From the Center

Reflections from W&M's Writing Resources Center

Category: writing advice (page 1 of 3)

The Virtue of Handwriting

cookie_crispDid you know that Jerry Seinfeld wrote every episode of Seinfeld by hand? The same goes for nearly all of his stand-up material over the years. When asked why, he answered that the blinking cursor makes him feel anxious, like he’s being asked, “So? What do you got?”

Though I’m not on Seinfeld’s level, I’ve also begun writing important papers by hand. Besides avoiding distractions on the internet, I’ve found writing long form to be helpful for two main reasons:

Pace

When you’re typing, the speed of your fingers can easily outpace clear thinking. Additionally, many people find that as they write, they further develop and understand their ideas. I find that the slower pace of handwriting allows for more of these discoveries as my brain can outpace my hand. I feel more in control of the paper and less stressed about hitting word counts or paragraph lengths that seem passable.

Necessary Revision

Of all the steps in the writing process, I find revision is the easiest to blow off. After all, I wrote the paper. I know already that it’s very good. Why waste time going back over it? Won’t that just puff my ego up more? My rationalizations can get convoluted. The truth is, everyone needs revision. That may sound trite, but it’s true. Papers, especially first drafts, need revision. Writing by hand forces you to allot the time to revise more as you write as well as when you transfer your written words to the computer.

Hopefully, as you read back over your work, you won’t just copy it verbatim from page to screen. You’ll see sentences that aren’t working or notice typos. You’ll develop a sense of the flow of your paper broadly. Once I see words on my screen, I always struggle to delete them. They look so final in Times New Roman 12 pt. font. However, when they are in pen, and I’m weighing whether they should be typed up, I’m much more honest and critical.

Consider writing by hand. Your first draft will be more coherent and insightful, and it’ll force you to review the paper as you type it up, improving your final draft. Slow and steady wins the race.

Image:  Jerry Seinfeld Breaks Down a Joke

Lessons about Writing – Inspired by Oliver Sacks

Sacks-Island-coverOliver Sacks claims that he wrote The Island of the Colorblind  “in a sort of swoop, a single breath, in July 1995, it then grew. . .” (xx). He makes writing sound easy, as if already-formed sentences tumbled out of his head onto the page in the correct order.  Yet, when he clarifies the process of reconstructing memories, we get a hint at the behind-the-scenes work required of communicating his Pacific island experiences:

“Writing, in these past months, has allowed me, forced me, to revisit these islands in memory.  And since memory .  .  .  is never a simple recording or reproduction, but an active process of recategorization—of reconstruction, of imagination, determined by our own values and perspectives—so remembering has caused me to reinvent these visits, in a sense, constructing a very personal, idiosyncratic, perhaps eccentric view of these islands . . . .” (xvii-xviii)

Like Sack’s exploration of the islands, his writing process follows a journey from discovery to synthesis or “reconstruction” and provides an example of important concepts about writing.

Concept 1:  Writing is more than a transcription from the mind directly to paper.  Writing is thinking on paper.

Concept 2:  Writing is messy. Making meaning requires work to tease out what we really want to communicate.

Concept 3:  Writing is re-writing.  Because writing is a process of discovery, new ideas might erupt at any time.  In the messiness, ideas collide and produce new ways of thinking about a subject.  Re-visioning our ideas can lead to a more sophisticated structure.  Look what happened to Sacks: his new ideas took the form of pages and pages of endnotes, creating a text of their own.

Concept 4:  How we shape our ideas is influenced by our “values and perspectives.” Each reader brings unique experiences to a text. That’s why “write about what you know” has become a truism – if we connect what we are reading or researching to things we know or have a passion about, our writing stands a better chance of capturing our readers.  Through our writing, we have an opportunity to share our perspective and challenge readers to think in new ways.

By writing Island of the Colorblind, Sacks has given us a glimpse of writing as thinking, as a process of meaning-making. Our challenge is to embrace the process.

Finding Your Voice

VoiceLet’s be real with ourselves for a second–we tend to get in our own way. We overthink and doubt our own abilities. This is especially true when it comes to writing. For years, I would sit in front of my computer and either stare mindlessly at the screen in front of me or write a paragraph and realize I didn’t like it and start over. Writing was a stressful process, simply because I was getting in my own way.

The question is, why was it so hard for me to just write?

As I’ve grown as a writer, I’ve realized the key to getting out of my own way is finding my voice. Often, a common link of frustration among consultees in the Writing Resources Center is lack of confidence in their writing abilities. I firmly believe that everyone has the potential to become a great writer if they take the time to find their own voice. You may be thinking, “Why should I find my own voice if people have already said something better than I ever could have?” I assure you that finding your own voice will lead to better writing. Of course, this is a process that won’t happen overnight, but it’s never too late to start! Here are my top 5 tips to begin finding your own unique voice:

  1. Describe yourself using 3 adjectives. Using different adjectives will help you get a sense of your personality. Your voice as a writer is a part of who you are and your personality is also a part of who you are! Combing the two may help you find a style of writing you like the most.
  2. Make a list of what you like to read, such as books, magazines, blogs, comic books, etc. Can you find any similarities between them? How about any differences? What genres are you drawn to? Is there a particular writing style? We often admire who we want to be, so what is it about these readings that intrigues you?
  3. List your cultural/artistic influences. I am a singer, and people often ask me who my musical influences are because they affect the nuances in my singing. This can be true for writing as well. Are there any figures in pop culture that inspire you, such as journalists, actors, slam poets, etc? How can these influences inspire your writing?
  4. Write in another environment. I can’t always work in the library and need to find inspiration in other places. My favorite place to write is Lake Matoaka because the surroundings are calming, and I can breathe in fresh air for a clear mind. Try walking around campus to find new spots to write! Even take advantage of the beauty in Colonial Williamsburg and find a nice quiet place to think outside of campus.
  5. JUST WRITE! The best way to find your voice is to simply sit down and write. Write what’s most comfortable to you without any editing and see what you can come up with! This is a great way to see your voice come to life on paper. Also, look at what you’ve written before. You may discover that your unique voice is already emerging in your work.

These are a few ways to begin finding your voice. It may not be as easy as I made it sound, but the journey is certainly worth it.

Image: https://seanwes.com/podcast/116-how-to-find-your-own-unique-voice-and-style/

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