Tag Archives: real life

How to improve your writing.

How to improve your writing. (By sidewalk flying on Flickr.)

Last week, I covered how to develop a successful essay topic, from the beginning, by investigating your interests.

A great admission essay doesn’t come from thin air– not only do you have to cultivate great material to later write about, but you also have to develop the skills to do so.

As I said in my last post, good writing comes with persistence. Meaning, in order to write well, you have to do more than just memorize grammar and syntax rules. Improving your writing is not an end-product in itself but instead a developing process. To continuously improve, you have to continuously practice. 

So, here’s how to practice, and how to improve, your writing:

Read discerningly and critically.

Yes, to improve your writing, you need to read more. But, this goes farther than just reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo while curled up on the couch. You have to read actively. Active reading is a bit like studying–  you are reading more than just for what’s on the page, but to absorb the material. You are to analyze what is being said, and how it’s being said. Rather than letting the material wash over you passively, you have to engage with what you’re reading, and think about it critically. It doesn’t matter if it’s Thomas Pynchon, Tom Clancy, or the New York Times– think about what’s being presented to you. What is being said? Carefully consider the writer’s style– what is being done, exactly? How is this story being told to you?

Then, consider your own interaction with the material– is this story being told well? Is the writing effective in telling this story? What is attractive or unattractive about what is being said? What do you like or dislike about what the writer is doing?

Take careful note of what you like– and don’t like– about the material.  Analyzing critically will help you develop your own style through comparison. So,  consider your answers to the last line of questions I posed– what would you do differently? What do you agree with, in terms of phrasing, word choice, or content?

Interact with your own writing.

Now, pose the same sort of questions I’ve raised above to your own writing. Dig up old written assignments and essays– anything you’ve written in the last year or so. Then, critique it: did the story come through as you had intended? What could have been improved? Are you happy the way it turned out? What should be changed or remain the same? Was your story told successfully and effectively? In terms of phrasing and style, what was successful and needs some improvement? Take note of what worked and what didn’t and, most importantly, why that is the case. It is also helpful to look over any written work that had already been graded– you can definitely take cues from a professor or teacher in your self-analysis.

When you review work from a considerable time ago, you are reconsidering your writing with a more objective, critical eye. You are likely to find wording or phrasing issues or other mistakes that you may have missed the first time around. You are also likely to find phrasing or styling that worked then and continue to work now. Yes, you can be your own worse critic, so be sure not to beat yourself up too much; this is all part of the improvement process. By highlighting the best and worst aspects of your writing, you stand to improve on both of these points– to be mindful of the mistakes and to continue doing what works.

Practice revision.

Aside from reading outside work and your own work more critically, you must also hone your own writing and editing skills. To become a more discerning writer, you must be in-tune with what makes for effective writing and what doesn’t, so that you can be in a better position to do so yourself. But, while reading critically is important, knowing what to do about it is absolutely crucial. This is when revision comes in.

Revision can be a difficult exercise but, by reading critically, you’re already halfway there. Consider some of the questions I’ve said above– namely, the ones asking where you (or anyone else) could improve on effectiveness. Then, as a starting exercise, try acting on these suggestions to yourself– rewrite these points as you feel they should have been written in the first place. (This is where looking over your old, graded materials comes in handy; your teacher has ideally earmarked what needs to be changed already.)

When practicing revision, you’re developing your own keen senses of what works within writing and what doesn’t. Whether it’s within your own writing or someone else’s, practicing revising and rewriting skills is key to developing your own “nose” for good writing.  Likewise, it helps to develop the grounds for your own self-improvement.  Especially in your own work, through revision, you are in effect improving your own writing literally– you are learning from the very mistakes you made by learning how to directly fix them. Again, you can be your own worst critic but it can be a very satisfying experience, if you make it one.

Write more, and write often.

Of course, this is the part you’ve been waiting for. The best way to truly exercise these developing skills is, naturally, to do some more writing yourself.

Write whenever you can. It doesn’t really matter about what, so long as there is a discernible purpose to what you’re trying to get across– a story to tell or an argument to make. Writing for practice doesn’t have be submitted for a grade or even to the general public in any way, so you have pretty wide range of possibilities to use. If you find yourself stuck, you can use some journalism exercises as good jump-off points or “personal assignments” to get you started. One helpful exercise is to write reviews– of anything, even for things or events that aren’t real.  Or, as a journalism professor once told me, you can write mock-obituaries for celebrities, a fun (if not mildly morbid) writing exercise. In terms of how you do it, that is up to you as well. I myself like to carry a notebook around and just jot things down as they come, but do whatever feels comfortable for you. (If you’re strictly digital, Evernote is an amazing tool.)  You can keep a private journal or even start a blog.  Of course, putting these skills into practice can be difficult, yes. But, like running or an exercise routine, it gets much easier with time. And, just like exercise, it’s not so important when, or how you do it, as much is it is important you do it well, mindfully, and consistently.

 

 

 

 

 

How to write a successful cover letter.

How to write a successful cover letter. (From Drongowski on Flickr.)

Writing cover letters can seem astronomically hard. Yes, this struggle is similar to personal statements– you know yourself better than anyone else yet writing about “you” as a formal subject is a hard task.

But, there is a major difference. Personal statements ask you to show why you should be considered as part of a pool of accepted students by writing about an anecdote, specific event, or your life history thus far. Cover letters, on the other hand, ask you to showcase not only why you should be considered for the job but why you deserve this position over anyone else, period.

Now what?

Well, to begin, you have to do some introspection. Like personal statements or papers, you have to do a bit of brainstorming to formulate an appropriate topic or a particular bent. So, sit down and think for a bit: What is it about this position that is so attractive? Granted, ITE, you are most likely considering this position along with many others, sending a slew of resumes into cyberspace at large, and hoping for a response back. Or, this could be your dream job/internship/position that you’ve been fantasizing about since you were six. Either way, you have to consider: What do you like about this particular position? Make a list of your ideas: write down every reason, whether it’s the field, the particular company/brand you’re interested in, or even the increase in pay, better benefits, or better location. Then, consider what you offer: What makes you the ideal candidate? Is it your problem-solving skills, your punctuality? Maybe, it is your “go-get-it-ness” and genuine drive to be in this industry? Or even just your desperate need to get out of your current job or industry?

Now, consider how these intersect: How will you utilize your strengths if you’re given this position? How will this position satisfy your needs? And, in turn, how will you satisfy the requirements of this job?

Think carefully about your answers. These questions I’ve just posed are meant to get your juices flowing and to get you to start thinking about your selling points– and, how to market them to your prospective employer. You want to prove that you are not only a shoo-in for this job but also a natural fit.
Lastly, here are a few tips to get you on your way:

  • If you’re responding to a job posting or ad, follow the directions. Meaning, if they ask for specific information in your cover letter (the specific position you’re applying for, your salary requirements, etc) then you must provide it. Also, if it says “no phone calls”, don’t call. I’m serious.
  • Proofread. If you take away anything from this post (or even this blog), please proofread your work. Remember, mistakes reflect carelessness– the total opposite of “detail-oriented.”
  • Keep it simple… and short. Purple prose is always a no-no, but this is especially applicable here. Be concise; most cover letters are only a page long. If it must be over a page, make it only a page and half, tops. So, don’t send a missive, send a directive– keep it short and sweet.
  • Keep it professional. Use a professional-sounding email or, at the very least, your school email when including your contact information. As hot as “spankmebaby69@aol.com” sounds, it’s incredibly jarring to Human Resources. Don’t be the office joke, and sign up for a nice, normal-sounding Gmail account that includes your name and not any weird proclivities.