A Magazine for the George Mason University Community

Top 5: Tips for Getting Words on Paper

By Mason Spirit contributor on April 8, 2014


Don Gallehr

Don Gallehr

All of us have to write, whether it is to fulfill assignments, send memos and create proposals on the job, or even follow our passion for writing by writing memoirs, fiction, or even poetry. While each of us has our own writing process, we sometimes do things that don’t work. Here are a few tips from George Mason University English professor Don Gallehr to make it easier for you to write and eventually to write well.

1. Plan ahead.

Waiting until the last minute robs you of all kinds of opportunities to write well. You need to set deadlines, including deadlines for selecting a topic, writing a draft, sharing it with your writing buddy, doing your research, revising, editing, and submitting it on time. Use your day planner to list each of these deadlines and cross them off as you finish them. If possible, start by jotting down ideas on your topic that immediately come to mind, then after a while come back to it and free-write your first draft, keeping your judgmental self at bay. Follow this by sharing your early draft with a partner or a response group, then revise to eventually meet the needs of your intended audience.

2. Get a writing buddy.

Ask someone to help you when you need it—someone who will ask if you’ve met your deadlines, someone who will read your draft aloud to you, someone who will give you honest suggestions for revision, as well as point out things that need editing. Make sure your writing buddy doesn’t do your writing for you, but helps you become a better writer.

3. Do your research.

In the digital age, your readers expect you to include the latest, most-engaging, up-to-date information, and you can do that by using the Internet, interviewing experts in the field, and, whenever possible, conducting your own research.

4. Relax.

Give yourself a chance to get some distance from your first draft so that you can see the larger picture. If possible, meditate for 20 minutes, and you’ll find yourself gaining a unique perspective on your topic that will cause your readers to say, “Wow! I never thought of that.”

5. Read aloud and listen.

Read your last draft as if you were your intended audience, and ask yourself, “What will she think?” If you hear your reader asking for more information, see if you can add it. If you hear your reader yawning while reading the opening paragraph, revise it to make it more engaging. Do whatever is necessary to keep her attention from beginning to end.

Gallehr teaches advanced nonfiction writing, the teaching of writing, composition, and theories of composition. He is director emeritus of the Northern Virginia Writing Project and the recipient of a Teaching Excellence Award and the David J. King Award. He has worked at Mason for more than 46 years.

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