1. Repeating themselves.
In high school (and sometime beyond) there are unhelpful rules from teachers relating to number of paragraphs, minimum lines per paragraph, and number of quotes per paragraph. Page length, word count, and more fit under this heading as well. Too many times I've seen students try to say the same thing in a different way in order to puff up their writing to hit a word count. It's easier to just think some more about the subject matter!
2. Trying to sound academic (or something).
Many a time I'll talk to a student and ask their opinion about some topic or relevant subject. They'll explain themselves clearly and concisely, and sometimes even with some with and humor. Then, when it's time to write, they start saying things like: "This subject is truly fascinating, as I believe that it is truly relevant for children in our society to become educated about many of these diverse and sundry topics"....
For many (most?) high school students, compulsory writing evokes frightful visions of blue essay pamphlets, red editorial comments, and a taunting landscape of white paper refusing to be occupied. The battle between disinterest in the topic and angst towards a looming deadline is matched only by the uncertainty of having anything worth saying, fear of having the ability to say it well, or both.
Some students choose to bide their time, sure that when they leave their high school (and college) self behind they will likewise leave behind ever having to do a compulsory writing assignment again, but we live in a time, an age, and a culture that is dominated by social media, and social media is dominated by posting, blogging, emailing, texting, tweeting, retweeting… in other words, words. That means that regardless what your plans for the future are, you are going to have to write, and if you are going to have to do it anyway you might as well choose to make friends with the...
Most writing geeks are not fans of adverbs, and I'm no exception. If you believe you're a good writer who has mastered the basics (maybe you've received good comments from your teachers, professors, or peers), consider eliminating as many adverbs as you can from your writing and replacing them with good, strong verbs.
An example: She walked slowly into the classroom.
That's correct usage, but this is a post about writing, not grammar. And from a writing standpoint, that sentence is boring and not very informative. Is she walking slowly because she's, well, a slow walker? Or is she sad? Infirm? Afraid? A strong verb can give the reader a lot more information about what's going on.
She trudged into the classroom. (Here, I think she's sad; maybe she's bummed that she forgot her homework.)
She drifted into the classroom. (I think she's daydreaming about something. Maybe her boyfriend is out in the hall.)
She staggered into the...
I believe that learning by mistakes is the only way, and learning involves a certain amount of risk-taking because it involves the ego, and the ego does not want to fail. National Teacher of the Year 1989 Mary V. Bicouvaris says she would "hope that all American children will be given the opportunity to become literate in their own culture and at the same time develop an international perspective that will enable them to work, lead, and thrive in a global community," and her hope rings true in our current day and age. Students react positively when they learn by mistakes, and I have witnessed a struggling student become confident simple because of hearing positive word when they needed it most. It is always important to remember that students are not experts in the area they are learning about, and that event when I try something new I make mistakes too. For this reason making mistakes is OK because it comes with the territory of being a novice. The only mistake would be...
A lot of people simply don't enjoy writing--and they do their best to take any shortcuts they can find to make the process shorter. One shortcut is avoiding outlines. Outlines can seem like just another cumbersome step. Why not just get the words on the paper and get the thing done?
But outlines serve at least two purposes: generating ideas and organizing the content. Many writers experience some form of writer's block. That empty page is intimidating, the clock is ticking, and the brain...freezes.
Outlining can help unblock things. It's easier to write down a few main ideas and some supporting facts than it is to come up with complete sentences and paragraphs, after all. Start with the introductory paragraph and write at least a fragment with the main idea. For beginning writers, it may help to highlight this to remember that the whole paper should support this focus.
Generate a few more ideas related to the topic. These might be...
From August 2009 to August 2012 I worked as a writing tutor at Northern Illinois University's Writing Center. I sometimes had appointments with students who had trouble starting their essays. After asking them about their writing habits and how they work best, I learned that many students made the mistake of sitting behind the computer for too long without writing anything or deleting everything they wrote. The deleting cycle is just that, a cycle, because if you think that everything you write is not good enough, you will never have anything written. I suggest getting up and doing something else for 20 minutes or so, and then taking out a piece of paper and jotting down ideas, not necessarily in perfectly formed sentences. Perhaps it helps to make a bullet point list or write down a broad topic at the top of the paper and then narrow down the topic as you work your way down toward the bottom of the page. Sometimes it helps to organize your work...