Writing Advice and Samples

A compilation of essay tips, general writing advice, poems, and thoughts.

Month: December, 2018

Sleep Well.

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I am four years old. I dream in colour. This nightmare is haunting me.

I am five years old. It’s time for sleep on a cold dark night. I close my eyes, a blink. It’s bright. A new day reveals itself to my childish eyes—my first glimpse into the fickleness of time.

I am seven years old when I first fly above my bed. I look down at my lifeless body cocooned in a king-sized comforter. I’m dead, I think, finally.

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Essay Tips: Incorporating Powerful Verbs

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Swapping out basic verbs for stronger choices can enhance your writing tremendously. While it is easy to introduce and explain quotes with verbs like “says” and “writes,” strong verbs can give your reader more information and make your writing more interesting. Additionally, repeatedly introducing your quotes with “X says” can become tiresome. It’s a good idea to add some variance to your language. Before we begin, remember that each of these options have different meanings, and you should only use a word if you fully understand it. With that being said, here’s a list of powerful verbs to incorporate into your next essay:

Explores
Example: X explores the messy relationship between past and present.

Conveys
Example: X conveys a message of hope in the face of uncertainty.

Claims
Example: X claims that college is not the right path for everyone.

Confirms
Example: X confirms, “quote” (citation).

Analyzes
Example: X analyzes an enigmatic historic event with no objective truth.

Illustrates
Example: X illustrates a well-lit glass room with false depth and plentiful illusions.

Portrays
Example: X portrays Laura’s relationship with her father as damaging and unhealthy.

Reveals
Example: X reveals that human attraction is not formulaic.

Highlights
Example: X highlights the cultural divide in New York City by telling immigrant stories.

Admits
Example: X admits that science cannot explain every aspect of human existence.

Asserts
Example: X asserts that technology is destroying human relationships.

Declares
Example: X declares that time does not go backward, and the decisions we make are permanent.

Emphasizes
Example: X emphasizes the faulty nature of human memory.

Observes
Example: X observes countless strangers so engrossed in their phones that they completely ignore each other.

Explains
Example: X explains that many science fiction authors tend to use colonization carelessly within their narratives.

Establishes
Example: X establishes the claim that personal connections triumph over the dividing judgment and guilt of traditional religious models.

Twists
Example: X twists the human perception of time.

Examines
Example: X examines the relationship between perseverance and success.

Argues
Example: X argues that people cannot be reduced to mathematical equations.

Warns
Example: X warns that students who tend to procrastinate suffer from higher stress levels.

Suggests
Example: X suggests taking a few hours each day to unplug from technology and connect with nature. 

Of course, these are just a few examples of powerful essay verbs. Be creative with your writing and feel free to compile a list of your own!

Eat Your Words.

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Watch what you say, for you can’t take words back. Watch what you don’t say, for you can’t release them retroactively. The art involves aligning intention with reception. Deal with the discrepancies and ponder their existence.

At first, you hold your words. You keep them in your chest. You conceal the hidden truths because you’re afraid of vulnerability. At least, you think, you’ll never have to eat the words you leave unsaid.

But in the end, you’re left to cope with rotten words inside. You won’t enjoy the lingering taste of stale thoughts held onto for too long in the mouth of a lover. Nobody ever tells you that words are perishable.

Take Note.

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Write a note. Jot this down. Don’t let the thought slip away. Open Voice Memos on your old iPhone and hit record in city traffic.

Talk to yourself. Preserve your memories. Keep your essence alive. It’s not for them and it’s not for you but there’s comfort in its permanence.

Say something new. Read something old. Find understanding in between. Now I’m stuck in a life beyond your eyes, and I know you’re not looking for me.

Sledding.

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There’s a dirt pit down the street from my childhood house. My brother takes me there every snowy Saturday to go sledding. We equip ourselves with thick winter gloves, snow pants, puffy jackets, and sturdy boots as we prepare to leave the comfort of our damaged home. You can find us in the middle of a cold January, navigating our toboggan through a blanket of fresh snow. My nose is red and runny. My fingers are numb, but I feel immune to the cold.

The world is quiet here, and our laughs cut through the air like a morning alarm. We feel free. Our happiness is a disturbance to nature, but we don’t care. We test out different hills, always returning to our favourite route on the slope near the road. I think it’s our favourite out of convenience. Maybe it’s the comfort of familiarity. In either case, it’s hardly the tallest mound of snow-covered dirt in the pit, but it’s ours.

When our toboggan stops at the bottom of the path, I look up. I am surrounded by white hills, endless and perfect to my eight-year old eyes. The snow masks the dirt in false purity. Since I can’t see the filth underneath, it doesn’t exist.

