by Harriet Castor
“What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure” – so said Samuel Johnson, the famous 18th-century poet, essayist, literary critic, biographer, editor, lexicographer, and all-round brilliant writer.
What can we take from this? Well, I think there’s some good news and some bad news. The bad (let’s get it out of the way first) is that good writing involves work. Graft. Effort. This means taking time to think about the assignment. It means making a plan before we begin writing. It means writing more than one draft. It means being prepared to go over even our second, third (or ninety-sixth) draft with an eagle eye, looking out for ways to improve it. It means being willing to read our writing aloud, to spot places where our sentences have got tangled.
The good news is that we can all do this. We can all put in time and effort at the rewriting stage. We can all improve our writing skills. Crucially, it’s really important not to compare your own first draft with someone else’s finished version (say, in a book) and conclude, “I’m a rubbish writer”. You don’t know how many drafts that writer went through. You don’t know how many times an editor scribbled all over the page with a red pen. Believe me, it was probably a great many! So don’t give up. Think of essay writing as a long-distance race rather than a sprint. Pace yourself… and keep going.
For a confidential one-to-one session with me to work on your writing skills, email Harriet.Castor@uwe.ac.uk.
I’m at Frenchay on Wednesdays and St Matthias on Thursdays.