Friday, February 19, 2021

Descriptive Essay: Jekyll Island's Driftwood Beach in November

Driftwood Beach, Jekyll Island
Wanting to avoid crowds, we planned our vacation to Jekyll Island in the first and second weeks in November, and we rented a small condo within walking distance of Driftwood Beach. We'd chosen Jekyll Island for our vacation because of its plethora of historical landmarks, not realizing that the quality of endurance is also a prominent natural phenomenon on Jekyll Island. 

Driftwood Beach faces the Atlantic Ocean on the northeastern shore of Jekyll Island, Georgia. Although the trees on Driftwood Beach look like driftwood, according to the Golden Isles Convention and Visitor's Bureau Web site, the name is actually a misnomer: The beach is named for the remnants of decaying trees that were once part of the island's maritime forest ("Driftwood Beach"). That forest, and its trees, have gradually succumbed to erosion and the effects of the Atlantic's salt water. What remains are the stripped skeletons of trees, bent and twisted, reaching through the sand and sea toward the sky.  The trees that were once a living part of an oceanside forest continue to appear, adding to the energy of mysterious endurance that such a place exudes.   

Our first walk to Driftwood Beach was serene, and its most noticeable feature was, of course, the trees for which it's named. We were completely alone on the beach but for the trees, and we made a temporary sacred space for ourselves against the sandy base of a large, bare tree. Instead of fighting with the sensory overload of everyday life, we were able to focus on the moment, point out large waves or diving pelicans, watch the shrimp boats, and enjoy the sound of the wind through the grass and the feeling of sun on our faces. We felt small, like part of the beach, part of the make-up of the place. We were able to experience an idyllic moment resting against a tree that embodied the mystery of its own continued existence.

Our second walk to Driftwood Beach followed a violent thunderstorm that only those who've experienced the difference between an inland storm and an island storm can appreciate. That storm also held mystery, but it was a mysterious violence, powerful beyond imagining, and it was awe-inspiring: Floors vibrated, windows whistled and rattled, the roof shook, and rain blew in every direction. That storm also made us feel small, but instead of feeling like part of the beach, we felt isolated, cowering in our bed, in our blankets. 

Post storm, the beach was littered with horseshoe crabs and seaweed, fishing nets and plastics. The waves were larger and louder, the birds were fewer, the grass was flattened, the sun was behind the clouds, yet the trees were still holding where they had been before the storm. Some were buried deeper in the sand, others were more exposed, but all of them were where they had been the day before. Those trees put our cowering into perspective. They demonstrated an unimaginable permanence, a mysterious endurance, an awe-inspiring strength and resilience - even against the ferocity of a fearful storm. The trees were bare, a natural rebellion against the cold wind that followed the storm, while we piled on layers of clothing just to make a short walk. 

Driftwood Beach continues to erode. The weather continues to change, and the sand continues to shift as storms come and go, bringing debris in and out with the waves, erasing marks left in the sand by inconsequential people. The trees, though smaller branches come and go, seem to remain the same. The trees, unlike the people, mysteriously endure just as surely as the other historical landmarks on Jekyll Island. 

Write Outside

Want to read more about writing descriptive essays, including the writing prompt that inspired this post? Read my complete text, Write Outside: Outdoor Activities and Writing Prompts for English Composition (affiliate link).

Works Cited

“Driftwood Beach.” Golden Isles Georgia, Golden Isles Convention and Visitors Bureau, 2021,

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Please contact the author for permission to republish.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Strategies, Hints, and Tips for Revising and Editing Essays

Revision is not a solo activity. Many professors assign a revision day assignment or peer revision in their classes. Take advantage of the opportunity!

Revision can seem like a daunting task. After all, how can a student be expected to find, understand, and correct a paper's errors when that student made the errors in the first place? It's understandably frustrating. However, there are some strategies for revision that can help make it a bit more manageable. 

The most important things to remember about revision are that revision is not the same as editing, neither revision nor editing should be a solo activity, and each pass at the paper improves the paper. It may not be "perfect" after revisions have been made, but it will be "better." 

But first things first, it's important to understand what's meant by revision. Revision often includes two different "mini-steps" in the writing process, both revision and editing. Whereas revision implies looking at the structural integrity of an essay, editing implies correcting errors at the sentence-level. 


During revision, both self revision and peer revision, students look at the overall structure and content of an essay to make sure it has unity, coherence, and clearly articulated evidence that provides just the right amount of ethos and logos, and sometimes pathos, for the intended audience. There are several strategies for making the revision process effective and efficient.

Revision Hints and Tips for Students

  • Read and revise multiple times, focusing on different aspects of the paper each time. 
  • Take breaks between different aspects to clear your mind.
  • Ask someone to read the paper aloud as you listen and make notes about anything that's unclear to your reader. 
  • Discuss the paper with others both before and after peer revision to make sure you've cleared up any inconsistencies and carefully supported all your points.
  • Outline your paper once it's finished to check its structure, and rearrange it as necessary.
  • Make an appointment with a tutor if you aren't sure how to restructure or format your paper.


