Guidelines for Writers

Image from writingforward.com

Image from writingforward.com

Weary of rubrics and prescriptions (that can often place students in the space of “writing what the professor wants”), I am trying more of an aphoristic approach this semester, and here is a draft of statements I shared with students today. We will see what happens!!

Good writers go on long walks, or jogs, or hikes, or bike rides. . . . Thoreau calls it a genius for sauntering. Doing so allows unconscious networks of thought to emerge in consciousness.

Make your readers hungry.

Write within (yet push against) the expectations of genre.

Plant seeds—in the title, in the introduction, in the early unfolding of the essay—and develop them at well-timed moments.

Each word, sentence, paragraph should build toward the final paragraphs of the essay, where something magical can happen.

Awaken your readers. Find what is dormant, and awaken it.

To make your readers hungry, feed them at well-timed moments. Otherwise, they won’t trust you.

Development is close-reading; close-reading is development.

Linking verbs can be powerful. This IS that. However, in most cases, “to be” verbs turn a dynamic exploration into a static noun. Write with simple, strong action-verbs whenever possible (90% of the time).

Titles and epigraphs establish points of entry into the world of meanings the essay explores. Along with the introduction and/or first body paragraphs, they help create a frame for the main event of the essay. They also plant seeds.

The essay’s thesis emerges out of a response to questions. To write is to inquire.

Know where you’re leading your reader. If you don’t, then the essay is really a preliminary draft of ideas.

Essays are fractal. Self-similar patterns exist throughout the levels of sentence, paragraph, section, and essay.

Become conscious of the shifts in the essay, for here one finds the deep hinges of thought that open to something new.

Some essays construct multiple frames as the essay develops. Other essays have one frame, riddled with nuances.

Good writers establish points of entry into a quote as well. Such moments make the reader hungry to actually read the quote.

Four basic ways of quoting exist: indirect quotes,  sprinkled words or phrases, using a colon to set up a sentence or longer phrase, using a colon to set up a long quote of two or more, often indented, sentences. But this is like lattes. Espresso beans, water, milk, and flavor generate innumerable possibilities.

“What’s the point of integrating quotes?”
To make your reader hungry.
“Hungry for what?”
Insight. A breakthrough. An epiphany. Revelation.

Be flawless in the details of the citation style in which you write. Flawless.

After all, text comes from the Latin textus meaning a weaving. Every point of entry opens space for a new thread. Good essays weave insights, sources, close-readings, and breakthroughs into a rich tapestry. Make a frame for the weaving, then weave. Sometimes, a frame may become a thread, and a thread, a frame.

The tapestry’s color emerges in all of its brilliance in the final paragraphs of the essay.

An essay sustains a constant weaving. It is a verb and emanates a verb-ful energy. Weave in such a way as to make your reader hungry.

Even in an objective voice, an essay becomes a story of discovery. Tell a good story.

The art of quoting hinges on kairos, that Greek concept of timing.

The most profound quote—and the most brilliant insight—if ill-timed, matter not. But there is no metronome. You create the timing.

Make decisions based on timing—the timing of insights, quotes, breakthroughs—so that your readers become hungry.

The thesis *sentence*—Ha! The question is not, “Where is the thesis?” but rather, “Where is it not?”

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