When I share with people that I am a writer, most of the time people will say “That’s so cool! I wish I could write, but I’ve never been very good at it.” Sometimes they will mean stories, scripts, or poetry. Other times, they will mean essays or articles. But my response will always be the same: “Well, have you practiced?”
So much of our understanding of writing is built on a myth that some of us are just good at it and others aren’t. But when you think about it, would a gymnast ever attempt a double twist in midair without learning how to do a backflip? Would you enter into a competition for the 100-meter dash without ever practicing? (Can you tell I’ve been watching the Olympics?) Like most skills, good writing requires consistent, dedicated practice. So, whether you’re just starting out or looking to improve, I have a few tips for how to get started and maintain consistency in practice.
Some writers will tell you that you need to write every single day, sometimes at the same time of day. But if the Giants are playing the Dodgers and your cousin Ryan is visiting from out of town, I’m here to tell you it’s okay to take a day or two off. That being said, I do like to block time off on my calendar and do my best to stick to that schedule.
Write the bad first draft
Writing a “bad” first draft is tough when you’re a perfectionist. For me, this is probably the hardest part of writing. Whenever I don’t feel confident that what I am writing is “good,” I want to quit. Tragically, that also means that instead of a bad first draft, I’ll have no draft. This leads me to my next tip.
Writing is rewriting
I try to never turn in a first draft to a competition (unless a deadline is chasing me down and a bad first draft is better than no draft, but I do not recommend this). As a former teacher, I can promise you your teacher will recognize a first draft, too. The great thing about writing is that you almost always have an opportunity to improve on your work.
Writing is private
Stringing a lot of words together is tough work! Could you imagine taking a written test and having your best friend interrupting you every five minutes to ask if you’ve seen this TikTok? I like to wait until everyone in my home has gone to bed to open my notebook. Maybe you’d like to put your headphones in and listen to music. Either way, your friend isn’t writing that draft.
Writing is collaborative
You might hear some people say something along the lines of “write for yourself.” Yes, those initial drafts. But whoever your audience is, you have an opportunity to get feedback. Was what I wrote clear? Did I achieve my objective? What wasn’t working in this draft? Did you like that joke on the third page?
Writing is getting comfortable with being uncomfortable
No one likes rejection or hearing they could have done a better job, and sometimes that is the worst part of writing: getting a rejection letter or a bad grade. It takes a lot of bravery to put your words out there, even if it’s just an essay for class or a caption on a social media post. Don’t be afraid to learn, revise, and try again, even if you feel a little vulnerable or afraid. It’s all part of the process.
My most important rule for writing is that even though it is agonizing sometimes, it should be fun.
If I’m lucky enough to work with you on your college admissions essays, I hope you’ll come away with a sense of purpose, joy, and confidence in learning how to write your story.
Tylar Pendgraft is a writer and essay editor for ReadyEdgeGo. She has worked for over 8 years in higher education, helping students learn how to write, figure out their next steps, and gain career experience. She has her B.A. in Literature-Writing from UC San Diego and M.F.A. in Dramatic Writing from University of Southern California. In her spare time, she enjoys reading bedtime stories and being trampled by her three tiny dogs (Frodo, Tennyson, and Ozzie).
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