Sunday, September 7, 2008

Hard Work and Perspiration

This summer we had several recurring students at the Writing Center. Some of them came back repeatedly because their teachers required it or maybe offered them extra credit. But some of them came back over and over again, having us look over each new draft of the same paper until it was due, simply because they wanted to get that paper as good as it could be and because they genuinely wanted to be better academic writers.

One of these students was sort of an inspiration to me. I didn’t work with him on his early drafts, but I know from talking to his teacher and the Writing Center tutor who did work with him that he had a lot of problems when he first started coming in. Trouble forming coherent ideas. Habitually going off on tangents that seemed perfectly relevant to him but had little or nothing to do with the actual thesis. Unable to organize his thoughts on a topic into a logical order that actually backs up the thesis.

This student would come in everyday, sit at a computer for several hours working on his paper, and ask to work with a tutor often two or three times in the same day. And his hard work paid off. His writing slowly but surely began to take shape, he began to understand what wasn’t working with his old papers, and he actually started catching problems on his own, without needing them to be pointed out.

The last draft of his final paper that I saw was an amazing transformation from the jumbled set of meandering ideas I had seen a couple of weeks before, and I imagine the final draft that he actually handed in was even better. No, he didn’t go from terrible to pure genius in a manner of weeks, but he did drastically improve and it’s all because he was willing to put the effort in and work, work, work.

The same, I believe, is true of creative writing. I’ve said before I don’t believe in innate talent, and whether you agree or not, you can probably at least agree that whatever level you’re at right now, you can always stand to improve, and the only way to improve is hard work. This means actually writing, for one thing, something that some would-be writers seem to do very little of, but it also means spending time revising (and understanding that there’s a difference between revising and editing), it means reading a lot to have a broader understanding of what’s been done, what works and what doesn’t, and it means not sitting around daydreaming about the day someone will realize how brilliant a writer you are and, instead, actually being a writer.

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