I hope I find you well! For those of you continuing with their studies during the COVID-19 pandemic, I wanted to share five tips I’ve learned over the course of the year to keep improving my grades during this difficult time.
Concentration is challenging (I’m finding I’m reading sentences in module texts over and over; I find I’m reading sentences in module texts over and over) yet I’m trying my best not to let the effects affect the quality of my work. I hope these tips help and wherever you are in the world, keep going.
1. Give Yourself Creative Time and Space
This ‘out of this world’ advice is useful to implement after receiving a writing task; allowing yourself to dream free from any internal or external pressures.
Often on a writing course you feel the pressure to get good grades before actually having written anything and feel scared that you won’t. You also have the looming shadow of a deadline falling across your path like a creature from a Steven King novel.
Yet focusing on this is a surefire recipe for stifled creativity, and dare I say it: writer’s block. Although it’s important to understand what you’re being asked to do, the stage immediately following this requires you to forget about your course for a while and go on a one man mission to your imagination. It results in my experience, organically farmed and original subject matter.
2. Give Yourself a Running Commentary
This old chestnut I’ve talked about before. Creative writing at an academic level means you need to understand and talk (slightly pompously) about your creative process.
This used to be tedious, especially when it felt as if I had to ‘prove myself.’ Yet the moment I realised it was beneficial, I stopped doing it for others and started writing a running commentary for myself.
Think of it like a personal diary where you write down information about your work in progress. It can be where you got an idea, any problems you encountered and solutions you came up with, any symbolism you spotted; anything at all.
I don’t stop every five seconds and I certainly don’t want to mess around with my unconscious writing process (the magic stuff not to be touched); but conscious thoughts and decisions can be useful to note down. Why?Because you can go back and use your notes to improve your technical skills (i.e. writing craft), which in turn gives you higher grades.
3. Listen and Learn From Criticism
Although it’s hard to hear, reflecting on areas of your work that could be improved is a big step to receiving higher grades. The next time your professors or fellow students negatively criticise something, go back and review what you’ve written to put it in context.
I’ve found it’s best not to make changes straightaway, after all you might not agree with them! Ask yourself what kind of critique it is, i.e. is it a technical issue or a creative choice that comes down to personal preference? Do you think it’s fair and if so, why?
I then make a note of this ‘Achilles heel’ for my next assignment. Over time I’ve ended up with a handy checklist of things I need to look out for in my work so it doesn’t trouble me as much later on.
4. Be as Anal as a Pâtissier
When it comes to receiving a good mark, the devil really is in the details. It’s easy to think ‘oh, it’s just an innocently misplaced apostrophe’ or ‘just wait, I’m gonna italicise the hell out of that noun later.’
Yet by paying attention to details, the overall appearance of your work will look so shiny your professor will be blinded by your professionalism (and will most certainly need sunglasses to read it).
This isn’t just useful in improving your grades, it’s an important skill to master when sending your work out into the world. Not only do you want to be taken seriously, but to ensure that the value of your writing is judged as fairly as possible. This includes: good grammar, appropriate referencing and any specific requirements for the piece; being under no illusions that it’ll make you want to prick your eyes out with a sharp cocktail stick.
I try and make it more fun by making a cup of tea, preparing a snack and listening in the background to the jump scares of my favourite French gamer on YouTube. I then go through my work as leisurely as possible (best way to spot mistakes) and take the time to double-check.
5. Grow Your Confidence Slowly and Mindfully
Coming top doesn’t come naturally to me. Yet with every mark I’ve received trickling slowly in the right direction, it’s been enough for me to think: ‘wait. Maybe I could get even one or two more points next time?’
So have confidence in your abilities (not arrogance, that’s another creature), and really believe that success is a slow, winding journey of understanding the craft; understanding yourself as a writer and being mindful of the process.
* * *
Now over to you. What tips do you have to improve your grades as a creative writing student? Are you full of wisdom that would be useful to me (and others)? If so, make sure to write it down in the comments section below.
Until next time,