René Rusch

Professor, Music

Q: What do you do when you are struggling with a particular point in your writing?

A: When my writing gets stuck, I try to identify the source of the problem. Majority of the time, the stumbling block is not writing itself, but rather one of two obstacles: (1) the point that I'm trying to write about has not been clearly thought out or (2) the structure of the paper prevents me from communicating my main argument effectively. Here is how I combat these two problems:

(1) If clear writing is clear thinking, writing can reveal the gaps in one's thinking. To remedy these gaps, I first determine why the point is weak and then carry out further research in order to strengthen the point. I may also discard the point altogether if this research leads me to revise my initial aim or if the point cannot be adequately supported. The paths that lead to dead ends are not necessarily wasted efforts, since part of the process of discovery involves understanding why something doesn't work.

(2) If the problem has to do with the organization of the paper, I locate all of the topic sentences and read them in the order that they appear, as a way to test how well my main points collectively express a cohesive argument. If the structure is weak in certain spots, I reorder some of the topic sentences, develop new ones, or omit existing ones before reworking the paper sentence by sentence.

Generally speaking, writing can be difficult. Identifying the source of the problem is part of the solution.

Recommended book:
Zinsser, William. On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction. 30th Anniversary Edition.
    New York: Harper Collins, 2006.