Athena Lester
By: Athena Lester
January 17, 2018

Good Writing Takes Time

NOTE: This blog post was written by a former member of our curriculum team, Jeremiah Barker.

When I write, most of the time I’m staring down the blank page, which is what I did before writing this blog post. But before getting frustrated, I remembered this is what writers spend most of their time doing: waiting. This isn’t always the case, but it is often the case for many writers.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed when writing, this doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer. Good writing takes time.

When I’m scoring submissions for Essentials in Writing, I often feel I’m burdening students with my comments and recommended changes. It would be easy, I think, for them to scroll through the edits, wring their hands, and walk away from the paper.

But let’s not walk away from the edits, and let’s not allow our next blank page to intimidate us.

If you feel you’re spending too much time writing your composition, check the time: you might not be writing for as long you think, or should. If you are indeed spending a lot of time writing, this could be because you’re writing well.

But why must good writing take so much time?

1. To find your voice and your rhythm, you have to write—a lot, and often.
2. You’re in a relationship with your writing, and relationships demand attention.
3. Cutting a sentence is like cutting a bad habit—it hurts, but it’s worth it.

There are other reasons writing could be taking so much of your time, but I’ll briefly discuss three reasons you should be taking the time to write well.

1. To find your voice and your rhythm, you have to write—a lot, and often.

William Zinsser, in his classic On Writing Well, advises, “You learn to write by writing. It’s a truism, but what makes it a truism is that it’s true. The only way to learn to write is to force yourself to produce a certain number of words on a regular basis.”

Putting words on the page is usually more difficult than speaking. When talking, you don’t have to worry so much about diction and syntax, let alone organizing and transitioning between your thoughts.

But when writing, something odd happens: you lose your voice. Even when you finally have words down, the words and the sentences they make aren’t what or how you would speak in person. When we write, we tend to edit ourselves out.

To put ourselves back into our writing, we need to keep talking, or rather, keep writing. So to find your voice and your rhythm, keep writing. Sentence by sentence, draft by draft, you’ll get there. But this should take a while.

2. You’re in a relationship with your writing, and any relationship demands attention.

Writing is an investment of your time.

You brainstorm, edit, revise, draft, draft, draft. You revise for word choice, sentence structure, and transitions. You make sure your main points are clear, and if you make an argument, then you ensure it makes sense.

Think of all the things you do for someone you care about. You do similar things for your writing—because you care about it.

And you should. Your writing is your voice. Your words on the page are your thoughts, and you don’t want to be misunderstood.

Writing is not only like a relationship; it is a relationship. And this relationship is between you and your reader. You’re having a conversation with your reader.

Keep the conversation going, and the relationship gets better.

3. Cutting a sentence is like cutting a bad habit—it hurts, but it’s worth it.

Ever have an attachment to something you suspect wasn’t good to have?

As mentioned before, writers spend a lot of time with their words, their sentences, their paragraphs. So they can become attached to a turn of phrase, or a sentence that took a couple extra minutes to write.

But sometimes these turns of phrase or sentences do not add anything to the composition. They could even distract your reader.

Cutting words or sentences or even whole drafts feels like deleting part of yourself, so writers hang on to what they should let go of.

Spend a few minutes, an hour, or even a day away from your composition, and then return to it. If you think something should be removed upon another look, remove it. Read your work again, and if it makes sense without that sentence or that phrase or that paragraph, then keep going.

So again, if you’re overwhelmed by the task of putting your thoughts to paper, you could be writing well. Let’s not get hung up on one word or sentence: keep writing. But remember that good drafts take time.

Jeremiah Barker

Curriculum Development and Scoring Services