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The not-so-secret ingredient to good writing

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You feel like you are sweating so much that there is a puddle in your seat. Your heart is beating so fast that you swear people can see it as you wait for the perfect moment to escape the classroom. Your professor begins collecting that ten-page paper that is due, so you camouflage yourself amongst the students that have the assignment and manage to slip through the door unscathed while avoiding eye contact with your professor. Whew! Crisis averted right?

(Photo from theodysseyonline.com)

 

We have all been there, including me. But what if I told you that there is no need to experience the aforementioned situation? It is easy to avoid if you simply recognize that writing is a process, and your professors know it.

Personally, I have always struggled with getting papers done on time because I liked them to be absolutely perfect when I handed them in. This led to many all-nighters and missed assignments, as well as a lot of procrastination, bad grades, and all-around anxiety.

I was stuck on the idea that when the perfect moment presented itself, I would sit down and write this beautifully intelligent and organized paper that would blow my professor’s mind. But, that moment never came. The due date would arrive, and since my draft was not perfect, I would decide it would be better not to hand in anything at all. Moments like this would eat away at me; I would freeze trying to write a paper because I felt like there was no way I would ever write a paper that was good enough. I think to myself: why bother writing at all when it’s never going to be perfect?

Here’s the thing: there is no “perfect moment,” and absolutely no one sits down one day and writes a perfectly polished paper.

I was approaching life with what Carol Dweck would call a “fixed mindset.” This is when you think you have reached your limit; you think your skill level has no chance of any more improvement, so you decide to give up on further development. Instead of having a “fixed mindset,” Dweck says that we should approach situations with a “growth mindset.” This is when you approach a challenging problem or task with perseverance. You do not limit yourself, and there is always room for improvement when tackling life with a growth mindset.

Writing needs to be approached with a growth mindset because it is a process. A process means there are multiple steps that need to be taken before completion, and in writing, each step is a draft that gets built upon until you reach a final product.

Sometimes students get bogged down with the idea of writing multiple drafts, but I’m not kidding when I say that they are the secret ingredients to good writing. Think of it this way: writing your paper should be like cleaning a dirty house. You cannot simply walk in and clean everything at once. Instead, you clean the house step-by-step. You start with the dishes in the sink or the clothes that need to be folded in the laundry room.

Those dishes in the sink or the laundry that needs to be folded are what are known as “shitty first drafts.” Shitty first drafts are when you sit down and write whatever comes to mind without worrying about the final product. You’d be surprised to find out how much you can say if you simply write what you’re thinking.

Once you finish that “s***ty first draft,” you can begin revising further and further until you are happy with your paper.

Now, if you are a perfectionist like me and don’t reach a point where you are happy with your paper when the due date comes, don’t worry. Professors go through the writing process just as much as students.

They understand that writing multiple drafts is the key to writing good papers, so hand in whatever you have. I mean it.

Handing in a draft to a professor is better than handing in nothing. Pull your professor aside after class and explain to them that what you’ve handed in is a full draft, but you are not happy with it and would like to revise it.

I can tell you from experience that most professors will allow you to revise a paper, but only if you show them that you have been taking serious steps in the writing process. I know it sounds almost too good to be true; it has taken me a long time to trust that my professors understand the challenges of writing, but they truly do.

So the next time you’re handing in a writing assignment, don’t panic. Don’t talk yourself into thinking that you are a bad writer. No such person exists; everyone is a writer-in-progress, even your professors.

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