Comparing Your Writing Process: Helpful or Harmful?

Every student devotes some portion of his or her semester to writing. Even those who studiously avoid writing-based classes will eventually find themselves hunched over their laptops drafting up lab reports, cover letters, grant proposals or moodle responses. We’re lucky: living in a community of writers provides us with innumerable opportunities to learn from our peers and improve our own writing. Yet when you do share ideas and strategies with your friends, keep in mind how what starts as mutually beneficial dialogue can quickly lapse into a destructive form of competition.

Case in point: the class that both you and your roommate are enrolled in has a paper due Friday. Your roommate has an exam in another class on Thursday and so is planning on outlining her paper earlier in the week and churning out the entire thing Thursday evening. You have a relatively light week ahead, but you decide to also wait until Thursday night to write your paper: hey, you can both stay up late writing together! Your roommate has a writing style conducive to completing assignments the night before they are due: she works slowly and edits as she goes so that by the time she is finished, her draft is fairly well polished and doesn’t require a lot of editing. You, on the other hand, often have trouble translating your ideas into writing: your first draft tends to be a bit jumbled and in need of serious revision. So while your roommate is able to finish writing and head to bed with a solid draft, you turn in for the night without making time for that crucial revision process and, consequently, wind up with a lackluster paper.

To give another example: say your friend receives a considerably higher grade than you do on an assignment. You congratulate him and, curious, prod him for tips. He explains what he suspects to be the secret behind his grade – “oh, I took a stance I knew the Professor would agree with,” or “oh, I made sure to use quotations from every reading.” You file this information away and try to employ the same tactics when the next paper comes around. Only, maybe you don’t agree with the Professor on this topic. Maybe not all of the readings are relevant to the argument you are hoping to advance. If you get too caught up in what your friend has done or is doing, you might miss out on the chance to write your paper, one that you feel confident in.

It can certainly be a rousing and instructive experience to write in the company of others. Jealously watching your friend edit their second draft while you are still slogging through your first can do wonders for your motivation. Just remember: we all approach writing differently. What works for your friends might not work for you. Don’t seek to duplicate your friends’ processes. Rather, learn from them, take their advice, and incorporate those of their tactics that appeal to you into your own personal writing style.

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