Writing About Writing: Words to the Wise

Posted by Jessica Cooper in Writing Advice | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

It’s getting to be that time of year. You know it, you may be in denial, but it’s here nonetheless; that time of year where the papers and essays are starting to be assigned and they have to get written. As much as you wish they would, papers do not write themselves.

Now I understand that everyone has their own way of writing, their own process and setting they like to invoke that they believe is the most productive for them.  I am completely and utterly a proponent of this. Some of us can right with a little inspirational music on in the background, some can be productive with the television on, chatting with friends and texting all at the same time. I’m just going to throw it out there that I am not one of those people. In fact I just told my roommate to turn down her racket as I am writing this. However, to each his/her own! That’s why we have chocolate and vanilla, right?

So given that everyone has his or her own writing style, I want to put that aside for a moment. I happen to have come across an article written by a previous visitor to Dickinson, Colson Whitehead, on the rules of writing. As a senior English and Political Science double major, I have a lot of writing ahead of me, and I am sure you do as well, so I found Whitehead’s piece extremely helpful and would like to highlight some of his advice and present it with a little Dickinsonian twist.

His first rule is to show and tell, rather than the high school adage of writing that stated “show, don’t tell.” I think this is great advice because you should be proud of your writing no matter what assignment you are fulfilling. You should be able to fully embrace the prompt and not only show what you know but tell your reader how great it is.

Whitehead’s second and third rules go hand in hand and is some of the best advice I’ve read in a long time. He tells us “don’t go searching for a subject,” and “write what you know.” Sure, the second part might be a bit overused, but when used together you will realize that you will always have something to say through writing, it’s just a matter of letting the topic show itself to you. He equated finding a subject to falling in love. I think you should feel this way about your thesis statements, you should believe in them wholly and want to support them through thick and thin.

He also encourages in his rules to go out and have adventures and experience life. I think Dickinson does a good job of encouraging this for students as well through global education and practical applications of our liberal arts curriculum. Just coming back from abroad myself, I am much more inspired to write, even academically, then I have ever been.

Those are just some of the little tidbits of invaluable advice that I picked up from Whitehead’s piece. But I encourage you to check out the full column on the New York Times website. As college students bombarded with work and reading it can be easy to lose motivation and inspiration, but Whitehead is a great role model for those of us with a lot of writing on our plates and clearly inspired me enough to write a column on his advice. Sometimes you just need to see what greatness has to say for you to be able to achieve it yourself.


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