Our cold white world is contained by evergreen trees. They border the pit and create the illusion of wilderness around us. We’re in the bubble of youthful wonder where solitude triumphs over isolation.

I capture a handful of snow in my mismatched gloves and I want to remember this moment forever. I listen to the crunch of ice under my brother’s boots as he drags our sled back uphill. I fill my lungs with clean winter air. When the time comes, I hide this memory in my pocket and follow my brother, prepared to embark on another journey down the hills of my childhood.

Laundry.

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My thoughts are nothing but tired memories cycling through my mind like an old load of laundry. They’re not bound for new life until the filth is washed away. I wouldn’t let the words slip from my mouth, that you are the mud corrupting my mind, and you are the emptiness in my chest while I search for a compelling reason to get out of bed.

The Lake.

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CC image courtesy of Kyle Pearce on Flickr.

The lake stretches her arms in a desperate attempt to get back to the ocean. The sockeye salmon call her home. They follow her tears downstream and leave her comforting embrace to stretch their fins in the vast pacific. Every four years, they travel through Hell’s Gate to get back to her. They breed and they die. This is life. The lakeshore becomes a putrid wasteland of red warriors—parents—selfless and pure.

Essay Tips: How to Write an Effective Conclusion

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Writing an effective conclusion is one of the most difficult aspects of composition. I constantly see students struggling with repetitive prose that devalues their well-crafted essays. This problem is persistent because many of us learned to write five-paragraph essays in high school. You know the drill: broad introduction, three body paragraphs, summarizing conclusion. While this strategy is a necessary stepping stone toward effective writing, breaking away from elementary writing strategies can vastly improve your essays. Here is a list of ten strategies to consider before tackling your conclusion:

Ten Conclusion Strategies

1. Consider your essay’s length. While some summary might be necessary at the end of a 12-page essay, summary is usually redundant in a shorter assignment. First, think about your essay as a whole. Guide your reader through the essay with purpose. Since there is a great deal of bad advice encouraging writers to conclude with repetition, it is important to understand when and why your argument needs to be restated.

2. Don’t bore your reader. There is no paragraph more boring than a repetitive conclusion. The words “in conclusion” and “to summarize” alert the reader that you have nothing more to say. If there is nothing more to say, why should we waste our time reading your final thoughts?

3. Don’t be afraid to try new strategies. For a long time, I was afraid of writing an original or thought-provoking conclusion. My high school English teachers warned that a conclusion should never include new ideas. While a conclusion should not attempt to explore an unrelated or undeveloped topic, new ways of looking at your topic are useful. A conclusion should never be a simple reiteration of previously detailed ideas. Don’t be afraid to try new strategies to leave a lasting impression.

4. Bring your argument into larger context. This is my go-to conclusion strategy. Although many of us were taught to start with a broad topic and end specifically, it is often effective to end with a broad perspective. Consider the ways different groups and interests are affected by your argument. Think about the real-world consequences of your topic. For example, in a comparison of Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen and Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, part of my conclusion explores the plays in terms of British drama as a whole:

“Copenhagen and Arcadia both step away from realism into surrealism with scientific elements. Their parallel explorations of uncertainty and free will show the progress of British drama. These plays indicate that there is room in the humanities for logic and math. From Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle to Fermat’s last theorem, Frayn and Stoppard prove that there is at least room within the theatre for quantum mechanics and number theory.”

5. Finish with a call for action. A simple and effective way to conclude a persuasive essay is with a call for action. Let the reader know what they can or should do to help.

6. Answer the questions you raised throughout the essay. If you have raised any critical questions throughout your essay, your conclusion is a great place to answer those questions. Think of your literary essay as a method of entering an ongoing conversation. While it may be helpful to ask critical questions in the beginning, answering these questions will leave your reader with a sense of closure at the end.

7. Trust your instincts. If there is a natural stopping place in your essay, and you have explored your topic fully, don’t be afraid to stop. A few well-constructed sentences can tie your essay together and keep your reader engaged.

8. Include a well-placed quote. I say “well-placed” because an ill-fitting quote will not strengthen your essay. If there is a quote that accurately conveys the thought you want to leave your reader with, then don’t be afraid to use it. I would not rely on this strategy for every essay, but you should allow yourself the creative license to incorporate a fitting quote from time to time. Also, make sure your quote comes from a reliable source, such as an expert on your topic.

9. Create a strong narrative image. Descriptive language can help you leave a lasting impression on the reader. If you can develop a vivid image that stays in the reader’s mind, your conclusion will be more effective.

10. Appreciate the importance of your last sentence. An essay’s final sentence is significant. While it might be tempting to rush through your conclusion and end with a subpar thought, you should put energy into crafting a meaningful finale. Writing a great conclusion is difficult, but not impossible. It’s time to go write.