On the first day of my Advanced Composition class in 12th grade, the teacher handed out a list of random words and told us our assignment was to “arrange” the words in a way that made sense to us.
The next day, we shared our oddly-constructed sentences, and discussed whether it was easier for us to start the sentence logically and then trail off into less-sensical phrasing, or whether we had trouble starting but managed to make it logical by the end of the sentence. The teacher then shared a little house a previous student had built out of popsicle sticks, one of the words written on each stick. That was a logical “arrangement” for a very creative, outside-the-box thinker. Overachiever.
I was in the first camp—those who started off strong and then lost their focus by the end. The teacher told us that the exercise could give us an indication of our overall tendency in writing—the random-word sentence being a microcosm of longer essays we would write for the class. She was quite right, and I have thought back on that exercise many times over the years. (Give it a try yourself! Here are some sample words: house, grew, and, they, fish, unexpected, a, catnap, the, fell, older, had.)
In high school, when I was a devoted journaler, I often struggled to bring my entries to a close. Usually, I fell back on a lame self-condolence like “I’m sure everything will work out okay,” no matter how despairing the entry itself was. I think I even occasionally used the journalistic kiss of death, “A good time was had by all.”
My conclusions improved over the course of that class, partly because I was more aware of my weakness in that area, but in college, grad school, and even now as an editor and blogger, I still get hung up on the last few sentences. I know I’m not alone in this—given how often I edit a chapter and realize the author hasn’t made the strongest conclusion he or she could have, and I often agonize over how the author should wrap things up, just as I agonize over the conclusions in my own articles or blog posts.
Ironically, inevitably, I am actually at a loss for how to conclude this very post. Fortunately, there is a trendy blogger trick (theoretically designed to prompt reader comments, though I find that rarely works) that comes in handy here: the Question. So there you go...
Do you have trouble writing conclusions?
(If so, don’t worry. I’m sure everything will work out okay ;0)