On November 20, I was featured in the article English Essay Tips from the Experts, a compilation of writing tips from several experts. These tips are valid for anyone writing any type of letter or essay. Remember them as you compile holiday letters and college application essays in the upcoming weeks!
#1: Think First. Write Last.
Sometimes when people don’t like writing, the actual problem is that they are having trouble thinking. Frequently I’ll work with a client on an essay the person has been struggling with for weeks. One client this past week, for instance, had been through seven revisions of his law school application essay and still wasn’t satisfied with the result. What he needed was not writing help so much as a conversation with a coach who could focus him on a strategy and theme that worked. He needed help thinking. As soon as he had his new outline, he rewrote the essay, completed two revisions, and finalized the essay in just one week.
Erin Brenner, a publishing professional, copyediting professor and editor of copyediting.com, makes the important point that writing is the last step in the writing process. First, the writer must gather and organize information; once those steps are taken, writing can be a breeze.
#2: Stick to the Point!
Another challenge for writers can be going on tangents or including unnecessary details. Test prep expert Alexis Avila cuts to the chase on this issue with his tip that any “sentence that doesn’t fit under Thesis / Evidence / Transition” can be cut from an essay. Of course, to know whether a sentence fits under Thesis / Evidence / Transition, you need to be clear about what the purpose is of each of your paragraphs! So Tip #1 from Erin Brenner is part and parcel of this one.
#3: Active Language Wins
Do you ever get the vague feeling that your writing is too wordy but you’re not sure exactly why? I believe the first place to look is at passive vs. active construction (e.g., The car was moving fast down the street vs. The car sped down the street.) Mignon Fogarty, a.k.a. Grammar Girl, points out that the use of “of”—especially when it follows a “tion” word—can give you a clue about what to change. If you wrote something like, “The creation of paper snowflakes took the children hours” you would do well to change it to “The children spent hours creating paper snowflakes.”
See the difference? Feel free to use this trick in your holiday writing!
#4: Tell the Truth!
This tip from me—Brenda Bernstein, The Essay Expert—makes writing a lot easier for anyone who thinks they need to “sound good.” If that’s you, stop it! Instead, tell the truth about your struggles and pain if that’s what you’ve been dealing with. And then tell the truth about your victories. No one is interested in how you’ve always known what you know now; we want to know how you grew.
When I get to my clients’ real stories, they inevitably express a sense of relief and gain energy to start writing. People who were stuck suddenly can’t wait to start putting words on paper.
Did these four tips give you a boost in getting started, or continuing, a writing project that has been stymieing you? Do you think you need a different type of tip to get you on track? Please share below!