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Walden University Writing Center

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

Learn by Writing; Learn by Listening

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Faculty Voices: Writing Advice  

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When I am 
learning something new, I try to seek out someone who has the skills and abilities that I’m trying to learn and ply them for advice. For example, when I was learning how to plan for my first wilderness canoe trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, I made dinner plans with my old school chum Chris so I could ask them for advice on how to pack, what to bring, where to go, and how to stay safe in the wilderness. Chris was extremely helpful and kind, and he explained a lot of ideas and techniques I didn’t know. But as the saying goes “you don’t know what you don’t know.” For something as important as wilderness survival, canoeing, and camping, what I didn’t know could lead to discomfort, injury, or worse.  

I’m not going to compare scholarly writing to wilderness camping
, don’t worryBut they are both complex skills that take time and persistence to learn and perform well. Since scholarly writing is a whole language in and of itself, there are likely a lot of things you don’t know that you don’t know.  

When it comes to writing, like any complex skill, self-study and practice are invaluable. But I recommend you get in the habit of asking for help and advice so you might know what to study and practice. Practice doesn’t make perfect; practice makes permanent. If you practice wrong or in a counterproductive way, you’re going to repeat those missteps every time you writeThat’s why you should seek out successful writers and relish in their advice. Now, we can’t all get face time with Stephen King (although his Twitter feed is fire), but luckily for Walden students, we have access to a whole team of successful, skillful, and helpful writers: our Walden faculty.  

You may not have the same career and research goals as your faculty. However, there is still a lot you can learn from taking their advice. Being able to learn from someone who has reached great success in a field that you are interested in could be one of the most important benefits of your Walden education. That’s why I’ve found the Faculty Voices video series to be such a wonderful source of writing advice as I continue to develop my own writing skills and habits. 

The advice from Dr. Critchlow
 in “What writing advice do you wish you could give all students” taught me something that I didn’t know I didn’t know: It’s better to get the ideas down first and then go through and shape them into something formal and beautiful. I especially appreciate Dr. Critchlow’s advice to “take your time writing. Write it all out, and don’t edit while you’re writing.”  

I’ve always written under the assumption that the finished product of my writing was most important. What Dr. Critchlow’s advice helped me learn is that the ideas are most important, and brainstorming, prewriting, and development are necessary to enhance those ideas. The shaping and forming of my prose should come later once there is something to work with. 

For example, something that has always derailed my writing momentum is that persistent internal editor that just won’t be quiet. Even as I write this sentence, I’ve revised it already three timesReworking the subject first, then replacing the verb with one that is more active, then flipping the entire sentence structure around to highlight my own act of revision.  My writing process is arduous because I have trouble finding that writing “zone” where ideas flow and writing is a joy, not a chore. My writing takes forever, and it is a struggle. It’s also hard for me to hold an argument together for any length of time because I’m constantly fiddling and tinkering with the prose. The beauty of my writing is never allowed to flourish because it is always so mediated and edited.  

As scholarly writers, Dr. Critchlow’s advice gives us permission to put aside that internal editor and focus instead on the ideas that underpin our writing. The ideas are what matter. No one is studying at Walden University to get an advanced degree in scholarly writing. We use scholarly writing as a vehicle to do something else: Something beautiful that will improve our communities and enrich our own personal and professional selves.  

Turning off the internal editor is n
ot easy, but it is something I will strive to do in my future writing.  Why? Because there is always time later to edit the individual mechanics of each sentence. For now, though, when I’m trying to get in the writing zone, I’m going to remember what Dr. Critchlow said and seek the beauty in my writing. The beauty that comes from engaging with complex and important ideas. 


Hopefully the writing advice in these Faculty Voices videos will give you some concrete, helpful tips that you can use today. When you’re done viewing, reflect on what you learned and consider these questions 

  • What is the most helpful piece of advice that I’ve ever received about my writing?  
  • What did that advice change about my writing process? 

Image of Writing Instructor Max Philbrook

Max Philbrook
 is a writing instructor in the Walden University Writing Center. Max’s instructional approach is to help writers of every background develop their voice among the many competing requirements of scholarly writing. Outside of supporting the social change mission of Walden writers, Max enjoys hiking in the forest with Zoie and Kirby: Max’s Australian Shepherd buddies. 

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