UNDERGRADUATE ADMISSIONS at WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY in ST. LOUIS

Writing: a Love-Hate Story

It was the seventh time I was revising this one-page paper. I paused, feeling an unexpected rush of happiness. I’d been working on this same 400-word piece all day, and yet, for some reason, I didn’t want to stop. It was barely a page long, but contained a book’s worth of discussion. Each time I went back to it, I was able to make it better. Replacing a simile with a more vivid one. Restructuring a sentence to make it flow more smoothly. Cutting an irrelevant phrase. Clarifying a point. The ability to constantly improve my essay was intoxicating and empowering; I sometimes wonder what would happen if I just continued revising forever.

Right now, I’m enrolled in my fifth college writing class, though if you consider the fact that many of my classes require essays, the number would be much higher. It has taken me a while to get to this point, but I believe I’ve finally tasted the addictive magic of the writing process. I’ve seen the light at the end of the tunnel. I used to loathe revisions. Comments by teachers were attacks on my persona; they simply disagreed with me, and that was fine. Yet sometime around last semester, after the long, painful revision of an essay that was practically bathed in red ink, a voice inside my head hinted that maybe revision wasn’t so bad.

Now I see it. Revision is incredible. Once you’ve got a draft laid out, the stress is off. You’ve hit your page count and laid out your points; you could turn it in and get a passing grade. Time to relax, have fun, and go to work. This is where a paper goes from decent to incredible. On each re-read, you’re a sculptor, shaving off tiny imperfections from the piece until it is as smooth as marble.

Before I get too poetic here, let me get to the bottom line: writing takes a very long time to get “the hang” of and enjoy. Your first draft is usually garbage; so don’t feel bad when you feel like you’re making something terrible; revision will improve it. Don’t think that you’re a bad writer because the first thing you create is almost unreadable. Drafts are supposed to be that way. Try revising it seven times; you’ll be amazed how much better it gets.