what to expect because then I’d be side tracked or concentrated on other stuff I had to get done.
  2. Contributing to class discussion or small groups also made a huge impact in my learning. When things were discussed in class some stuff that other classmates said instantly clicked and helped bring together my paper. Also, adding in my personal thoughts and sharing helped me figure out whether I was on track or not.
  3. I definitely think communicating with the teacher really made a difference. I made sure to always go home and read through what I had to do, and prepare questions for the next time I was in class. I made sure to always ask questions if I was unsure even if my questions seemed to be silly I still asked.
About the Author
Susan Naomi Bernstein (she/they) writes, teaches, and quilts, in Queens, NY. She blogs for Bedford Bits, and her recent publications include “The Body Cannot Sustain an Insurrection” in the Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics and “After Basic Writing” in TETYC. Her book is Teaching Developmental Writing. Other publications include “Theory in Practice: Halloween Write-In,” with Ian James, William F. Martin, and Meghan Kelsey in Basic Writing eJournal 16.1, “An Unconventional Education: Letter to Basic Writing Practicum Students in Journal of Basic Writing 37.1, “Occupy Basic Writing: Pedagogy in the Wake of Austerity,” in Nancy Welch and Tony Scott’s collection Composition in the Age of Austerity. Susan also has published on Louisa May Alcott, and has exhibited her quilts in Phoenix, Arizona and Brooklyn, NY.