Hello! I’m Alex Plummer and last semester I finished the writing Capstone project, which involved working on the same piece for over three months. Having survived that, I’m here to tell you some things I learned during the process.
It takes time
College is a time of constant distractions and deadlines. There’s always another project, paper, or piece of tedious classical literature lurking on the horizon. That’s without jobs, friends, family, annoying roommates, and natural disasters getting in the way to distract you. Given all that, it can be hard to worry about a piece of writing more than a few days before it is due.
But good writing takes time– time to research, time to experiment, time to stop and think about all the elements of writing: sentence structure, paragraph length, progression of ideas. And there’s no way to practice any of that but to spend time in a chair, putting words onto a page.
Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite
When I saved the fifteenth draft of the Capstone project, I was hardly more than halfway done. One of the things you must spend time on is rewriting. Rarely will a piece of writing, be it a research paper, an argumentative essay, or a creative piece, turn out perfectly the first time. If you’re anything like me, most papers get two drafts or maybe three (and let’s face it, too many just get one) before you turn it in. Sometimes, this is unavoidable. Yet to produce a piece of quality writing, you’ve got to revise.
Know when to fold them
I threw out three introductions to the Capstone piece, each representing hours and hours of work, before I even started on anything worthwhile. I deleted huge swathes from the middle. It sucks, but it’s necessary. Don’t cling to ideas that aren’t working just because you put work into it; that’s the sunk cost fallacy. Throw out the bad ideas, and start over.
The grade is secondary
This one hurts, I know. But as a senior who’s about to graduate, take my word for it. After you’re out of school, everyone cares more about what you can do than what your grades were. Having excellent writing skills is a valuable talent. The ability to write shallow papers that get As is less so. Get good grades, but worry more about honing that craft than what letter gets scrawled at the top. Once you’re writing in the real world, it’s pass/fail.
You’ve got to think
Deadlines are a good motivator. It’s safer to be feared than loved as Machiavelli would say. Still, they aren’t as good at giving you time to think. Ideas need a few days to percolate in the subconscious and formulate connections. You can’t segregate your time into thinking and non-thinking time. A writer is never off the clock. Don’t wait until the last minute to formulate ideas. Give yourself some breathing room. Let the ideas sit for a while. Then, when it is time to actually write them down, you’ll at least have a place to start.