This year has been pretty up and down study-wise. I’ve had some good bursts but on the whole have generally lost momentum! Anyway, here are some things I learnt or remembered, at least things that have changed the way I write my essays this year that I wasn’t doing much of/well last year:
1) Blurt, even if it’s crap. This is probably a pretty standard tip but because I’m such a perfectionist it’s so hard for me to commit to this! I don’t want to write crap so I won’t write at all. Then after the half hour I’ve taken to produce a paragraph I get annoyed at its loose-wordedness and delete the poor guy. I’ve found it better to focus on blurting content and any thought I have, then going back to it later to touch it up.
2) Highlight shameful bits that you have no idea how to fix at the moment. If you can’t transcend the awkward gait of your grammar or spectacularly underwhelming critique, make an angry yellow note of it with the highlighter function. You might be able to ignore its monochrome glare for long enough to work on more fruitful pursuits and return to it when your mind is fresh enough to lay the sucker down.
3) Have synonyms, on hand! Sometimes starting three sentences in a row with “Moreover,” doesn’t must the custard. Organise your adverbs and other commonly used words into groups of synonyms so when your audience is expecting another “but,” surprise them with a “yet”! Moreover, the thesaurus is helpful.
4) Balance initial adverbs with abrupter beginnings. Sometimes when proofreading I realise I’ve gotten too excited about adverbs again and prefixed every sentence with one. “Similary, … Conversely, … However, … Nonetheless, … Thus, …” Then on my next day’s writing I go to the opposite extreme. When rereading it feels like I’m being pommeled with all these self-asserting thoughts that don’t want to hold hands. Find a nice medium. Make sure all of the sentences in the paragraph flow logically, but come up with creative ways to imply adverbs where you’re overdoing it. Use shorter sentences, and semi-colons and colons.
5) Check your diction in the dictionary. Don’t use the word that almost communicates what you want to say. Before you make the ultimate faux pax, check that word you subconsciously appropriated from your bedtime sports nutrition reading and make sure it delivers as your brain advertises that it does!
6) Note your conventions and stick to them. Sometimes you need to make an executive decision. Style guide will betray style guide and some will just leave you with omissions. The world is yours, oyster. You might want to capitalise Facebook as a noun but lower-case it as a verb. Just make sure you’re consistent so if someone pulls you up on it you can point out your intentions.
7) Save every jot and tittle of notes and drafts. Hey so it’s supercool to continually save and back up your main work for safety reasons but I’ve found it helpful to also meticulously save copies of notes and drafts this year, rather than just flattening them into my single edition continuous thingy. That means that if I quote some person and think I do so clearly and contextually but then realise three weeks later I have no idea what they’re talking about or why I included them I can return to my notes and (hopefully) add some clarificaton.
8) Use Google Books and Amazon previews. Many a time my notes have also failed me. Sometimes you just need to return ad fontes, to the source. But when it’s in a library three working days away Google Books and Amazon previews can help you in your time of need. You can’t always preview everything but it’s often worth a try, and the search functions are also helpful for finding key passages in your texts.
9) Be succinct but clear. Often after giving my work a bit of a buzzcut to take down those nasty split-ending word counts, I’m a little uneven. I forget to take the hairs off the neck and leave the rest patchy. Leave it for a couple of days and come back to make sure that your thoughts still connect and flow logically are taking removing all that apparent extraneity.
10) Be spontaneously diligent. It’s easy to not do work when you’re supposed to and also it’s important to take holidays. But when you’re not on holiday keep that laptop or refill on hand so you can work in the unlikeliest places. A fifteen minute bus ride home can actually be the new cradle of civilisation.