By Vlad Mackevic

[This post was originally taken from]

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

Ernest Hemingway

By Vlad Mackevic

Ernest Hemingway at work

As a writer, I can tell you for sure: writing is hard work. And that’s for me who likes it. Academic essay writing is hard work that is also obligatory whether you like it or not. Once you are at university, you have to write essays – and even if you don’t like it that much, you still want to become good at it. After all, your grades depend on it.

Let me give you some tips from a writer’s point of view that will teach you how to be a better writer – and also make the learning process easier.

1.     There is no such thing as a perfect first draft

The first draft of anything is sh*t

Ernest Hemingway


You become a good writer by re-writing. Roald Dahl once famously said that he went through forty (!) drafts before finally submitting the manuscript for publication. It did pay off in the end – I mean, who hasn’t heard about Willy Wonka and his chocolate factory (remember him on those long nights you will spend revising when coffee and chocolate will be your main food!).

You certainly don’t need to follow Roald Dahl’s rules to the letter, but re-reading and re-writing your essay several times is going to help enormously!


2.     Never leave the sheet empty

You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club

Jack London

The worst thing you can do is sit in front of an empty sheet, waiting for inspiration to descend on you. Inspiration is not a bus – it won’t come if you wait long enough.

Another secret of a good writer is getting inspiration in the process. For that, you just need to take your pen and start writing. It can be anything – a few bullet-points, an outline, the first sentence of the third paragraph, your initial ideas, brainstorming… Just start writing – and watch those words connect and form sentences. Sentences will form paragraphs and all you have to do is put them in the right order. Et voila! Essay done!

Just start writing.

3.     Plan and Outline

Prior preparation and planning prevents painfully poor performance

7Ps (British military adage)

If you fail to plan, plan to fail – and that’s the last thing you want. So, as you start writing, the best thing to do is to create an outline plan.

Why? There are two reasons:

Firstly, it will save you time

Pareto’s Law (also known as the 20/80 rule) says: 20 percent of time you invest in planning will save you 80 percent of time when executing the task.

For example, I spent five minutes planning this blog post. I brainstormed and thought of the seven points to write about. I thought about including famous quotes as well. I researched those quotes. Only then did I sit down to write the post – and I wrote 1000 words in 30 minutes.

Spider Diagram

The same applies to essay writing. Prepare an outline. Think of your main lines of argument. Brainstorm the ‘for’ and ‘against’  points of the main body. Write it down in any form – a bullet list, a spider diagram, an outline… And then start writing.

Secondly, it will organise your thoughts

Once you know what you are going to write about, not only will you save time but also be more organised. You will know what each paragraph will say; you will know where your essay is going. And every single sentence will help you develop your argument and answer the question.

4.     Read a lot! And make notes while you do it

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot

Stephen King

Good writers read. Good academic writers research and make copious notes in the process.

As you read your textbooks, websites, academic journals and other materials, always take notes. Write a detailed bibliographical reference of each source – if you return the book to the library or lose the printed journal article, you must have as much information about them as possible so that you would not have to search for those sources again.

Also, make notes about theories, ideas, studies, experiments, analysis and so on. Don’t forget to make them relevant to the essay question.

5.     Always carry a notebook with you

This piece of advice is not random and not to be taken lightly. I am serious – buy yourself a notebook and carry it with you. You never know where a great idea might strike you – and essay deadlines draw nearer, you will need great ideas more than ever!

6.     Give it to someone else to read

Get another pair of attentive eyes to help you: give it to a friend, a flatmate or a family member to read. Ask them if it sounds OK, if it flows well. Let them be as critical as they can be. Another reader is much more likely to spot mistakes and small ‘glitches’.

Also, it is good to read your work aloud – then you can see for yourself if it sounds well.

7.     Let it rest

Once you’ve finished your essay, let it rest. If the deadline is not too soon, go away from it for a couple of days. If you feel you are lucky to have half a day before the deadline, give it a couple of hours. Then come back to it and re-read it again.

Good luck and enjoy reading and writing!

P.S. This article is based on Vlad Mackevic’s book From Confusion to Conclusion: How to Write a First-Class Essay. You can download sample chapters of the book for FREE by clicking here. By filling in this form, you will also be subscribed to The Lecture Room’s Newsletter and will receive a FREE PDF copy of Vlad Mackevic’s book How to Write a CV with Little or No Work Experience

The book can also be purchased on in paperback and Kindle eBook formats. If you do not own a Kindle reader, Amazon provides a range of FREE applications for your computer, Smartphone or Tablet.