I have a rule I try to follow every time I write an essay.
After completing the essay I give the essay a complete read through. If I can’t force myself to read through it then I know I need to throw it out. If I read through the first couple paragraphs and hate the essay then I give up on it right there. If I read through (or suffer through ) the full essay and don’t absolutely love at least one chunk of it then I throw the whole thing out.
If I can’t force myself to read through an essay then it’s a safe bet that the essay actually sucks. I had that problem with a number of my college essay first drafts.
I apparently wrote nothing that I’m genuinely curious about rereading. That is a terrible sign for someone that knows how to write. (There should at least be a cheesy joke worth reading.)
If I can’t get through the start of the essay and enjoy it then it’s a safe bet that the rest of it isn’t going to go any better. Most of good essay writing for a skilled writer comes down to a flow and/or rhythm. If the information isn’t flowing right then it rarely comes together near the end. If it does, you’ll generally know it and feel it while you’re writing it.
If I don’t find something I love after completing a read through then I’m forced to accept that if I can’t find anything to love then it’s highly doubtful anyone judging it will either. Sure… you can get a good grade with an essay you don’t love but every time you do it you’re risking your teacher getting bored.
Essays are an amazing opportunity to use your personality to steal a few extra and undeserved points from the teacher. If the teacher really enjoys your work then they’ll reward you for it. Every time you hand in something subpar you’re risking the loss of those bonus points.
More importantly, in my book at least, it’s a bit of a shot to the pride too. I’ve gotten assignments back in english with lower grades than I was hoping for but when I handed in something I was proud of, I really didn’t care all that much. If I enjoyed writing and reading the essay myself then I at least got some pleasure from the process. If I’m going to be stuck writing an essay for an hour or two then I’d prefer to enjoy the process and lose a few points than to hate the process to gain the points.
The funny thing is, after introducing this rule, I’ve barely had to throw any full essays out. Sure… I get the occasional stinker I have to toss but just knowing how critically I plan on judging the essay at the end forces me to start with a really strong concept. Then, even a mediocre showing in the writing process can create a strong finish. 7 Things They Don’t Tell You About Essays can give you some more ideas how to improve your essay writing.
Editing can only do so much. Editing is important but editing is no fun and almost pointless if you’re starting with a mediocre essay.
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