Friday, July 13, 2007

Fiction Writing: Keep a journal, but not the kind you kept when you were 12

Keeping a journal is one of the best ways to come up with new things to write about. It lets you observe the things around you and gives you the opportunity to write things down if they pop into your head at random moments.

Now when I say journal, I don’t mean the kind of journal where you write mundane observations about your day and how cute Timmy looked in his football uniform at the game last weekend. Save that for your livejournal. You will be adding things about your personal life, but the main focus of keeping this journal is to get your creative juices flowing. This writing journal is also a place to keep your private thoughts, but you want to keep in mind that everything that you write down will somehow help your writing.

Write in it whenever you can! The old idea that “the more that you do something, the better you get at it” actually works. Do you think that someone can just start typing out the Great American Novel without any practice or any ideas? That just isn’t the case and it never will be.

I prefer to use a small writer’s journal. It has about 50 lined pages that you can fill with whatever thoughts might pour out of your head. They have them at Barnes & Noble near the calendar and planner section. They should cost you about $5. Trust me, it’s money well spent.

There are a few ways that you can use your journal. Each different technique has its own advantages. Listed below are the two that I have used, you can use your own. Try out a few different things and figure out what is going to work for you best.

- Describe EVERYTHING - This is similar as to what I discussed in yesterday’s entry. Don’t leave any detail out. Not only can you use these ideas in your future writing, but it is good practice in showing your reader what you are talking about rather than simply telling them.

- Write brief snippets of things you see or hear that catch your eye – This is the technique that I use as my journal is smaller and I don’t have that much time to write detailed entries about my day. I carry my journal in my pocket with me everywhere I go (be careful not to run it through the wash. I’ve done that before).

If I overhear someone saying something interesting, I’ll write it down.

If I see someone with a unique character trait, I’ll write down their description.

If I see something on the news that sounds interesting, I’ll write down the story.

If I come across awesome scenery, I’ll describe it.

It might even be more advantageous to you to write in your journal like this because you’ll have simple ideas that you will be able to elaborate more creatively with later on. Sometimes all you need is a swift kick in the butt to get things rolling and something like a simple character or scenery idea can lead to an onslaught of other thoughts.

Thus, journal writing is a fun way to keep track of your thoughts and come up with unique ideas to write about. You’ll be surprised at what you’ll come up with!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Show and Tell: How Writing College Essays Is Similar to Kindergarten

In Kindergarten, you would bring in your pet turtle to show the class. You would describe where you found the turtle and what its name was. You would describe the markings on its back, what it eats, how long you’ve had it, and what it does all day. You would describe every detail of your turtle because you were proud to be showing it off to all of your snot-nosed classmates. Why wouldn’t you do the same with your writing now?

I’ve read a ton of papers that have little or no detail. I’d say about 75% of the papers that I read would be much better if the student showed me what they were talking about rather than simply telling me. Leaving me with vague details is like going to the Grand Canyon with a blindfold over my eyes. You can tell me that it’s a “big hole in the ground”, but unless you show me, I won’t be able to fully grasp what it is. I need more details than that and so does your reader.

For example, I was going over an essay with a student the other day where she mentioned three times that she was once a “rebellious teenager”, but not once did she show me why she was rebellious. It didn’t leave me satiated and I was confused as to what she meant. Did she not want to do her homework? Did she run away from home? Was she in a gang? Did she smoke cigarettes in the girl’s room? Her essay was very compelling, but she just “told” me without “showing” me.

You can’t expect your reader to get the full picture without drawing the picture in their head first. Try to clue your reader into what you’re saying by showing them as much detail as possible rather than just telling them something vague and unclear.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

How to fail out of college by buying papers online

In this article, I will teach you how to fail out of college. Wait...what?

Just about everyone who writes an academic paper in college Googles their topic before they begin and just about everyone is bombarded with websites that claim to be able to sell them an A paper. There are even websites that will you give free research papers. So what’s the catch?

If you didn’t know, this is probably the dumbest thing that you could ever do. Only fall for this scam if you want to fail your courses and fail out of school. Your professors aren’t morons. They know what your writing is like and can tell when something doesn’t seem right. There are ways for them to search the internet to see where you got the paper from.

