How to make a good first impression as the author of a college-level English paper

Have an English paper due? I teach college writing, and I've read and graded thousands, if not tens of thousands, of essays over the years. 

What I have found is that first impressions matter. Most professors eyeball a paper before diving into reading it (this is known as previewing--it's a good strategy for any reader, as it familiarizes you with the broad outline of the paper). 
Here are my top three tips for getting that "A": 1. Be meticulous about how the paper looks. In MLA format, know the essentials: 1" margins, Times New Roman 12 (or 11, if you are my student), perfect in-text citations and Works Cited page, the correct number of pages/word count. You are trying to make a good impression, and all this stuff is easy, so do it right. It's like wearing professional clothes to a job interview--basic advice.
2. Make sure you have a thesis, and that it is clear, and that it is where your professor expects to find it. At my college, the consensus is that the…

Taking a break from this blog

Taking a break as I work on my next novel--please read and enjoy!

As an editor and a writer, I am always looking for guidelines and strategies on how to decide if a written work is ready to be published.

In an April 25, 2017 post in the Submittable blog, guest author Nathaniel Tower has some pithy advice on how and when to submit a piece of writing to journals or literary magazines. Here are some elements of a short list to consider when asking yourself whether or not a piece is ready to be published:

"So how do you know if a story is ready? Here are some signs you shouldn’t submit: You haven’t read it over at least five timesYou wrote it less than a week agoYou aren’t proud of itYou are contemplating sending it to an inferior lit mag because you are pretty sure they’ll publish anything . . . " The post has more great ideas for making sure you submit your work to the right magazine at the right time. Read it here:…
National Poetry Month (celebrated in the US in April every year) is almost over. This annual event helps spotlight the vast catalog of poems written by people from many lands and ages. I love poetry and even write my own poems when I want to express a passing thought or image.

This April, I've read and published a number of poems, both my own work and poems in the public domain. With the ease of copying and pasting on the internet, copyright laws are being broken routinely. As a publisher and writer, I respect these laws and also the right of authors to be properly acknowledged and compensated for their work. So I am careful to try to publish only works (words and images) that are freely available to the public. These laws are complex and vary from country to country, so I need to use my detective skills to stay within the safe zone of copyright-free works.

Here's a wonderful W.B. Yeats poem. Not all of his poetry is in the public domain, but this one is.


The Lake …

The Tyger by William Blake, 1757 - 1827

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright In the forests of the night, What immortal hand or eye Could frame thy fearful symmetry? In what distant deeps or skies Burnt the fire of thine eyes? On what wings dare he aspire? What the hand, dare sieze the fire? And what shoulder, & what art, Could twist the sinews of thy heart? And when thy heart began to beat, What dread hand? & what dread feet? What the hammer? what the chain? In what furnace was thy brain? What the anvil? what dread grasp Dare its deadly terrors clasp? When the stars threw down their spears, And water’d heaven with their tears, Did he smile his work to see? Did he who made the Lamb make thee? Tyger! Tyger! burning bright In the forests of the night, What immortal hand or eye Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

This university in Ghana focuses on critical thinking to change attitudes on corruption

"When Patrick Awuah -- a former Microsoft executive who was educated in the U.S. -- returned to his home country of Ghana, his goal of starting a software company was dashed by the lack of a qualified workforce. So instead he founded Ashesi University, which is guided by principles of ethical leadership, innovation and entrepreneurship. Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports."

This university in Ghana focuses on critical thinking to change attitudes on corruption:

Imagery by Archibald MacLeish, 1892 - 1982

The tremulously mirrored clouds lie deep,
Enchanted towers bosomed in the stream,
And blossomed coronals of white-thorn gleam
Within the water where the willows sleep—
Still-imaged willow-leaves whose shadows steep
The far-reflected sky in dark of dream;
And glimpsed therein the sun-winged swallows seem
As fleeting memories to those who weep. So mirrored in thy heart are all desires,
Eternal longings, Youth’s inheritance,
All hopes that token immortality,
All griefs whereto immortal grief aspires.
Aweary of the world’s reality,
I dream above the imaged pool, Romance.