Maybe because we’re writing about a school, but for some reason I was thinking about the most fun essay test I ever took. (Yes, fun. I particularly enjoyed essay tests.) It was for a university class on Shakespeare, and the assignment was this:
Consider the plays, Romeo & Juliet and MacBeth. Were they tragedies of character (wherein the people ruined their own lives), or were they tragedies of fate (wherein circumstances and chance doomed them)? Discuss each play separately, proving your position from the text of the plays themselves.
The best part? The professor assured us that there was no right or wrong answer. He just wanted to see our ability to analyze and substantiate our point of view. I went nuts with excitement, and scribbled away happily for two hours on the subject. Got an A+. And I used that same essay prompt every time I taught Romeo & Juliet.
Why such a happy experience?
Because there was no wrong answer.
I just had to prove my point.
What if we always wrote like that? Like we knew we were right? How would that translate into better essay tests (or writing in general)?
Confidence plays an enormous role in our writing.
- We speak with authority instead of equivocating our thoughts with wimpy phrases like, “I think” or “in my opinion”. This lends a more professional tone to the work, and it also streamlines the writing by taking out the wishy-washy excuses.
- We forge ahead with our work instead of waiting for approbation. Too many writers sink in a quagmire of thoughts before they ever begin. We need to take action and start the process. Revision is always available once there is something to tweak, but we can’t polish something that’s still floating in the corner of your mind.
- We see our subject through a focused lens instead of wondering which angle to examine. When we know our position, we know which facts or examples illustrate our point and which can be discarded. We can organize the argument swiftly instead of wondering what to tackle first.
- We are bold enough to rally others instead of apologizing for the intrusion on their time. We’ve all heard speeches that sort of piddle out at the end, and we’ve heard ones that lifted us out of our seats. When we are confident that we are right, we can invite others to action and/or change in a way that is empowering. And when we lift up the reader/listener, they will carry us up with them. It all goes up from there.
All of these things will make writing stronger. So, the next time you are called upon to write a report or thesis, believe that you have the answer right. Know it. And write accordingly. It will make all the difference between a weak paper and one that has the power to persuade.
(By the way, I said R&J was fate and MacBeth was character. What do you think?)