On Writing Well: 3 Tips for Getting the Words Right


Ernest Hemingway, circa 1917

Hemingway: “Getting the words right”

The most important skill for college-bound students to acquire in high school is also the most difficult: WRITING. Not many students will disagree that moving ideas from their heads onto paper (or into pixels) is extremely challenging. I love Gene Fowler’s quip: “Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”

If you plan to attend college and think you can get away without learning how to write, try these two simple tasks: 1) try getting IN to college without writing a decent personal essay, an extracurricular blurb, and supplement essays—good luck; 2) try surviving in college where the most common form of assessment is writing, both timed  (i.e., essay exams) and take-home papers—again, good luck.  Fact: College professors’ #1 annual complaint is that today’s students come to college without having learned how to write.

So if you want to learn to write well, and at CollegePrepExpress we sure hope you do, the first thing to realize is that English writing, History writing, Science writing, etc., are all THE SAME: good writing is good writing, and the bottom line is that it COMMUNICATES. The litmus test? Are you translating the ideas in your head or feelings in your heart into words that do justice to those thoughts and feelings?

So how do you that? Good question, glad you asked. Three steps:

  1. Understand that you will have to INVEST TIME in the learning curve.  No one, except Michael Sugarman, was born knowing how to write. It will take time, LOTS of time, but it’s worth the investment.
  2. Spend the time.  Understanding that you have to carve out time to learn to write and making a decision to invest the time do not improve your writing one bit. It’s like the story of the three frogs sitting on a log.  One decides to jump off.  How many are left? All three, because the one only made a DECISION to jump, but he didn’t DO anything. You feel me?
  3. This is the biggie: Learn to go over your writing, whether it’s one paragraph or 15 pages, sentence by sentence, line by line, word by word. You pass each clause, each phrase, and each individual word choice through the filter: Is this what I really mean? Is there a better way to express my idea? Am I being specific enough? Check this out. Ernest Hemingway, the illustrious American author who knew a few things about writing, said the following in a famous interview:

Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?
Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, 39 times before I was satisfied.
Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?
Hemingway: Getting the words right.
(Ernest Hemingway, “The Art of Fiction,” The Paris Review Interview, 1956)

Finally, it can be very helpful to have a patient teacher, not necessarily by trade, who will sit with you and go through the process once or 10 times. I am SO FORTUNATE to have a father (an English major, no less), who sat with me for HOURS AND HOURS in 9th and 10th grades going over every sentence of every English paper I ever wrote.  His perfectionism, while sometimes unnerving to an impatient teen, showed me the value in assiduously reviewing and reworking what I had set down.  On a wholly personal note, I’m sure I never said thank you back then, feeling more a hostage than a willing student, but looking back now I see what a generous act of kindness and love it was on his part.

If you need assistance in learning how to write and neither of your parents were English majors, we are here to help. Email info@CollegePrepExpress.com or call 860-519-1000 and one of our certified instructors will sit with you and SHOW you how this process works.

O, and one more thing: Thanks, Dad 🙂

P.S.  If you had a special teacher or relative who helped you learned to write, why not share below in a Comment? You never know whom you might inspire.

Related Blogs:

Bullet Two Ways to Choose a Personal Essay Topic

Bullet 5 Tips To High Scores on SAT and ACT Essays

Bullet Application Packaging: Three Helpful Hints in Choosing a Personal Essay Topic

Related “Prep Talks” with CollegePrepExpress:

Bullet Study Skills 1: Writing in School…and Beyond!
Bullet Conquering the College Admissions Essay


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The primary purpose of CollegePrepExpress, LLC is to help students get into their top secondary schools, colleges, and graduate schools and to reduce stress surrounding the entire admissions process.

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