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My Writing Advice

Everyone has a different way of approaching their writing, whether it be for an English 102 class, a newspaper or even for a book. John Schwartz was able to visit our class and talk to us about his writing process, answer our questions and simultaneously give us advice to help us with our writing. Writing advice strikes every individual as a different chord. What may be a strong chord for me, might be a weak chord for another. Some of Schwartz’s ideologies and advice really allowed me to evaluate my writing process and see the faults within it; and all it needed was some glue to mend it to display the full picture.

So this is a breakdown of how to write a paper effectively, using the advice John gave us and how I plan on using it. Starting to write a book is pretty daunting, and it’s just as daunting to start an essay for English class. Why is it hard though? Students have got the pressure of trying to do well on the paper along with the fear that they’re not a good writer or even things such as lack of time. To address the question of whether you are a bad writer or not, Schwartz says that every student and person can write effectively.

If you’re able to get your point across and organize them, that’s what’s most important. There is no need to write eloquently with over the top use of vernacular if you can get the point across. As my English 102 professor, John Straus says, everyone has the innate skill to write well, but society teaches us otherwise. It’s up to us students to realize that we over complicate the act of writing and make it into a formula that needs to be followed to attain the perfect grade. Contrary to societal beliefs, writing is much simpler than what educational institutions have taught us.

No matter how many rules I’ve been taught throughout elementary school, middle school and high school, it’s finally taken over 10 years of being in school to realize that I do have an innate skill to write. And to write well, as a matter of fact. All it takes is some belief, courage and hard work to get there and be confident at that level. Once trumping that fear, you then get bombarded with the intimidation of starting the paper which includes trying to get all your thoughts together in an organized fashion. The smartest thing to do would be to first collect all my information and jot it down into an extensively detailed outline.

After collecting all the information needed, the only thing left to do is to transfer it into a document, analyze it, and voila! I tend to daunt myself with this big project of an entire paper, however long it may be. When it gets to be too daunting, Schwartz recommends to think of the paper in terms of individual writing projects. Looking at each paragraph of the paper as an individual writing project can help lessen the overwhelming stress of starting the paper. The main thing I tend to focus on is paper length. It’s become a major fault instilled in us – focusing on quantity instead of quality first.

After getting past the stress of writing a paper that’s ‘x pages long’, people sometimes freeze once they reach a computer and many writers refer to it as ‘Writer’s Block’. Schwartz says that the coined term ‘Writer’s Block’ only exists because writers aren’t ready to start writing. Schwartz has the luxury of a deadline at his job at The New York Times which allows him to not fall in the whole of despair known as writer’s block but rather, recommends to go over the notes available through research done. He also ensured us that it’s possible to get past it no matter what.

Something else he suggests that I can personally use in my writing process is starting to write a piece of work from the middle and not the beginning. When making apple pie, chefs tend to get the apples ready first before the crust, and the analogy can be used with an essay. It’s easier to get the apples done first then the crust because you’ll have the bulk of your pie done already and won’t be so flustered and confused to get the crust just right. But how can you tell you’ve got all your notes ready before writing the middle portion of the essay?

Collecting research and notes is imperative before attempting to tackle the idea of an essay or any writing project. While doing that, using valid resources such as peer reviewed research is helpful. Doing extensive research on your own can also strengthen your arguments and make your writing that much better. If I know what I’m talking about in my writing, then my arguments will make more sense, be stronger and convince my audience of what I’m thinking. If I’m talking about physics and string theory, I wouldn’t have as strong a paper as a physicist because I’m not educated in the subject nor am I passionate about it.

Although starting an essay is sometimes the most difficult part, getting a piece of writing to that desired final product is not easy work and requires tedious editing and rereading to notice all the little mistakes. Talk about overwhelming, Schwartz recommends to read bit by bit and continue to reread your work until deadline hits to make sure it’s as good as can be. Now, let’s assume you’re sitting on your computer rereading your essay for the thousandth time, how do you know it’s time to print it and submit it? Schwartz says what motivates him to finally hand his work in is deadlines.

A writer can write forever, it’s their job, but deadlines serve as motivation to finish their writing project and turn it in. College students, especially myself understand the dread of deadlines and they exist so that students can set a timeline before hand and map out how their essay is going to be formatted. Which means not procrastinating. Author Jeff Zentner of The Serpent King writes “I write on my phone on the bus to and from work and over lunch. At night I go on a walk to work out any plot issues”. Point is, authors and college students alike should be able to find time to write whenever and wherever.

Although Schwartz had a morning job at The NYT, he worked on his novel Oddly Normal at night and during the weekends. He didn’t give up after getting home and sleeping, which is what most college students, including myself would do once getting home after a long day. At the end of the day, authors make no excuses, and neither should I when it comes to my writing. Using Schwartz’s layout of an extensive outline, notes and research, writing in the middle instead of the beginning and rereading your work endlessly seems fool proof and bound to work for a majority of people.

After finally completing the essay and feeling as if the weight of a hippopotamus has lifted off of your shoulders, having someone edit it can really make the difference between an okay paper and an amazing paper. For John, he usually has his wife, Jeanne, critique his writing to make sure it isn’t boring and can appeal to the audience. Something Schwartz uses as reference is advice from his college teacher John Trimble. Trimble taught his students to look out for sentences that fell flat. In addition, while commenting on papers, he’d describe a sentence as ‘merely adequate’ (108).

Weeding out writing for those weak points can really benefit the paper. Not only that, but one of the reasons Schwartz says we read is to look into someone’s mind. So as I’m rereading my work, I should be asking myself if it sounds genuine, authentic and impactful. And in certain cases, if time allows it, he recommends reading aloud the writing to see if you’ve missed any of mistakes. Finally. You’ve reached the point where you can hand in your paper to your professor. A week or two later, I get back the paper with a letter C grade, and I frown.

What did I do wrong? Do I go pout forever and swear off writing and every single English class I’ll be forced to take during my duration at Rutgers University? No. Because it isn’t the end of the world. A writer only becomes better by writing more. Schwartz says “The more you write, the better you write”, and it’s true. Same thing with reading, which I’ve learned from first hand experiences since I am an avid young adult fiction reader. After noticing the amazing books I read, I tend to reflect more of that talent within my writing.

So at the end of the day, no I don’t have to swear off writing forever because all I need to do to become a better writer is to keep writing (and keep reading). But how has all of Schwartz’s advice helped me? I’ve learned, or at least been reminded that published authors are just as human as college English 102 students; writing is hard for everyone. The things John talked about were practical approaches to writing and as English 102 students, we may think of it as a complicated writing system.

However, using the practical advice he gave us I can implement it into my writing process and see if it benefits me, which it already has and will continue to do so. As I was writing this paper I used his techniques of reading out loud, creating a detailed outline to follow and making sure what I’m writing is authentic and genuine. Not only will I continue the good habits of writing I have now, but I will begin to integrate more of John’s tips into my own writing to take it to that next level which will improve my writing technique and style. So I can not only conquer my English 102 class, but everything to follow.

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