Connect with pain: Part 3 on writing successful compositions

college student writingIn my last post, I asserted that if you write bored, your writing will be boring, and the poor bored grader will grade accordingly. Thus the rule: Don’t be bored writing.

It remains to find a trick to become extremely interested in your writing. One good way is to write from pain, to relate the subject in some way to your own pain.

I had a student who slept during class to mask his intimidation, but when he debated the Dream Act, which helps immigrants, he felt passionately about it. He was an immigrant. He argued well. He related to the subject.

You must think before you write. But think about what? Think about how it relates to your won pain (no matter how obliquely). Imagine yourself in the shoes of whoever is suffering in the case. Argue from his/her perspective.

Though not so easy, this tactic really does wonders for writing.

Here’s part 4 of the series.

The most important part of writing: crafting the thesis statement (part 1)

CS LewisSpend a great chunk of your time working and re-working your thesis statement. This is the most important part of your paper. All the rest of the paper proves your thesis. If you don’t have a good thesis, you can’t have a good paper. When a teacher reads a stellar thesis, she expects to give an “A.” Only if the rest of the paper is sadly disappointing will she lower that expectation. If you have a weak thesis, the teacher already has a “B” or “C” in mind. Rarely will you be able to “pull up” your paper to an “A” because your start is so bad.

Not all sentences are equal. The thesis stands above every other sentence in supreme importance. That’s why it deserves so much more attention than the other sentences.

When you craft your thesis statement, make sure it:

  1. states an opinion that is original (maybe even controversial).
  2. is beautifully expressed.
  3. uses the perfect words (not just big words to show off).
  4. is not boring.
  5. takes a side, doesn’t just cover the opposing views (especially in English class; other classes like history can survey existing positions only).
  6. tries for shorter and golden rather than long and academic (contrary to popular conception, convoluted writing is not by any means better. Just ask Hemingway about that.)

When I grade papers, I want thesis statements to be exciting. I totally agree with C.S. Lewis that most people don’t like to have to read essays. They prefer to read/hear stories. So if you don’t excite me with a though-provoking thesis statement, I’m hunkering down for a miserable affair.

Read part 2 here.