One of the first questions I ask a client when we sit down for a tutoring session is, “how can I help you?” Often, the answer is, “I need help with grammar” or “I just need a bit of proofreading.” Quite frequently, a quick look at the piece of writing reveals that it needs something else entirely.
Grammar and other sentence-level concerns are important to good writing, but they aren’t the only place in the writing process that writers need help moving forward. In an essay, short story, or even resume, concerns like organization of ideas and understanding the needs of the audience are just as important as polished sentences. It doesn’t matter if every comma and semi-colon is perfectly placed—every verb neatly conjugated—if you aren’t giving the reader the information they need.
Furthermore, the wrong kind of help at the wrong time can even be damaging to the writing process, especially with a big project like a novel or a long-form investigative piece. A few writers I’ve met love to craft one polished sentence at a time, but most (including me) find this kind of perfectionism creates a serious block to getting words on the page.
So how do you know what kind of writing help you need? Here are a few simple questions that will point you in the right direction.
Q1. Where am I in the writing process?
If this piece of writing is brand new, fresh from your brain, you will probably benefit from a reader who looks at what writing scholars call “higher order concerns,” such as organization or the shape of the argument.
If you’ve written a few drafts, congratulations! You might be ready for an proofreader! But you might not. The writing process is rarely straightforward. A second set of eyes will help you know for sure.
Q2. Have I gotten all my ideas on the page?
If you feel like you have a bunch more ideas to get down or you haven’t reached the word count of the assignment, you’re probably not ready for proofreading. You can’t trim a hedge that hasn’t been planted yet!
Here, a conversation with a writing specialist will help you find ways to expand your ideas, find a good flow and make a plan to move forward.
Q3. When is this due?
This is the most utilitarian of the questions. Even if you’re early in the writing process, if you have a hard deadline for tomorrow, proofreading might be the only help you have time for.
Next time you start a project, try jotting down a few rough ideas in your phone or in a notebook whenever they come to you. These might not seem like much, but they will give you something to work with when crunch time comes. There have been times when I’ve sat down to write an article near deadline and found I’d already written most of it just by making notes.
But it can be challenging to move past this kind of brainstorming. Connecting with a writing consultant early in the process can help you sift through those notes and turn them into a draft.
Whatever phase of the writing process you’re in, from brainstorming to polishing to formatting that pesky thesis, I’d be happy to help you out. Drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.