What should I write about?

As someone who grades upwards of a thousand essays per year, I will tell you this: after a while every paper on abortion or the death penalty starts to sound alike. It takes a lot for a paper on a hackneyed topic to rise above the monotony.

As John Tienery puts it, “One reason teachers secretly hate grading is the sheer drudgery and tedium. When you’re two-thirds of the way through 35 essays on why the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of McCulloch v. Maryland is important for an understanding of the development of American federalism, it takes a strong spirit not to want to poke your eyes out with a steak knife rather than read one more.” It’s no wonder some teachers resort to the Mr. D Method (see video at bottom of page).

On the other hand, if you can choose a topic that is fresh, it can help set your paper apart from the rest of the stack, which believe it or not, is probably a good thing. Grading a pile of essays can sometimes feel like panning for gold, and I often feel like shouting “Eureka!” when I find an essay with some original ideas.

So if you have a big paper coming up and have no idea what to write about or keep coming up with the same boring ideas as everyone else, EasyTopics.com may be just the site for you.

EasyTopics uses info from papers submitted at EasyBib (a free site that helps users build bibliographic citations for their research papers) to compile a huge list of ideas for your own research papers.

The site doesn’t offer full essays–which would be cheating–but merely an extensive list of ideas for things to write about broken down by subject area.

You may find just the right idea for your paper or maybe you’ll read about an idea that leads you to think of a related idea of your own.

Words I Never Want to Read

In this instructive piece, editor Jamie Chavez talks a bit about pet words in creative writing, but mostly she focuses on “some words and phrases [she] really wish[es] you wouldn’t use, because,  frankly, [she is] tired of reading them.”

• I couldn’t help but … (notice, think, wonder)
This phrase shows up in many variations, and all of them are unoriginal and empty. Stop it. Just say, “I noticed …”

• Truth be known
Aside from the fact it’s way overused, it’s awkward. If you really must use it, it should properly be If the truth were known. Don’t tell me it’s your voice. Please.

• Suddenly
The hallmark of an inexperienced writer. Think about it: everything in fiction (in life!) happens suddenly. One second it wasn’t happening … and then it was. Suddenly.

• Blurt out
You remember my post on dialogue tags, right? I’m already not crazy about blurt for that reason, but when you write he blurted out, I cringe at the redundancy.

• I thought to myself (or he thought to himself)
Of course you think to yourself! Who else is in there with you? Now, you can say things to yourself. That means you’re speaking out loud, but are not engaged in a dialogue with another character. And that’s fine. Although it is, they say, one of the first signs of insanity.

• Then, then, and then
It’s not necessary to keep reminding me that one action came after another.

• Memories that flash or crash
Why is it so difficult to write about memories? Phrases like Memories of that day came crashing down on him or He flashed back to a happier time are just overdone. Corollary: memories that stab, as in Waves of guilt stabbed at him. Ick.

• That
He used to think that he couldn’t live without her. Then he realized that he could. If I had a nickel (as my father used to say) for every superfluous that I’ve removed from manuscripts, I could retire to that little beach house on Tybee Island I’ve had my eye on.

Read her full post here.

Ruin Most of Your Favorite Movies in Five Minutes

The folks at Mental Floss “think you’ll enjoy this scientific-type debunking of 11 common film and television tropes and clichés.”

For the creative writer, there are probably some very important lessons to learn here (i.e., consider this a list of things to avoid in your stories if you want them to be authentic).

But there’s a good chance that their list of 11 TV and Movie Clichés You Never See in Real Life is only going to drive you crazy for the rest of your movie-going life.

Click the link  and read on at your own risk.