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Lesson Four:

writing and revising

No matter how good a writer you are, you will eventually revise or rewrite something that you wrote. It doesn't matter how long or short the piece of writing is, you will look at it and decide that it has to be changed; however, to begin with, you have to put the words on paper or into an electronic document before they can be revised. That's a problem for some people who attempt to write something, whether it's for a class, or a letter to a friend, or some other purpose. They are so intimidated by the idea of revising their work they fail to write any words at all.

I always think of my writing as a piece of clay to be sculpted. It starts as a lifeless lump of nothing and then I gradually mold it into something that's recognizable. The words you choose to work with are similar to the clay; you must have the clay in order to do the work. If there are not any words to work with, you can't write anything.

Where do the words come from? The words are the substance of your life, your experiences, and all of the studying that you have done. The words are there, but you have to work very hard to make them come out. You have to practice writing! Here's my advice:

1. Find a notebook that you can use for your writing and write in it every day. If you prefer to compose your ideas on a computer, as I do, use the computer to keep a journal or a blog. It's not necessary to show any of your writing to anyone when you are practicing; however, if you really want to improve your writing, you will show it to someone--a teacher, a friend, a classmate, a family member, or an online forum.

2. Don't be afraid to throw away or keep anything that you have written. If you really hate it, throw it away. But if you keep it, it provides future evidence of how much you have improved. I still have notebooks from the 1980s that contain writing I did for classes and writing I did for self-improvement. It can be both pleasantly surprising and embarrassing to look back on that work, so keep it in a safe place! I'm glad I still have it.

3. After you have written something, let it sit for a day or two before you revise it. The passage of time helps to reveal areas where you can improve.

4. If you find a piece of writing by a professional author whom you really like, copy it word for word into your notebook. Of course, give credit where credit is due by also jotting down the name of the author. Copying the work of a professional writer gives you a better idea of how to structure a sentence and a paragraph. You can develop an appreciation for the work that writing requires, especially if you copy a very long passage. (Again--don't claim it as your own writing!)

5. Try not to let the voice of critics prevent you from writing. By writing we reveal a lot of personal information, not only about our personal lives and experiences but also about our abilities as writers and users of the language. Don't give in to the critical voices--including your own. The process of writing requires that you take risks. The risk, in this case, is your writing. If nothing is written due to a fear of criticism, there's no gain in knowledge from the experience. So just write something and don't worry too much about what others think.

 

There are a number of ways to get started when faced with a blank piece of paper. The next lesson addresses the subject of prewriting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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