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Writing 'bootcamp' suggestions?


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I know there's lots of brilliant rhet/comp folks around here so I figured it'd be a good place to ask.

 

I'm kind of a terrible writer. It's shameful for someone preparing to enter a graduate program. I want to really improve my writing by making it clear, concise, and compelling. My main problem is that I get kind of lost in words when I'm staring at a wall of text on screen. Either that or I focus way too much on composing ideas rather than the writing itself.

 

Any suggestions for what I can do this summer to really kick it into high gear? TIA!

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On one of my school visits, someone mentioned a professor who taught a writing bootcamp over the summer. It was an actual class, and everyone had to have a significant writing project completed by the end of the course. Perhaps your graduate program offers something similar?
 
About the "wall of text on screen"--is that computer-only screenshock? I get that as well, but I compensate by highlighting and re-highlighting paragraphs as I read them. I got over the ideas-before-words issue (in fiction writing) by just typing out stream-of-consciousness, even if it devolved into something like:
 
"Their journey took...well, let's say the standard country is like the size of a state--it's going to be like 200 miles across. Now a horse can cover about 25 miles per day, more if they change horses, less if they don't, so we'll go at a pace of 20 miles per day, which means they should get there in 10 days, but we'll slightly inflate that because it's a sedate pace, and they should get there in two weeks."
 
Six pages later, and I liked writing again. Whether this is pedagogically sound advice, though, I have no idea. Sometimes it is freeing to write what you want to write, and then translate into what is appropriate to write.
Edited by empress-marmot
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"Their journey took...well, let's say the standard country is like the size of a state--it's going to be like 200 miles across. Now a horse can cover about 25 miles per day, more if they change horses, less if they don't, so we'll go at a pace of 20 miles per day, which means they should get there in 10 days, but we'll slightly inflate that because it's a sedate pace, and they should get there in two weeks."

 

Haha you're amazing. 

 

Yeah I think it's screen-shock a bit. I try to print out and read it there as much as possible but long papers tend to get much more unwieldy. 

 

Thanks, I'll definitely look at the school I'm entering for a writing intensive summer class!

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You could try Scrivener if staring at long blocks of text is a problem. Or, you could try switching to a paper notebook if staring at the screen is presenting a problem. I find that unplugging and working on paper can force me to either write more sentences or write more clearly.

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Also, if you're struggling with making your writing clear and concise, it's never a bad idea to (re)read Strunk and White. I know some people find them dated but it could make for some good reminders about elementary composition.

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It's hard to give specific advice without seeing your writing. But I can tell you some reading practices I have been doing to help my writing. I've been pushing myself to read slowly. While I read, I write down words that I see the author use that I don't know or do know but want to use more often. I also write down phrases and sentences that I think are particularly well said. Then when I write, and especially when I revise, I look through the list of words and phrases and steal sentence structures and verbs/collections of verbs, test them out in new ways, etc. It makes for slow reading, but it's improving the quality of my prose significantly and I am internalizing new vocabulary and expressions. 

 

Edit for examples. Some expressions include "constant and constantly renewed" from Lukacs or "X activity is relativized/absolutized" or "tensions and contrasts, rhythms and forms," or "becomes aware of its own proper function" from Horkheimer. 

Edited by Wonton Soup
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Try Writing with Style by John Trimble--I find it much more accessible than Strunk and White, and it basically goes into the 'why' of writing techniques. It's the best book on writing I've ever seen.

 

Here is a sample: check out page 8-9: http://facweb.northseattle.edu/cscheuer/Angel/Engl%20101/1%20Trimble%20Thinking%20Well.pdf

 

Also, it can be expensive, but go for a used, earlier edition (I think the later ones are starting to get a bit bloated) and you'll have a cheap and effective writing guide. I got more out of it than I did from any class I took.

Edited by heliogabalus
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