Attitudes to writing

Attitudes to writing

From observing people in writing class, I am learning that  attitude to writing can help or hurt the final outcome.  Here are a few attitudes that have struck me as having something to do with what a final draft looks like.  I have certainly had both types of attitudes at one time or another, and perhaps you have too.   



The Helpful:

What do readers need? This is a good attitude to have.  Instead of remaining stuck in our own needs--"I need to talk about X for six paragraphs" or "I have to show this before talking about that"--we are actively seeking a solution to the problem of writing for people who know less about the subject than we do.


Let me try it out.  Sometimes we want to be assured that a revision will pay off, enormously, before embarking on it.  Writing does not work that way.  It is hard work.  We have to try things out and we will only learn what the payoff is when the new draft is sitting in front of us.  So when it comes to writing, the willingness to try things out is a priceless attribute.


This is fundamentally different from that.  The ability to know when something has fundamentally changed is crucial to effective revising.  Sometimes a dramatic improvement can be staring us in the face, and we simply fail to recognize it; sometimes we are satisfied with a trivial change. This means we can continue revising when it is better to stop and stop revising when, really, we should continue.  People who can recognize that a new draft is fundamentally different, even if it looks similar in many respects, make bigger improvements, faster.


So what if my paper is....  The willingness to treat our paper no differently because of its specific attributes is to hold it to the highest standards. Good writers refuse to make excuses for their writing on grounds that the paper is somehow different: more "complicated," more technical, more theoretical, less relevant etc.  They just believe they should be able to make their ideas accessible to others and get on with the task of making that happen.   That seems like a pretty good attitude to have.



The Unhelpful:

I have to/ I need to/I can't...  This may be a good way to approach a personal therapy session, but it is not an efficient way to approach writing.  The purpose of research writing is to make sure others understand our work.  So we are better off starting by asking, "How can I make this work for my readers?"  


Yes, but...  Writers must be decisive.  We have to be able to separate the essential from the also-interesting.  We have to be able to come up with a takeaway message, even when there are two opposite points to consider. We have to be able to tell when something is better and when it is worse, even when the difference is subtle.  Too much allowance for the "but"s makes for a weak draft.


It's complicated.    Almost always, this means "I am confused about my own work"  We all have a paper or project that has seemed complicated when we have not yet put in enough time thinking about it or when we don't yet know enough about the literature to see  clearly.  But sometimes, we fall into the habit of relishing the feeling that we are dealing with something complicated.  People who write well don't do this.  They are quick to accept that the feeling of complicatedness comes from a lack of clarity about content and work to address that: they read to address gaps in their own understanding or put in the time thinking about the subject until they can see concepts more clearly.


Oh but I already explained that in...    If a reader asks you a question and you find yourself answering this way, pause; take note of the fact that for whatever reason, your explanation did not go through; and get ready to rewrite!






Post by Varanya Chaubey

Image by By Ben Smith from Oxford, England CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The word "important"

The word "important"