January 12, 2015

'This is not a tip sheet': Why reading about writing can only get you so far

Tip sheets are an excellent resource, but they can only help you so much in writing. U of A Student Success Centre's Rob Desjardins, Graduate Writing Advisor, explains. 

Eighty-five years ago, the Belgian surrealist René Magritte painted his most famous canvas. It features a tobacco pipe floating over the handwritten caption “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (“This is not a pipe”). Magritte’s point was clear: images, however realistic, can never bring us to the fullness of reality.

When developing your academic writing skills, it’s good to keep in mind a similar note of caution. There are plenty of great resources out there that sketch out different aspects of the writing process: models, templates, outlines, charts, and many, many tip sheets. These are helpful tools, and you shouldn’t hesitate to use them.  

But don’t forget that writing well involves more than adhering to abstract principles. It’s rooted in your own thought processes, your own efforts to organize and express ideas in real time. That means that every writer is unique, and everyone needs to experience writing to get good at it.

So don’t linger too long over tip sheets. Start writing. Try some things, experiment with others. Take apart the work of great writers so you can figure out how it succeeds. Listen to what other people say about your writing, and give them ideas about theirs.

Don’t ever be satisfied, but don’t despair. This is hard for all of us. Just write often, write thoughtfully, and challenge yourself to maintain a conversation with people, present and past, who do it well.

Ceci n’est pas une “tip sheet.” But remember that we’re here for you whenever you’d like us to join in your conversation. Find more information on writing workshops and individual appointments here