CAN I GET BETTER AT WRITING?
This article was written by Sapthaki Mediwela current VCE English and Biology tutor. Sapthaki is currently accepting students, so if you’re interested in her services, you can see her profile here.
When I started tutoring, I was surprised by how many students were still wondering about this at a Year 12 level. I’m sure you’ve been told countless times by your teachers, tutors, friends and family that OF COURSE, you can get better at writing, ‘it just takes practice – as does everything.’ But it’s important to realise that unless you truly want to improve in all areas of study, hearing this answer will not change ANYTHING. Remember your end VCE goal, internalise it, and set out to change your habits.
Here’s what I did all throughout Year 11 and 12 to go from a B to A+ English student in VCE;
You should be starting to read anything and everything that interests you leading up to VCE (granted they’ve been written by proper authors, journalists and other masters of the English language). But if you’ve gotten to Year 12 and just don’t have that sort of time on your hands, then, of course, it should mainly be summaries and guides for your set texts written by credible authors and publishers, and as much medium to high scoring sample essays as you can. There are a TON available online – get searching and start reading.
However, don’t read robotically;
- Read explicitly and between the lines
- Highlight good phrases and words that have been used and WRITE them out in your own book. (Simply reading sample essays didn’t do it for me. Only by writing out certain phrases was I able to later recall and use them in my own writing time.)
In making the transition from reading to actually writing yourself;
- Digest HOW those other writers have used the English language in ways you have yet to and;
- Ensure you have understood the correct way of using a certain expression/phrase first before attempting to weave it into your own writing.
- Practice writing GOOD, succinct sentences first.
What do you want to say? What is the clearest way of saying this? Now, what is the clearest, yet most ENGAGING way that you can get this across? Repeat this line of thinking for every single sentence you pen. This should prevent you from straying off topic, and ensure that every sentence in your piece has a purpose. If a sentence does not explain/assist those immediately before/after it, nor is essential to explaining your overall argument, get rid of it.
- If you’ve mastered clarity in your sentences, you can afford to then start incorporating ‘big’ words/poetic elements into your piece. Again, refer back to sample pieces of writing and ensure you know the correct usage first.
- Move to write small paragraphs under timed conditions.
Pick a different argument/aspect for a particular prompt/language analysis article. Give yourself 1 minute to ‘plan’ the paragraph, 5-10 mins to write, and then some time to correct your own work. Repeat.
You should get to the point of being able to churn out full paragraphs that FLOW, sound great and answer the ‘question/prompt’ under minimal time conditions.
- Get feedback.
I’m a big advocate of self-mastery and being your own best critic. Truthfully, with the number of resources you can find online, and the power of your own creativity, everyone should be able to read their own work and rewrite sentences to sound better. However, it does help to get a second opinion, to point out flaws you might’ve missed yourself. Get a reliable tutor or teacher to provide feedback for your BETTER pieces, once you’ve gone over it yourself.
The biggest thing to note is self-discipline. Without this, it is impossible to stick through a plan like the one above. English is not like maths or science where once you’ve understood a concept, you’re good to go. It is a continual process that requires dedication, a curious mind and an appreciation for the language itself. So try to be open-minded and actually interested in the texts you’re studying, it will make the self-discipline part much easier!
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