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Tips I Follow and The Ones I Don’t by Julie Biando Edwards

October 28, 2012

by Julie Biando Edwards

I really enjoy the process of writing – once I clear out the mental and physical space to actually start! Even when I am really excited about writing something, it takes me a long time to get going. Once I’m into my work, though, the process is sometimes so organic that it amazes me.

I very rarely outline a paper, unless I really need something to jumpstart me or unless I’m working with really complex topics. As a librarian, you’d think that I’d like to research, but I don’t. I almost never know what my next sentence is going to be. I just write one sentence and the next somehow follows, almost without me directing it, or so it seems. At the same time, there is a part of my brain that is analytical and critical and separate from the creative process so that I know almost immediately as I write whether a sentence is working or not. So, as the sentences come, without my bidding half the time, I either get a jolt of what I can only describe as exhilaration when things are working or I feel weighted to my chair with frustration when things aren’t. When it isn’t working, I’ll usually let things sit for a few days. When I do go back to a piece that isn’t working, there is a 50/50 chance that I’ll start completely over. This is one of the problems with my style of writing – it can be really difficult for me to revise a piece that just is not working. (Another interesting feature of my writing style is that I almost always have to start with the first sentence and let the paper flow from there. I’m definitely not one of those people who can start in the body of the paper – or, heaven forbid, with the conclusion!). But one of the things that I like about my style is that I will occasionally be really pleasantly surprised, and sometimes even impressed, at what I come up with. I always tell people that I think more clearly through my fingers, and it’s true. When I’m writing I’ll make connections or observations or arguments that I’d never be able to make verbally.

I’ve never had any formal training in writing, but there are a few things that I’ve learned through practice:

Don’t be afraid to be confident with your writing. For a long time I played down any skill I had. As a literature major, I would be so in love with a book that I’d feel like I didn’t have any right to engage with the author! Writing is a conversation, and you should never be afraid to give your opinion. (Make sure you can back your opinion up, though!)

Try to create a reverse outline. I do this a lot, especially with longer papers. I’ll write and complete a piece and then go through it paragraph by paragraph to see if the paper has a logical order to it. This is a pretty easy way for me to see if something needs to be moved around or to see if there are elements of the paper that just don’t fit.

Find a trusted (and honest) reader. I’m lucky to have a reader who has strengths where I have weaknesses. For example, he’s a better grammarian and is great at catching problems that lurk in the details. Find someone who can read your work for you and who can give you honest criticism – then take it!

I was always told that you should read your paper out loud to yourself. This doesn’t really work for me. I recommend reading your paper out loud to someone else (maybe your trusted reader). I also strongly recommend having someone else read your paper out loud to you. I’ve done this since my undergraduate years and can’t think of a better way to catch problems in my writing. If my reader is stumbling over words or arguments, something’s not working. I also think that how writing sounds is as important as what it says, and having someone read to me helps me catch those “clunky” parts of a paper.

Finally – read, read, read!! I’m not talking about your paper. I’m talking about books, magazines, newspapers. Read poems, novels, comic books, memoirs. Try to find good writers, and read them. Then, when you’re done, read some more. I am convinced that I am a good writer because I am a voracious reader. Reading what other people write has helped me develop skills outside of formal instruction.

Those are the best tips I can offer. They’re tips I follow, myself. Immersing yourself in the world of words, and then adding to that world with your own, is a tremendous experience. I hope that you enjoy reading other voices  –  and finding your own!

Julie Biando Edwards is an Associate Professor at the Mansfield Library.

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