College is making my writing worse

Being repeatedly told what makes a good piece of writing by school and college has left my writing lifeless. How do i fix this?

College is making my writing worse

Many of you on this website will already have heard of the Arts Award but for those of you who haven't, in short it is a project that allows you to grow and develop your skills as a creative. I'm currently going through the process of completing my Gold Arts Award and one of the requirements of this is that I review other people's work. So, seeing as I am most interested in theatre, I set about finding theatre productions to review. I managed to get a ticket to see a production of Monty Python's Spamalot at my local theatre and loved it. I wrote notes during the interval and also after it had ended whilst waiting for my mum to pick me up.

But, like any self-respecting procrastinator, I didn't get around to actually attempting to write the review for weeks. By the time I did get around to it however, I had a pretty good memory of the show and could recall particular details that I thought I would be able to write about quite well. But the longer I spent sat in front of my laptop the more frustrated I got. My writing was quite frankly lifeless and boring. I got more and more annoyed at myself for not being able to find the right way to phrase the sentences as I've always considered myself reasonably proficient in the art of the English language.

As I despaired a little more I started to realise that, theoretically, there was nothing wrong with my writing; it was all grammatically correct and I'd made good use of my most regularly used thesaurus website. But in a way this was part of the problem. Years of English and drama classes have ingrained the criteria for a successful essay into my head which makes individuality very difficult. I'm so used to trying to find new and superfluous ways of writing reviews and reflections, and padding them out when I don't have a clue what else to say, that the habit has leaked into the rest of my writing. The review that I needed to write for this award has no listed criteria, no set factors that have to be discussed or words that have to be used and yet I find myself writing as if there are. In fact, in this review of Spamalot that I have been trying to write, I found myself writing sentences that I don't even believe, they just sound good because they have a few fancy words in them.

So what am I supposed to do? I'm not happy with producing dry, predictable work but I'm not sure how to get out of this habit. So I tried again. A theatre company called Untold Arts came to my college to perform a piece titled 'The scar Test' and I took this opportunity to have another crack at writing a review. I felt slightly more positive this time because I had more thoughtful observations to make rather than simple, positive comments. The review started off slightly better but I found myself running into the same trap of sensationalising my writing just for the sake of it. My problem is that neither reviews sound personal or genuine but the whole point of a review is that you are communicating your own personal experience.

I was hoping that I was being slightly over critical and that in fact there was nothing wrong with my reviews. But when I showed them to someone else to read, they agreed with me that the writing was impersonal and dull. I feel that an over generalised education style is to blame. When students are forced to tick boxes with their writing, it squeezes out any room for individuality. Teaching students how to write a technically good essay and a unique, engaging piece of writing are two different things and the latter gets sacrificed for the sake of better exam results. When you think about the benefits of both it doesn't even make sense to favour uniformed writing because the kind of writing students are likely to be doing later on in life is going to vary every time. The only thing this style of teaching is good for is making our writing sound empty and this is what frustrates me. My lacklustre reviews are not the result of apathy I can assure you. I am incredibly passionate about theatre and I could talk about it for hours on end. It makes me happy, it makes me sad, it makes me angry and it makes me feel inspired but for some reason I can't communicate this interestingly in writing.

So now I'm stuck. I've done some self-evaluation and given it another go and I don't seem to be any better off. I would really appreciate some suggestions on how to improve my review writing skills or even some feedback if you've experienced something similar. Let me know in the comments.


Lizzie Hayward

Lizzie Hayward

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  • Bhavesh Jadva

    On 22 August 2017, 20:09 Bhavesh Jadva Voice Team commented:

    Wow - thanks for being so honest! It's definitely an odd issue to face: many people feel college as a catalyst to improve their writing - I certainly did. However I have faced your issue more recently. I won't bog you down with the details and I'll get straight to the cure. Community writing groups maybe outside your form. Community writing groups are aplenty across the country and I'm sure you'll be able to find one. You can get groups for prose, poetry, screenwriting, the lot. It's probably best to look for a youth group because there's everything to learn from your peer group. More importantly, it's useful to approach a writing form outside your own i.e. if you're a screenwriter, try a poetry workshop (it's more popular among young people than a layperson would think). It's important to take these approaches because it's free and frugality makes real creativity ooze out and force facilitators to think big - they'll get your writing, feed you opportunities to get paid and, well enough, network. Abandon what you know for a while and, paradoxically, think small.

  • Luke Taylor

    On 1 September 2017, 10:05 Luke Taylor Contributor commented:

    It is difficult to try and find your own art style when you've only been taught a couple of other styles by other artists - you essentially end up trying to copy other artists, which gets you nowhere as it ends up leaving you with severe Imposter Syndrome!

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