Essay writing is a part of life as a college student. Most students seem to take essays on as a last minute challenge for eloquence and teacher satisfaction. For the majority of us, this doesn’t turn out very well and, for even more of us, it’s absolutely no fun. Here are some alternatives.
First, set a deadline two days before the due date. As a Seminar Approach to General Education and Scholarship (SAGES) professor of mine has pointed out, our brains do not like writing. Our genetic predisposition for language is much more ingrained than our capacity for writing so it’s easy for us to get distracted or bored when crafting an essay. With the self-inflicted pressure of a deadline, we can avoid the inclination to put off writing for as long as possible. For those who work best under pressure, this also works great for creating that immediacy that prompts us into action. This way you’ll leave time to breathe, relax and edit, the true key to a successful essay.
Editing is my least favorite part of writing but, like most mundane tasks, I feel better once I‘ve done it. Taking the time to edit not only improves your chances at a good grade but increases your investment in your piece and, subsequently, your pride in it. The first key to editing is not to edit yourself during your first draft. My first SAGES professor instilled in me the glory and merit of horrendous first drafts. Too many of us get stuck looking at a blank page while feeling the stress slowly mounting and even once we start getting things on the page, the process becomes slow and tedious, inching our way painfully across the page.
Don’t do this to yourself. Shut out voices telling you your essay is terrible, it won’t sound right, it’s not even worth putting down. Just let your fingers go. Follow your mind wherever it decides to go. Put your ideas onto the page. Editing, perfecting, quoting and referencing can all be done after you’ve written down everything you have to say. Those pages of your words will lift some of the stress off your shoulders and open the door to crafting your refined argument.
After you’ve put down your self-proclaimed, beautiful, terrible first draft, comes the true editing process. While wandering through Tumblr one day, I found the most difficult, but the most helpful advice I’ve ever been given. The post wrote about how the best way to edit is to write it all out again. Open a new document, put your relaxed first draft next to it and type it out again. This’ll free you from trying to work with ill-formed sentences and will unstick you from your organization. With this new draft, you can restructure your argument, write your ideas more eloquently, cut out what you don’t need and smooth out your transitions. Trust me when I say your essay will go from one to one hundred. Your first draft will be there the whole way to keep you from running out of things to say.
Finally, print out your paper and go over it in red pen. Ever sent in an essay only to realize you’d misspelled the title, or sent in an application essay only to realize you left in the name of another school? Sadly, Microsoft Word can’t always catch our mistakes, so taking the time to work through the paper and looking for smaller mistakes, grammar, spelling and awkward wording will save you from unnecessary deductions and smooth out anything you missed. Going through your essay multiple times or even reading through the essay backwards will increase your likelihood of finding those hidden mistakes.
Following these practices is hard. They take time and planning but the more often you can pull it off, the better your essays will be and the less painful the writing process will become. We all have to write, no matter the job. Artists, doctors, physicists, teachers and biologists all have times where they need to write and the better they can do it, the greater their influence. Writing lasts longer than any of your math homework will. Push your writing skills to their best and people will listen, and professors will probably give you a better grade, too.
McCoy is a third year student who loves oversized sweaters and indie games. Her favorite word is gumption.