You know you do it…
You sit down ready to write your English paper. You’re finally ready to follow through. You write through the paper slowly but surely. Maybe you get stuck a couple times but you persevere.
You save the document.
You close it.
Then you think, “I’m done.”
I’m going to take an educated guess here:
Your paper sucks.
I know… maybe sometimes it’s okay. If you’re used to reading this blog then maybe you usually write well. But it happens to everyone. We sometimes produce crap.
Well… answer me this:
Were you excited to read your paper after completing it?
If yes, congratulations. Your paper might not suck.
If no: I’m sorry to break it to you this harshly but your paper sucks.
An Unexpected Discovery
I was like you.
English papers were hell. I could usually manage a good grade but it took me forever just to get the words on paper. Then I dreaded editing my work because I knew it was going to be mediocre. I’d read it and feel bored out of my noggin.
Here is the story:
I was sitting at my laptop staring at my completed essay. My mind was tracing familiar thoughts. I was thinking that I should probably edit it. I didn’t want to. The result was predictable. As usual, I wrote a paper that would get me a good grade but I wasn’t proud of it. I knew I could write something extraordinary but I just wrote something to get the job done.
In that moment I was hit by a bit of what felt like de-inspiration. (You read that right. De-inspiration. Yes. I made it the hell up. I’m the writer. I’m allowed to do that.) I’d like to say it was inspiration but it was kind of the opposite.
I thought, “if I’m going to be forced to write these papers, I’d rather have fun than spend my time doing things I hate. Screw my grade. Screw what the teacher wants.”
(I can almost guarantee I used an explicative worse than screw.)
I was giving up appearances. Politeness was scrubbed from my vocabulary. Ultimately, I realized I was giving up a facade.
Writing Essays That Don’t Suck
I spent the next 20-30 minutes writing one of the most offensive essays I’ve ever written. It took an unpleasant topic I found interesting and dug into every dirty detail. I wrote like I had never learned anything about school appropriateness. The process was fun.
I was excited to read it. I spent the time to edit it. Reading it repeatedly was easy. That made my editing way more effective.
I wrote something I was proud of.
That paper forever changed by perspective on essay writing. It led to my discovery of how to write AMAZING (not good) English papers.
This change of strategy ultimately brought my B’s and A-’s to A+’s. (I was convinced I’d get lower grades and stern talks from the teacher.)
It’s all well and good but I should add one point. I never handed in the essay I wrote that night. I chickened out. It was a bit too far in my mind. I never handed it in. I just picked a slightly toned down version of it and rewrote it similarly but with a little more tact. It was an A paper. In hindsight, I’m convinced the original would have been an A+.
Why Your English Paper Sucks
If your english paper sucks then it’s probably only one of two problems:
1. Your writing mechanics suck.
You know what I’m talking about, right?
These things aren’t everything but if you are struggling with these factors then they can become a distraction.
As a writer, you’re trying to lead people down a train of thought. If you make a mistake that stops someone dead in their trucks (Vroom Vroom,) it completely ruins your efforts. What was I saying again?
Oh yea… when your writing mechanics become a major distraction, it’s nearly impossible for someone to enjoy your essay. Just when they get into the flow of your paper they’ll lose focus to your mistakes.
You can’t write an amazing paper with too many of these mistakes.
Improving Your Writing Mechanics
If you’re struggling with this factor then here’s what I’d do:
- Read old graded papers and learn from every red mark.
- Read stuff that you enjoy reading.
- Get a tutor to hound you about your mistakes.
- Get a mean proofreader (polite proofreaders often let mistakes slide.)
Once you get past a certain level of quality, only English majors will get distracted. That’s usually good enough.
2. You’re not inspired.
Inspiration is an emotion.
You can like a subject but lack inspiration.
Inspiration is that feeling in your gut telling you it’s time to start. It’s a positive tension like excitement. If inspiration sounds too foo-foo for you then think about it like excitement.
Inspiration is the difference between good and amazing.
You can produce a good or maybe even a great paper using mechanical strategies but you need an emotional backing to produce something you’d be proud of.
“OH! YEA! BUT INSPIRATION DOESN’T GROW ON TREES YOU KNOW!”
I know… I know… inspiration is complicated. You won’t always be able to get inspired on command but you’ll be surprised how often you can create it using a few simple strategies:
- What are you already inspired about?
Write about it. Stretch the teachers topic a bit if you must. (One of my perfect scores came from a teacher that wrote how I was completely missing her target topic but I technically followed instructions and produced something great.)
- What can you do that’s mildly offensive?
No… you shouldn’t go into things that can get you jailed in some countries. Just push your comfort zone out a little bit farther. The less comfortable you are saying something, the more interesting it is to hear.
- What can you do that’s surprising?
I once wrote a 4 page paper on a 4 line poem. I mostly did it because I thought I’d get a kick out of it. It was fun. I produced a good paper. Naturally, the teacher commented positively about it.
- Can you put in a twist?
If you’re telling a story then try to always have a twist. When your story doesn’t have a twist then manufacture a twist by only revealing some important piece of information at the end of the story.
Using these strategies will inspire you. You’ll be writing a paper that makes you want to keep writing. You’ll be writing a paper that you’re going to be curious to read afterwards.
1. You enjoy writing what you wrote.
2. You enjoy reading what you wrote.
1. You’ve enjoyed yourself more than if you wrote a boring run-of-the-mill paper.
2. You’re probably producing something that kicks ass.
Don’t let your English papers suck.
Your scores will increase from this. More importantly, you’ll enjoy the process more.
Inspiration helps but it also is differentiation. Your teacher will treat you better for it.
The teacher will remember your paper better. Assuming you’re mechanically sound, that’s going to improve your grade because the teacher will assume remembering it is good.
Life is too damn short. Write papers that you’re proud of. Forget about trying to please your teachers whenever possible. Follow their rules but follow them liberally and give yourself as much leg room as you need to enjoy yourself.
Let me tell you (an inappropriate) true story…
It was high school Spanish class…
I was a Senior in a class of Sophomores. There was one other Senior in the class. Best of all –
She was smokin’ (as the old folk say.) She was gorgeous. 10 out of 10. Tight jeans. And she always sat right in front of me in class (gulp.)
We were the only Seniors in the class. By default… that made me the coolest guy there… And trust me… I’m never the coolest guy there.
But we’d talk. Sometimes in class she’d lean over. I’d continue to pretend me importa la espanol stuff pero… Seriousamente… 😛
Sure… I’d show up to class. But my brain rarely stuck around for the lecture. And that’s why you might not be surprised I was getting a C- in class.
It’s funny how that stuff that distracted me in highschool wasn’t so problematic in college where I took a double course load and still scored near the top of my class…
You don’t need to be perfect to score near perfect.
You just need to know how…