The easiest way for a professor to find a paper that you stole is to find it the same way that you did. A simple Google search will bring up the same results. Even typing in the first few words of a plagiarized paper can lead them directly to the source. Your old wrinkly professors know how to Google something as well, so don’t think that you can play the “they’re too old to catch me” card.

There are even more technologically advanced ways for a professor to catch you stealing a paper online, borrowing one from a friend, or blatantly trying to pass off someone else’s idea as your own. Most professors that know how will submit your papers to searches both the internet and previously submitted papers to find out if a student has plagiarized. There have been some issues in recent years over how accurate the search is, but it is still a good way for a professor to tell if you are cheating.

The bottom line is don’t cheat! Chances are you will get caught. It isn’t worth tarnishing your academic integrity for one stupid paper. Writing these papers is meant to help you become a better writer, not to put an unnecessary burden on you. If you find that you are pressed for time and don’t have enough hours in the day to write an essay, don’t be tempted to cheat. Work on managing your time a little better and you shouldn’t have any problems finding time to get all of your work done.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

How to Write a Thesis: What is a Thesis Anyway?

I had a student ask me what a thesis was the other day. I was actually in shock, but she insisted that this was the first time that she was ever required to write a thesis. She had told me that she didn't think that she had written one before and I assured her that she had.

It really is impossible to get this far in academia without writing a paper on a specific topic.

I asked her to give me an example of any paper that she had written in high school and she told me about a short research paper that she had written on The Grapes of Wrath. I asked her what the main point of her essay was and she told me. That was her thesis.

In the simplest terms, a thesis is the topical argument that you are presenting in your paper. It's as simple as that. However, wording your thesis is the tricky part. When writing a thesis for an academic paper, try to be as specific as possible without going into too much detail. Your body paragraphs will provide your reader with the evidence to back-up your claim.

Your thesis should include the following:
  • It should be something that can be argued, not just a restatement of facts. You are trying to present an idea, not regurgitate information.
  • Remember that your thesis is always tentative while in the process of writing your paper. You can always go back and change it. I've had countless students come to me for tutoring and tell me that they were thinking about rewriting everything because they strayed from their thesis statement! What a waste of time! Go back and change your thesis so that it caters to the evidence that you have provided in your body paragraphs! I won't tell anyone, I swear.
  • It should not be vague. As I said before, make sure that it is straight forward. Your reader should know right from the start what your paper is going to be about.
  • Your thesis should be relative to the page length. Don't tackle a large subject that you won't be able to cover in two pages. Your reader won't be satiated and is going to wonder what you were thinking

    Coming up with an interesting topic to write about is the first step in writing an excellent paper. Follow these steps and you should be on your way to filling up those blank Word pages.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Get Cheap College Textbooks

College isn't cheap. You'd think that after all of the money you were paying, your textbooks would be included. Think again. I've racked up an average of $400 a semester on textbooks through my college career, even though a good majority of them have never been opened.

I think that it's a well-known fact that your college bookstore is ripping you off. You can sometimes pay over $100 for a textbook at the beginning of the semester and receive $10 when you go to sell it back to them after finals. Something isn't right there.

There are a few different ways that you can get your hands on cheaper textbooks. You'll be able to save yourself a few hundred bucks by the time you graduate:

  1. Buy your textbooks on - If you haven't done this yet, give it a shot. I've saved up to 50% and more on used textbooks through You can even sell your textbooks here once you're finished with them and make much more than your college bookstore is willing to give you. If you have an Ebay account, you can easily sign up as it's all the same company. Rating systems are the same as Ebay too so you can sift through the sellers who might potentially rip you off. Facebook also has a marketplace that you might want to try, but I have never used it and I don't know anyone else who has.

  2. Trade textbooks with people who have taken the class - Yes, it sounds silly, but I have traded textbooks with people so I didn't have to buy them. This is particularly useful if you have a good amount of friends in your major.

  3. Don't buy the textbook - No, I'm not telling you to skip the work that is to be done in the class. What you might want to do is ask someone who has taken the class before if the textbook is an essential part of the class. I've wasted money in the past by buying a book that was wrapped in plastic and unwrapped it for the class, only to realize that I didn't need it (my bookstore wouldn't take any returns on books that were opened after being shrink wrapped).

  4. If you have to buy from the bookstore, always try to buy used- This is kind of self-explanatory. It can still be expensive, but at least you can save a little.

