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Monday, November 10, 2014

11 Secrets To Making Your Essays Unbelievably Awesome

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Any class that requires essay writing can be a massive time investment for the average student. Considering this blog is all about reducing time investment while increasing grades, this is a subject that's essential to understand. With many classes, essay writing is pretty much the only form of studying required. (Yes. I'd argue essay writing is just another form of studying.)

Early in my high school years I struggled at essay writing. I struggled, not because I was a bad writer, in fact, I got great grades (not that I think that should be the only criteria,) I struggled because a single page essay could take me a whole night to write. I had to invest a ridiculous amount of time to produce a quality essay.

Eventually it hit me. Of all that time it took to write a good essay, less than a quarter of it was actually used for writing the essay content. Most of that time was me staring at the page thinking about how hopeless this essay was. I could barely think of the next word I had to write. A simple full-page would end up draining me of all the energy I had.

After a short period of giving up on trying hard for essays, eventually I started to learn some of the basic formulas to creating a great essay without all the writers block and preparation.

Using these 11 strategies will change the way you write. If you're following them closely enough they can increase your grades dramatically while you work less than ever.

(While basic mechanics of writing are essential, they're barely mentioned in these tips. If you genuinely don't have the basics down then these tips will help but only as much as you can follow the basic mechanics of writing. )

1. Unforgettable

Don't try to look for a great idea to write about.

Instead look for something unforgettable to write about. It doesn't matter if it seems a little like a stupid idea. (The better a writer you are, the more stupid an idea you can get away with while still scoring high. )

Unforgettable is key. The average teacher does not want to give a great score to a student with a boring essay. They're human beings too. If they find themselves thinking deeply about your essay then you're winning. You've just made your essay stand out above 90% of the essays in the class.

2. Enjoy Writing. (Enjoy Reading It.)

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I know. This title alone sounds a little irritating but stick with me for a moment.

Is there anything you actually enjoy writing? If not, is there anything you actually enjoy reading? If you deliver a strong no to both these statements then this tip won't help but for the rest of you, it can blow your mind.

Forget about writing what the teacher wants you to write. That is a never ending road to writers block. Instead write it in a way that you enjoy writing or reading. You can always adjust it to fit the teachers needs later (or screw the teacher's desires and enjoy your good essay.)

If you enjoy writing something or you enjoy reading it, you've written something worth writing.

The average student gets caught up writing something they hate. Then, of course, when they review what they wrote, they still hate it. That kills their ability to write in the first place. Just write what you love from the start and you'll have a much better paper to work with in the future.

3. Start With A Hook In Mind

While I recommend having a general outline before you start writing, I've regularly started without one and created good papers. There is one thing that you absolutely should not start writing without: a hook. (Don't be too picky about how good it is.)

A hook is something that makes the reader feel the compulsive need to read on. It's kind of like a cliffhanger at the end of a television show. Even if you hate the television show with the cliffhanger, you still end up curious of what's going to happen. Of course, in your essays you're not going to want to leave the ending out (unless you planned some interesting metaphor or something.)

There are a ton of ways to write a hook. One of the quickest ways to make a hook is to say something that sounds absurd and attempt prove it. Depending on the kind of essay you need to write, you will need to adjust this accordingly.

4. Fast Is Natural

Many students struggle to write because they write too damn slow.

It's a really simple problem that plagues hordes of people. The slower you write, the more time you spend reviewing what you're writing. As you review what you wrote or are planning to write, you're trying to work out the details when you don't even have the basic plan finished. Write first. Review after.

Constant reviewing ends up with most students creating boring articles that have absolutely no natural flow to them.

Write faster. Type as fast as you can possibly type. Accept that you're going to have to change it later. That's going to leave your essay sounding more natural. It's also going to be written in much less time.

One final bonus: it gives you a strong incentive to review your work later (after you know the whole plan of the paper.)

5. Pimp My Essay (Thesaurus)

This is a tip that you've probably heard before but there are a few important notes that are rarely mentioned.

When you're writing your essay on a computer, within seconds you can check a thesaurus for a better word using your word processor. While you're reviewing your essay, use that thesaurus to find better word choices. Every time you find a word that you think can be improved on, use the thesaurus.

That being said, never replace a word in your paper with a word in the thesaurus without being 100% sure it's the better word. If you're not super careful then your essay may end up looking like a verbose quantity of excrement.

6. Check The Grammar (And The Obvious)

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You aren't a good writer until you use good grammar. No, you don't have to be writing perfect grammar (this is particularly true if you get to write a blog,) but you need to make sure your grammar isn't interrupting the average person's ability to read your work.

In most cases, this can best be done getting a third party to review your work before submitting it.

Of course, don't forget spelling. One spelling mistake isn't so bad but it can really ruin the flow of an otherwise perfect piece of writing.

7. Read It!

Seriously! This is obvious but few students actually do it. I know when you finish writing you're usually stressed and couldn't care less. If you followed these strategies then that shouldn't be happening. You should be ready to read your article after you write it. If you don't, you're passing up on some of the easiest points you have.

8. Borderline Bad

Trust where your writing takes you.

If you're writing an essay and you realize you're saying something that can be interpreted badly (or sounds bad,) that doesn't necessarily mean you should stop. If you're staying on topic and writing well, you can write controversial stuff and still get a great grade. That being said, I wouldn't recommend going too far down into the societal hate category but don't be afraid of getting on the border of inappropriate.

Some of your highest grades may come from some of the most controversial stuff you write. (It actually helps in the unforgettable aspect.)

9. Start From Scratch

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With this strategy, occasionally, you're going to write a crappy essay. That's alright.

Don't waste your life polishing a turd. If you think an essay you wrote is hopeless and you have the time to write a new one then write a new one. It's worth it.

This might sound crazy but it's essential to the strategy. Once I started implementing just a few of these strategies into my essay writing, I was able to write better essays in less than a quarter of the time I previously invested. That being said, occasionally, I would write crap and need to spend another quarter of the time to get a new essay.

If you're not willing to trash your crap then you're not utilizing this strategy as efficiently as you could.

Heck, usually your second essay goes much smoother because you're all warmed up.

10. Purpose

No matter what you're writing, always have a purpose.

With most non-fiction essays, it's easy to have a purpose. You propose a thesis and you provide the evidence.

Anecdotal essays are where most students forget to add in a purpose. If you're telling a story then know what point you're trying to emphasize and use the space you have to emphasize it. It can be very difficult in practice.

If you write a story about a family repeatedly screwing over a child in different ways, you can try to prove the point, “family isn't all it's cracked up to be.” (Of course, don't say it that obviously though.) You can emphasize that point by repeatedly having the characters discuss how wonderful family is (all while family is causing one person to suffer.)

Take note of the slightly controversial tone of that story. That helps hit a number of these strategies.

11. Make It Yours

Fundamentally, forget about writing for your teacher. It's just going to drive you nuts.

Write as if this is an essay you want to write for you. The more you focus on pleasing someone else, the more you're going to run in circles trying to figure out how to please them. Guess what? You aren't your teacher. No matter how hard you try, you're not going to be able to please them completely. For all you know, the teacher will wildly disagree with anything you write.

The only choice you have is to write something that you can derive pleasure from. While you should try to fit the basic assignment criteria, don't be afraid to push it closer to something you care about. Perhaps that can lose you a few points but it can improve the writing so significantly that those couple points will mean nothing.

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