There are two things people do to learn to write well. They write a lot and they read a lot. They read for themselves (as in Danielle Steele) and for formal classes (as in the "Molecular and Semiotic Nature of the Glowworm--Glimmer, Glimmer"). Mature readers and writers find ways to combine the two (reading Rachel Carson's Silent Spring or Teacher by Sylvia Ashton-Warren for simultaneous information and pleasure. For those with very limited time, read a poem a day. There you will find conciseness that you can emulate). You will gain much more from these activities than from reading a writing manual, however gratifying that may be.
Writers work for themselves and for others, such as in personal journals or in formal classes. The main contradiction many writers face is not writing. As in most enterprises, the tough part is getting started, sitting down with a keyboard or paper and getting to work. Once the start is made, like going out the door for a jog on a cold snowy night, things frequently just flow. Henry Miller, nothing if not prolific, once said, "I just sit down, put my antenna up, and start to work."
Different people write differently. Some people only get to their subjects through free writing, putting down as much as possible as quickly as possible in whatever order it comes and then rearranging. Others use outlines. For the former, our only advice is: keep writing. Then, write some more. After that, revise some more.
For the latter, or for those revising free writing, here are a few modest
ideas, all of which come from one central theme: What you have to say is
important. No one knows precisely what you know. You are a researcher of
our world and you can contribute to the general understanding of our world
if you write in a clear and interesting way.
Gather Your Ideas--Systematically
Quite likely, you have been assigned some general topic. Strategic writers find ways to link their own interests with the demands life imposes. How can you find an intersection of your assignment and your special pursuits? Only the most brittle thinking cannot find a way. If it is, in your view, a bad assignment, how can you turn it into a good one?
Make notes as your thoughts come to you. Don't just let concepts whistle
through your mind. It takes a little discipline, but if you write down
your ideas right away, you will have something to work with when you start.
What controlling conception pulls together the rest of the ideas in
your notes? What in your notes is extraneous, doesn't fit? Start cutting
now. It could save you much time and anguish later.
You cannot keep yourself out of your writing--not even in the name of objectivity. Here are two thoughts on the question--at odds with each other:
"Everything is partisan. Nothing stands apart from the struggle of domination and resistance. In this, all but power is illusion."-- Abamiel Guzman
Kenneth Manning, on the other hand, alludes to the notion that parts of science are frustrating to scientists of color because they have to explain the obvious:
"Chemistry and physics are about atoms, protons, and molecules; biology is about protoplasm and proteins. These phenomena know no color or religion, no national origin."
Somewhere on this spectrum of opinion is your own view of objectivity.
The very claim to objectivity is a subjective stance, the choice of facts, the choice of topics, even the choice of words, is a subjective call.
You are in your writing. While you may be called on to write as if you
are not, as in, "One perceives", it remains that what one perceives is
specifically what you perceive through senses largely influenced by your
own idiosyncracies. What you write is the result of assigning and inextricably
linking symbols to your reality--your construction of meaning--and what
you write constructs you. You can write strategically--but you cannot finally
Remember to verify your assessments with valid sources.
Writing is a social process. Collaborative writing recognizes that good
writing is not the result of isolation and loneliness coupled with a pen.
Collaborative writing means that you work with others; seek feedback, criticism,
or comment from people you respect. Henry Thoreau used Emerson. Try to
do as well. Good writing benefits from exposure to other people. Often
a person who is removed from the writing process can better find the holes
and weaknesses in an argument than the author who is so personally involved.
The connections that seem obvious to you may in fact be sketchy to a reader
who has not been privy to the development of the argument in your mind.
At the same time, you need to know when to defend what you did well. Collaborative
work will help you discover how to sharpen your defense. In many ways,
expressing yourself orally comes more naturally than writing. When you
discuss your work with others, you may find yourself explaining and defending
your points much more clearly than when you originally wrote them. It is
very important to consider the opinions of others when you write, however,
remember that all anyone can offer you in an opinion. In the end, you must
make the decision of what you want to say and how you want to say it.
Return to Beginning