  5. Ask mom and dad for money - Why not? Some people like new, shiny books.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Writer's Block Help: The Art of Freewriting

Happy 4th of July from Professor Write!

Writing creatively can be a real pain. Even the best writers have trouble coming up with new and original material that's going to captivate the reader and make for a good story. How can you get passed that block?


Freewriting is the practice of just writing nonsense and seeing what comes out. It doesn't matter what you write or if your punctuation and grammar is wrong, just as long as you write. In fact, don't go back and correct anything. The whole key to this exercise is that you're getting words down on paper. The more you write and express your ideas, the better writer you become.

Let me give it a shot. Check out this example:

I really don't have much to write about today. I'm going to a party this afternoon. It shoudl be fun. Brain fart Brain fart. Um. I don't know actuaully if it's going to be fun. There's going t be like 6 people there. I I guess it's not really a party. Fireworks. Fireworks always are fun. Whatever. pause pause pause pause. Still writing. My mom thinks my dog is dying but she looks ok to me. She's going to be 15, but she's in good shape. Good shape besides her diabetes. I wondeer if Paris Hilton actaully changed since she got out of jail. She looks like Martha Stewart without maekup.

Okay. So none of that makes much sense, but at least I wrote something . I didn't even spell check or check my grammar. However, hidden in there are a few gems that I can use to get started on writing something more cogent. For example, I could make the setting something from a 4th of July party. It could have something to do with a friend blowing his hand off with a firecracker (I don't know, maybe). See? There's a few ideas floating around in there.

Freewriting is actually kind of entertaining. Just let it out. Write anything and you'll be able to come up with a creative idea. Do it often.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Rejected! How to deal with rejection when trying to get your work published

Rejection is a part of life. I'm sure you've heard that one before. Rather than spew out a bunch of outplayed cliches, I'm actually going to show you can use rejection to your advantage when it comes to getting your writing published.

About 4 months ago I decided that I wanted to try and get some of my short stories published in a real literary magazine. I had been published in different things on campus in undergrad, but I wanted something better to put on my resume. I found at least 10 different reputable literary magazines and sent my work with an in-depth CV with details about my writing and experience.

It took a while (4 months) for anyone to get back to me. In fact, I only heard back from one magazine. This is the email that I received a few weeks ago:

"I think the thing that first comes to mind is you have a good sense of language,which is cool and good dialogue here. Yet, what is missing is tension or the punch of the story. Right now it seems too simple, too patient of a story and it snakes around to the story with too much time. Here's some advice -- think about the person who is reading stories (and I saw you've been published places which is great so you've had success) but we read dozens of stories every day. We're impatient for the story to begin. The short story is a war so cut out everything that doesn't truly focus on the central theme of the story and write from there.You've obviously got talent, so I'm being a bit more honest than I usually am in the hope that you'll resubmit and do something with this piece".
That wasn't so bad, was it? I wasn't told that I was a crappy writer. In fact, whoever wrote this liked my style. I was given some positive feedback and was told to resubmit, which I plan on doing. Even if it is some generic message that they send out to everyone, it still made me feel good and gave me the motivation to work harder when I attempt to resubmit.

So what is today's lesson? Take rejection in stride, even if it's not with your writing. Learn from your mistakes and move on to bigger and better things. Good luck!

Saturday, June 30, 2007

How traveling this summer can make you a better fiction writer

If you're lucky enough to be traveling this summer (I'm not!), you can use your travels as an easy fix for writer's block.

If you're having trouble coming up with original scenery for your fiction, use the summer traveling season to your advantage. Bring a notebook with you and describe the things you see down to the minute details. You'll be surprised about how much detail you notice about an unfamiliar place.

Maybe you can also write something that makes me feel like I actually went somewhere this summer!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Cormac McCarthy's The Road

Just a quick note before I get started. Yes, this book was featured on Oprah's Book Club. No, I didn't hear about it from Oprah. No, I don't watch Oprah.....

OK. Maybe sometimes.

I actually heard about Cormac McCarthy's The Road from my Creative Writing professor. Whenever he discussed rich detail in creative writing, he always brought up this book. I jotted down the name and waited for it to come out on paperback because I really don't like reading books on hardcover for some reason.

