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I have noticed that good writers create a passage by weaving different concepts, opinions and by varying the writing style and tone. As much as I can identify that sort of writing, I have a very hard time actually creating it myself.

I have written a short piece on 'independent learning'. I would like to seek help in understanding how I could have used the techniques of master writers to make the passage more engaging - using all the techniques I mentioned above.

When people hear the phrase 'independent learning', they often think of a person sitting alone in his room - or the library - reading books, watching lecture videos, practicing exercises and learning in isolation from the world. But this is not it - you could perhaps call it isolated learning - but it's not the same as independent learning.

Independent learning does not mean learning alone, it means taking charge of your learning and learning without the barriers that an institution creates to define your pathway. When you learn independently, you define what you need to learn, how you want to learn it, at what pace you want to learn, and who you want to learn it with.

I have added three passages below, which I feel weave together variety very well. I am not sure how much I can quote verbatim without stepping on someone else's territory; I am hoping what I have quoted below should not be a problem.

If you notice, these articles do not employ flowery language, or too many tangents, or multiple voices. Their primary purpose is to convey information and are not written simply to entertain (not that there is anything wrong in just entertaining). I have chosen these passages based on the kind of writing I may do in the future (if I ever make it past the barrier where I am stuck right now).

When I compare these passages to what I have written, I know intuitively that my writing is flat and boring. I can spot good writing, but I just cannot take that same knowledge to my own work to make it more engaging. It is as if I freeze and become motionless. I tried getting into the mind of these writers - and it feels as if these writers must have a wide range of options in their minds to develop a particular idea, and they are able to pick and choose the best of the lot. In my case it's more like a horse with blinders who can only see the road ahead, which clearly is not the best one. Not sure if that makes sense, but it does feel that way to me.

Coming back to the passages, this one's from Maria Popova's blog post - Debunking the Myth of the 10,000-Hours Rule

The question of what it takes to excel — to reach genius-level acumen at a chosen endeavor — has occupied psychologists for decades and philosophers for centuries. Groundbreaking research has pointed to “grit” as a better predictor of success than IQ, while psychologists have admonished against the dangers of slipping into autopilot in the quest for skill improvement. In recent years, one of the most persistent pop-psychology claims has been the myth of the “10,000-hour rule” — the idea that this is the amount of time one must invest in practice in order to reach meaningful success in any field. But in Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence (public library), celebrated psychologist and journalist Daniel Goleman, best-known for his influential 1995 book Emotional Intelligence, debunks the 10,000-hour mythology to reveal the more complex truth beneath the popular rule of thumb:

The passage below is from an HBR article on how to write a resume that stands out (you will locate it if you scroll down to the part which says Case study #2).

Several months into her previous job, Claire Smith* realized that she needed a change. “The job, the industry, and the institution were not the right fit for me. It just wasn’t where I wanted to be in my career,” she explains. She started to look at job descriptions, honed in on positions or organizations that were interesting to her, then decided to work with a professional resume writer. “I tried to do a little changing and reshaping on my own at first but it didn’t feel all that different from where I began,” she says. Working with someone else helped her see that the resume was not about explaining what she’d done in her career but why she was the best person for a particular job.

This one's from an article - Stumbling upon Gratitude - from U Berkeley's Greater Good website.

I have a confession: when I go to a bookstore, I like hanging out in the self-help section. I don’t know if it’s because I think I’ll find a book that will solve all my problems, or if seeing all the books on problems I don’t have makes me feel better about myself. But whatever it is, I keep going back.

On recent visits, I’ve noticed a trend: The market has been glutted by books promising the secrets to happiness. That might not seem new (isn’t happiness the point of the entire section?), but these aren’t touchy-feely self-help titles—they’re books by scientific researchers, who claim to offer prescriptions based on rigorous empirical research. It’s all part of the “positive psychology” movement that has spilled out of academic journals and into best-selling books, popular magazine articles, and even school curricula.

  • Welcome to Writers. Could you possibly edit in some pointers to examples of what you mean? (Links if they're online, citations otherwise. Short excerpts are also fine.) That'll help us understand what you mean by "weaving variety". Thanks. – Monica Cellio Jan 1 '15 at 22:32
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    @MonicaCellio thanks for the welcome. Edited to add some samples of good writing that weave variety. – Parag Jan 2 '15 at 17:05
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If you have identified good writers who can "create a passage by weaving different concepts, opinions and by varying the writing style and tone" then I think you need to go back and take a more critical look at what they've done. If you can't identify any, I'd suggest you find some. Good writing starts with good reading—lots of it. Read generally at first, then reread analytically.

Remember that what engages readers first is voice: the sense that someone is talking directly to them. You have to be a storyteller, even if the story you're telling consists of a lot of dry facts. Especially then. Do anything you can to bring the material to the reader. Relate specific scenes, not general concepts. Don't just grind out a lot of information. You can't bore people into seeing your point of view.

Take your first sentence:

When people hear the phrase 'independent learning', they often think of a person sitting alone in his room - or the library - reading books, watching lecture videos, practicing exercises and learning in isolation from the world.

How could you make that more engaging? For one thing, you could try bringing the reader directly into it:

You're alone in your room, reading a book. Or you're in the library, watching a lecture video. Or you're locked away somewhere practicing exercises. You're isolated, removed from distractions, but is that enough for real learning to take place? Does isolation equal independence?

Addressing the reader is just one strategy available. Creating a proxy for the reader is another:

Sharon was alone in her room, reading a book. Michael was in the library, watching a lecture video. . . . [etc.]

There are many strategies that accomplish the same goal. Read a lot of good writers and at first try to copy their techniques, just for practice. Do this enough and eventually your own style will emerge.

  • "You can't bore people into seeing your point of view." Haha that's so true. That's exactly the impression I get when I read my own writing, but I find myself totally unable to change it. – Parag Jan 2 '15 at 17:07

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