On the Process of Good Writing, by Rae

“Write. Write again. Rewrite. Keep on rewriting. Realize that you can always perfect, you can always sharpen, always discover things you haven’t realized as you keep on writing. And I think that’s the single hardest things to do, because writing is hard, and rewriting is torture. When you are writing, precision [is important]- choosing the right words, the right connotations. [You can know this by] using the dictionary. I still do this when I don’t know the full connotation of a word. Writing is a recursive process. Writing isn’t just a straightforward following the line, following a [set] path. You go over it, and over it, and [eventually come to a clear argument of your essay].”

-Dr. Reed, English Department

So…I have a really hard time with writing.

Because I’m a writing tutor, some people might think that writing comes really easily for me. That, maybe, once I set my pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), ideas just line themselves up on the document, and logic flows in perfect alignment with the most cogent thesis statement. That, before long, I am bound to end up with a paper that will return to me with a fat A on top and the professor’s side comments praising my sound and insightful observations and the artistry with which I have presented my unshakeable arguments.

No, this doesn’t happen. I wish it did.

What really happens most of the time is that I feel lost, confused, and pretty sick of thinking about the topic at hand…even before I have typed a single word. It is so difficult to organize my thoughts sometimes. I get overwhelmed with the texts, quotes, class notes, and most especially the blank document that stares at me from the screen.

I think to myself: So what connections can be made with allusions to African folktales and the issue of identity in Alice Walker’s stories? How exactly did democratization play a positive or negative role in the shaping of modern Korea? What is the effect of reading translated works of poetry or speeches?

Then: Oh my gosh, I’m lost.

Sometimes I think I have the most convincing argument, but for some reason it won’t materialize on paper the way I thought it would. There are obvious logical holes. The evidence doesn’t match my point. The thesis leads me to a logical dead end. At best I can regroup, reorganize, reformulate. At worst I have to start over at two in the morning and the deadline coming up in seven hours. Second cup of coffee is steaming on the table, papers are strewn about everywhere, and I can hear my bed calling my name. I check the word count for the third time in the last ten minutes.

So I completely understand the stress of writing, and obviously, the pressure involving in writing a good paper that says something important and truly worthwhile. And I think that’s why Dr. Reed’s quote is really relevant and tremendously helpful for students who are struggling with writing. Because, as many of my professors had so graciously informed me, even they have a difficult time writing- and they have been writing and publishing for a long time! The process of writing is time-consuming, at times frustrating, and undoubtedly trying for a writer in search of the most appropriate words to give voice to his or her thoughts.

But the case for writing, despite its difficulties, is that ultimately, it is a discipline that requires of you the utmost concentration, a focus that will enrich you in the process itself. Good writing isn’t a mechanical, formulaic process; it is a dynamic, thought-provoking, and potentially groundbreaking exercise in how your thoughts affect your growth as a thinker and how others, in return, are influenced by your thoughts. So in that sense it is only appropriate that writing is such a demanding task. You can’t force good writing. You can’t just babble on and on about the plot, hoping that your reader will somehow grasp the insight that you have failed to realize in your writing process.

Sure, some people seem to be better at writing than others, and some just have more ease with approaching an assignment. For those of us who are not as lucky (and I am definitely one of the unfortunates), what can give us that extra ounce of energy to go on with that next paragraph might be the realization that it is okay that writing is so hard. Maybe you need to add in more evidence, or maybe it’s your tone. Maybe it takes more brainstorming than you thought, or maybe it takes five drafts, or even ten, to find the clear argument that “clicks.” Still, you keep at it, knowing that you are contributing to this great big dialogue of humanity with a voice that is distinctly your own.

The point is, you keep on thinking, keep on writing, and keep on editing. You think about how a sentence can be structured differently, how your thesis can be formulated, and how some words and tone of voice better convey your overall argument. After all, a good piece of writing necessitates that one, you have invested considerably in its creation, and two, that your interest shows through every word you write. So don’t worry so much about whether you’re getting the “right” analysis, or if you’re writing what your professor wants to read on the paper. Just write. Then revise. Repeat until you feel that you have reached a level of clarity that shows all your brilliant thoughts, logic, and ideas. Somewhere down the line you will have it. And it will be amazing.

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