It' a super quick read. In fact, I sat down and read it within a few hours. It's a quick paced story about a father and his son traveling down an ominous road in an apocalyptic world, surrounded by dark shades of death, thieves, and cannibals. Yikes. There are so many themes that you can pull out of that one description, which gives you some idea of the depth of the story.

There's some pretty gruesome stuff in here.

McCarthy has such a fantastic and original writing style. His creative and inspiring prose will keep you turning the pages and I can almost guarantee that you'll finish this book in a sitting or two. He writes in short, succinct sentences. However, these sentences are packed with rich detail. It's as father and son's survival depends on you reading more, which is a pretty nifty literary tool from a writing perspective. McCarthy has been compared to Hemingway by many critics. You should most definitely see that comparison in the end (hint hint).

Anyway, don't just take my (and Oprah's) word for it. Check it out already! It's fairly cheap on and is a pretty decent beach read. Click the picture below to pick it up:

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Party Hard or Party Hardly

So you finally finished High School. You took the SAT, worked your butt off for 4 years (or maybe 3 1/2), toured colleges, and listened to your parents talk some nonsense about college loans. You filled out countless applications and checked the mail everyday for an acceptance letter. You finally got that acceptance letter and you're going to the college of your dreams (or the college that's giving you the most scholarship money). You brag to your friends. Your parents brag to their coworkers. Your grandmother brags to her bridge partners. You're going to college!

That's it, right? Well, not exactly.

What's next?

For starters, college is not High School Part II. You're no longer a Senior and standing high and mighty on top of the totem pole. As a matter of fact, there isn't much of a hierarchy in college, at least in my experience. The best advice that I can give you as a new college student is to think of your education in a different light. Don't think of it as a purely social event. Sure, you'll have plenty of fun, but mom and dad won't be too happy when they see your report card and neither will any future employers when they're reading through your resume. College is a different experience that involves a good deal of responsibility and diligence if you want to do well. Your parents aren't there to wake you up in the morning and no one is breathing down your neck to do your homework. If you don't do either of those, you'll simply fail.

There are two different ways that some people view college. There are those who "Party Hard" and those who "Party Hardly". Those who choose to Party Hard put their social lives before their school work and those who Hardly Party sit in their rooms playing World of Warcraft until their eyeballs bleed.

Pick the happy medium. Have your fun, but put your studies first. If you have a paper due, get that paper done before you go out with your friends. Don't drink excessively. I know, you're in college and I sound like your parents, but it really does more harm than good. Too many new college students mess up their first semester because they go out drinking every night. Trust me, it's hard to make up ground on a bad GPA.

Speaking of friends--make them. College is a great opportunity to meet new people, especially in the beginning. Join clubs, play sports, talk to people in class. You won't regret it. You're all in a new place and everyone is looking for new friends. Don't be shy!

Since we're all writers (hopefully that's the reason why you've discovered this blog), I'll be offering some summer writing and reading tips for those of you who want to brush up on your skills before the Fall semester in the coming weeks. See you next time!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

What the heck is this blog about?

Good question. Let's get to that, shall we?

I recently graduated college with a degree in English. I'm currently en route towards getting my master's in English with a concentration in writing. This guy must be a real snore right? Well, maybe. Give me a chance.

In between reading and writing for my own classes and for pleasure, I'm going to be teaching incoming freshman the art of writing. I've tutored students in writing for the past few years and I've noticed that a good majority of them don't know how to write on a college level. Even the ones that do know how to don't necessarily enjoy it. That's where I come in. I want to change that.

In this blog, I'm going to help you hone your writing skills and help you enjoy yourself in college. I'm going to help you write creatively. I'm going to help you avoid common mistakes that students make. I'm going to help you find books, poetry, and short stories that aren't going to put you to sleep. I'm still young and I know what you like. I want you to share the same passion for the pen and paper that I have.

But wait! There's more! I'm also going to discuss the writer's life outside of writing. Occasionally I'll give you a hand with college life in general because no one helped me out when I was in your shoes. A good diversion from writing keeps us all a little sane.

Keep your eyes peeled for my first series that deals with freshman beginning their collegiate journey. I'll be discussing what to expect, how to prepare, and maybe make a few reading suggestions to stop your brain from rotting away over the next 2 months. Enjoy!