Why every essay you write matters

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If you’ve arrived from The University Blog — hello and WELCOME! It’s great to have you here alongside regular readers of Joined Up Writing.

Pull up a chair and lean in. The essays that you write at the beginning of your time at University are important. There are big advantages for students that take them seriously. In the first part of this article over on The University Blog I explained how:

#1 You learn to write,

#2 You write to learn, and

#3 You write to access opportunities

There are even more reasons for you to pay attention to those initial essays. But first, grab the free workbook below to get both parts of this article in a handy workbook, plus five Bonus Pro Tips!

Without further ado, here are two more of the best…

#4 You write to improve self-discipline

The Ancient Greeks believed that mythical deities called The Muses provided mere mortals with the inspiration to write. And to a certain extent, this myth seems to have persisted until today. If that’s what you’ve always believed, well, you’re in good company. Once upon a time I believed it too! But I began to realise in the first year of my undergraduate degree that if I sat around waiting until The Muses inspired to write then I’d end up writing nothing at all.

Writing is 1%  inspiration and 99% perspiration; I learned this working in a busy Press Office and series of high profile Corporate Affairs roles. It is possible to turn out 500 words for an urgent Press Release or create a statement for a journalist in five minutes. I know because I did it. No pressure then. Well, to be honest, there was. Tons of it. But that’s another story.

What did writing for a living teach me? That what I, you and ANY other writer need more than inspiration is bum glue. Bum glue? Yep, the ability to stick to your chair without breaking away until the writing job is done.* One of the most important ingredients in becoming a great writer, especially a great academic writer, is sheer discipline and determination.

You might not have a journalist breathing down your collar, but there’s a lot that you can learn from my experience. You CAN write on demand and the first step is to write often. Frequent writing develops your self-discipline so that sitting down to write becomes part of the natural rhythm of your day, instead of an activity you dread because there is a deadline looming.

If you can train yourself to write 100 words every day, then you can train yourself to write 500 words a day. In the same way, a weightlifter doesn’t start out by bench-pressing 200 kilos, if you gradually build your writing muscle a little at a time, then you can do the heavy lifting when you need to. Like when you need to write an essay. Or two or three.

Use those first-year essays to get yourself into the writing habit. You’ll be grateful for the extra strength in subsequent years when the marks from every essay contribute to the classification of your final degree.

Pro tip: Take a tip from prolific novelists and sit down at the same time each day to write. Set a time limit and write as many words as you can. Challenge yourself to write 10% more words each day than the previous day. Then challenge yourself to write for 10% longer each day. Gradually you’ll build up your speed and time.

* Don’t actually stick your bum to the chair to improve your writing discipline. If you miss your essay deadline it might be awkward explaining that to your Student Welfare Officer.

#5 You write to increase confidence

Have you learned to drive a car? If so you might remember how it felt the first time you took the wheel. I certainly do. I couldn’t fathom how I was ever going to get the hang of it.

Steering wheel. Clutch pedal. Gears. Accelerator. Brake.

Oh, and then I had to watch out for road users, road signs and pedestrians that might at any time randomly throw themselves into the road. It seemed like an impossible task. Yep, academic writing can feel like learning to drive.

Thesis. Structure. Theory. Evidence. Transitions. Discussion. Conclusion. References.

All these essentials to master and at the same time you should steer the reader through your argument! Think back to your driving lessons. The instructor didn’t ask you to get in, show you the controls and let you loose on the motorway!

I guess that like me, you learned to drive a little at a time. Your driving instructor divided up the task into lessons, which meant you could master one skill before learning the next one.  You felt like you’d accomplished something. That you were getting better every time. That you WOULD eventually be that person cruising down the road in your very own car.

Like those driving lessons, regular writing builds your confidence. Those first-year essays give you a chance to learn new writing and research skills and put them into practice in a relatively safe environment. And as you receive feedback from your tutors after each essay, it creates a positive feedback loop where you learn, practice, receive feedback and learn more.

That’s why students who put no or little effort into first-year essays miss out. They learn and practice in their second year; a risky strategy which might result in lower marks that pull their final degree mark down. Far better to progress in your first year and have your essay skills nailed as you move into the second year and beyond!

Pro tip: While it’s important to have a goal, and look at how far you need to travel to achieve it, it’s important to also understand how far you have come. In your diary or bullet journal keep a record of the time you spend writing and your word count for the day. It’s motivating to see those numbers going up over time. On Your Best Essay Ever, I take an audit of your writing skills so that as you progress through the modules and lessons you can see how your knowledge and ability has grown.

Remember, you can download both parts of this article together with five EXTRA tips as a bonus. Go ahead - it’s free, it’s fabulous and it’s fo' you!

Now, I’d like you to pledge that from now on you’ll commit to giving each essay you write your best shot. No really, get out your pen…just kidding!

I hope that you’ve enjoyed this insight into why every essay counts. It’s work that must be done at some point and if you study how to write well from the beginning then it will give you a significant boost. I'd love to hear which reason is the most compelling for you.