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GETTING AN “A” ON YOUR SCHOOL PAPERS

STARTING OUT:

Idea Dump— write down everything you know about a subject. Include mind map—anything that comes to you. You’d be surprised. Use images that seem irrelevant, thought, fragments.

Research—instead of just doing a web search or reading the course texts, try outside reading. When I took 19th Century Russian history, I got a huge amount of information from Custine’s diary, Dostoievsky’s novels and Tchaikovsky’s music. Also Russian Jewish history gave me a far darker picture of the Czar’s. This knowledge made my test and research papers far more interesting to write and read. I easily aced the course.

Another technique—Have an imaginary conversation with an expert. This technique which sounds flaky can actually give you access to material that may lie in your unconscious. I find it strikingly helpful. The only way you are find out if this will work with you is to try it. You can find out more about it in two books, “The Einstein Factor” and “A Passion for the Possible.”

FIRST DRAFT

First draft: write as fast as you can. Go for vivid. If you can use nouns and punchy verbs. Just keep writing. I used to use whisky to get free from my own critic. I do not recommend using chemicals to loosen the pen. But the point is—write quickly.

KEEP A JOURNAL

Keep some scratch paper so you can write down all your thoughts while writing the paper. Put down anything angry, confused like “I hate this course and I think this is the worst professor I’ve ever hand” or “I don’t give a damn about this stupid subject. What in hell do I need this for?” That way you separate out your anger from the paper itself. If you don’t, you can sabotage your own work. Do it and you’ll see why most novelists use this technique.

EDITING

Editing— Cross off any adverb. They are almost always useless. Then cut 90% of your adjectives. Ditto. Use about 80% of active sentences—“I watched the parade” instead of “ the parade passed me by.” Vary the length of the sentences and the paragraphs, if you have time.

Read it aloud—it is the only way to find out if you are making sense.

Then, to proofread the paper, don’t just rely on the spell check. I am dyslexia and I can put words that sound like other words in the writing. I can add words that shouldn’t be there and omit words that explain what I am writing. So if you don’t catch everything reading it aloud, proof from the end forwards. Then give it to friend. Ask him/her to catch any errors and tell you what sentences don’t make any sense. Make those changes.

FINISHING UP

If the paper is the way you want it, hand it in. Otherwise, do it over again, starting from the beginning. It doesn’t take long. Dump all your ideas, then write a draft as quickly as you can. You may find a new, striking way to present the material.

Hand it in and celebrate.

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