The students all had loose leaf paper on their desks, a pencil in hand, and a dictionary within reach. I wrote the essay topic on the board and announced that they had until the end of the class period in which to complete it. Then I watched.
A few students began to write furiously on their paper, filling it within just a few minutes, and turning it in. Several others stared blankly at their papers, soon losing interest in the assignment, but gaining interest in the ceiling, the floor, the person next to them, or the inside of their eyelids. Other students looked to be intently writing, but upon closer examination, it was apparent that they were actually doodling, drawing, and elaborately writing their name over and over. Only a few made the effort to complete the assignment in an appropriate manner.
Why is it so difficult to complete a writing assignment? Why does it feel like I am working harder at persuading them to write than they are at actually writing? Why is it so painful?
I think that the answer not only lies in the disciplines involved in writing, but it also teaches lessons in developing the character of the writer.
The hardest part of any writing assignment simply beginning it. It is easy to put off a task that is unappealing or difficult, but once it is begun, half the battle is won. Procrastination is a character flaw that leads to guilt, dread, and panic. At first, it is easy to put the assignment out of your mind, but it is always lurking there, making other activities a bit less enjoyable because of the knowledge that it eventually must be completed. Finally, when time is at a premium, the paper is quickly written and turned in.
Turn procrastination into self-discipline. Set aside a specific amount of time to work on an assignment in one sitting. Even thirty minutes can yield a surprising result. Then, set aside some more time until the job is done. You may even be surprised that once you start, you are motivated to complete it right away. Disciplining yourself to complete projects in increments ahead of the deadline brings satisfaction and reduces your stress level.
The next biggest complaint I hear about writing compositions is not knowing what to write about. Generally, a topic has been given, and the student must write within those perimeters. Sometimes these topics are broad, and sometimes they are very specific. Maybe it calls upon the writer’s life experience or creativity or opinion. Everyone has something to say. Instead of spending a great deal of time wrestling with which idea to use in your paper, just go for it. Seize a topic and run with it. Be self-confident in your writing and express your voice. As long as you can elaborate on your ideas in an organized manner, it probably won’t matter what your opinion is. However, it is important to learn to express yourself in a clear, concise manner. Self-confidence is an admirable quality as long as it doesn’t cross the line into arrogance.
Once you choose a topic and get started, you must stick with it. This is called perseverance. It is easy to become distracted or bored with what you are doing, especially when it isn’t your favorite activity; but if you persevere, you will discover a self-satisfaction and pride that comes from following through with drive and determination.
It is not enough just to choose a topic and start writing. A good writer has a plan; his thoughts are organized. A poorly organized paper is frustrating for the reader, and it shows that the author did not thoroughly consider the topic prior to writing. Try jotting down all the thoughts that relate to your topic, then group them into like ideas. For example, in a paper about a person’s life, you might have the following groups of information: his family, his career, his hobbies, his future plans. Then, put the ideas in a logical order and write a paragraph for each section. Or, if you are writing a paper about why your school should start a soccer team, list and explain the reasons one at a time. Have a logical, easy-to-follow order to your paper. Once you have a plan and know the direction in which your paper is going, writing is easy. Organization and the ability to express your thoughts clearly will serve you well in many aspects of your life.
Finally, once you have written the paper, take the time to proofread and edit it. Only a lazy writer turns in his first draft. Go back and change the wording to express exactly what you mean, combine sentences to make it more concise, vary the sentence structure, check for grammatical errors, and polish your style. Read the paper out loud to yourself to make sure it makes sense. This process does not take very long, and the improvements are well worth the effort. Learn to self-critique your work, and don’t settle for less than your best. Develop the character traits of being methodical and proficient in your work so that others know they can rely on you to take on a job and complete it with pride and competence.
Good writing takes practice. As you learn to write good papers, you will receive the benefit of reaping self-discipline, self-confidence, perseverance, organization, and competence. Learn from your mistakes, but find the satisfaction in a job well done.