Writing Advice from Dr. Bob

As a writing instructor, I am frequently giving students advice on how to improve their composing strategies. This spring my Honor's Composition students had an opportunity to write a paper in which they returned the favor, offering me--and any other potential readers--a list of suggestions for becoming better writers. What follows is a representative sampling from 31 Coe student lists on the "nuts and bolts of writing."  
—Dr. Bob Marrs, professor emeritus and former director of the CWC

  • Don't erase--you may later decide to use that information. Cross it out, but never erase.
  • Just sit back and let it flow. You may have a clogged drain once in a while, but look at it as a minor hairball, nothing a little Draino won't fix.
  • Let your thoughts do the talking, your fingers do the walking.
  • When you finish a draft, read it out loud to hear the words.
  • Be patient.
  • Don't write in marker or ink if you are left-handed; the marker/ink smears across your paper and on your hand.
  • Write in crayon when you start getting too serious.
  • A paper cut is the worst pain that you will get from writing.
  • Write lists like this one.
  • Write what you feel, don't lie.
  • The first draft is the first draft. There can always be room for improvement and the "perfect paper" is never written.
  • Show your papers to other people to get a fresh angle. Other insights can give you new ideas of what to write about.
  • Never discard a thought. Type the words before you determine their worth. Once you realize they don't belong, tailor the surrounding text or cut the words and leave them at the end of the composition. They'll be out of the way and won't demand that you use them, yet the option is there.
  • Don't use love as a transitive verb for at least 15 years.
  • Drink coffee from the Writing Center.
  • Don't drink the Writing Center coffee and eat jolly ranchers at the same time.
  • Never consider your paper complete.
  • Always leave the campground cleaner than you found it.
  • Let a variety of people read your work; always let the person you are most intimidated by read it last.
  • When considering subject matter for your poetry, try to confine your main subjects to the following list: Rutabagas, Lemon Curry, Earthquakes, Tetrahedrons, The End of the World, The Donatist Controversy, Particle/Wave Theory of Light, Transverse Myletis, Rogue Elephants. Avoid the following subjects: Emotions, Personal Journeys, Nature, Chicken Curry.
  • A good technique for writing quality poetry is to first write prose, then take out every third word and call those words a poem. This ensures ambiguity and hidden meanings.
  • All good writing is done with a beverage nearby.
  • Just get in the car and drive.
  • Writing is an art, and art without admirers is like a fish without water.
  • Stop looking at the paper as a writer and start looking at it from the reader's point of view.
  • Keep a small notebook for ideas as they arrive.
  • Write for yourself.

"Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write 'very'; your editor will delete it 
and the writing will be just as it should be."
—Mark Twain