When editing, students look for and correct errors in grammar, punctuation, and mechanics. Those errors might be as innocuous as spelling "teh" instead of "the" or forgetting the hyphen in a compound word. On the other hand, these types of errors can be as serious as missing quotation marks to set apart a direct quotation.  That kind of error can result in unintentional plagiarism and a failing grade.

Editing Hints and Tips for Students

  • Read and revise multiple times, looking for different types of mistakes each time.
  • Reverse-reading, or reading the last sentence to the first, is especially helpful when looking for common errors, including sentence fragments, missing antecedents, or vague language. 
  • Use your word processing program's built-in checkers, or apps like Grammarly and Hemmingway Writer, to help you locate potential mistakes. Use your best judgement when implementing suggestions.
  • Check each piece of source content and each citation using a publication manual or the OWL Purdue Web site.
  • Read aloud to listen for additional errors commonly made, like wordiness, subject-verb agreement errors, and errors with modifiers.
  • Make an appointment with a tutor if you aren't sure how to edit your errors.

Revision and Editing Checklists

One way to divide revision and editing into manageable pieces is to use a checklist based on the paper's rhetorical situation and the main qualities of writing: unity, coherence, clarity, content, and formatting.


  • Is the purpose or mode and strategy of this essay easy to identify just by reading the introduction?
  • Does the writer maintain one purpose or mode and strategy for the entire essay?


  • Is this an appropriate narrowed topic for the required mode of this essay?
  • Is the essay’s title and subtitle based on the thesis statement’s topic and tone?
  • Does the title explain the specific focus of the essay?
  • Is the thesis focused on one main idea?
  • Can the thesis easily be found in either the introduction or conclusion of the essay?

Intended Audience

  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Is the intended audience easy to identify just by reading the introduction?
  • Does this essay offer the intended reader a chance to think and learn?
  • Is the writer’s voice, style, tone, and level of formality effective for the intended audience?


  • Does the attention-getting material in the introduction appropriately lead-into the thesis?
  • Does each paragraph have one clear topic sentence?
  • Does each topic sentence stem from one main idea expressed in the thesis or essay map?
  • Does the evidence in each paragraph directly support that paragraph’s topic sentence?
  • Are there any shifts in the language or style that might distract or confuse the intended audience?
  • Does the writer inadvertently stray from the thesis or shift their viewpoint at any point in the essay?
  • Does the conclusion end the essay in a way that helps the reader remember the thesis statement?


  • Do the paragraphs in the essay flow smoothly from one to another?
  • Are the paragraphs ordered logically and deliberately?
  • Do the sentences in each paragraph flow smoothly from one to another?
  • Is each new piece of evidence introduced and presented smoothly using transitional words and phrases?
  • Has the writer used attribution to introduce the credentials of source content authors?


  • Has the writer avoided vague and ambiguous language, like “very” or “you?”
  • Have you found any extraneous language or wordiness?
  • Have you found any sentence fragments or run-on sentences?
  • Have you found any subject-verb or pronoun agreement errors?
  • Have you found any punctuation or capitalization errors?


  • Has the writer demonstrated an appropriate use of ethos?
  • Has the writer demonstrated an appropriate use of pathos?
  • Has the writer demonstrated an appropriate use of logos?
  • Does this essay contain enough evidence to support each topic sentence?
  • Has the student used expert or lay testimony and facts or statistics as evidence?
  • Has the student used a narrative, description, or personal experience as evidence?
  • Has the student provided real and hypothetical examples?
  • Most importantly, are all claims supported by reasons and evidence?


  • Does this essay meet the word count and research requirements of the assignment?
  • Is all source content cited both in-text and on the references page in MLA or APA format?
  • Are this essay’s title page, running head, body, and citations in MLA or APA format?


Again, please remember that revision and editing are not the same processes and should be attempted separately, at different times, so that writers and reviewers can focus on specific error types without feeling overwhelmed. It's also important that students work with one another and with tutors, if necessary, to facilitate both revision and editing. Although many of the steps in the writing process are often an individual writer's responsibility, a paper will be in it's best form after others have helped a writer find and correct errors in unity, coherence, clarity, content, and formatting.

Want to read more about writing essays? Try

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Contact the author for permission to republish.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

En Plein Air, Watercolor, and Haiku

Cat sitting behind a little greenhouse and watering can
En Plein Air Watercolor Image
by Amy Lynn Hess

I have recently taken up watercolor painting, and although I've been painting with acrylics for over 20 years, I have found using watercolor challenging. 

With watercolor, I have to work quickly to capture movement, and the paint itself can sometimes define my lines for me, seemingly of its own will. Hues and values are created by working in layers, some layers and puddles or plops drying more quickly than others. The watercolor paper I have, unlike the stretched canvas I use for acrylic painting, warps into humps and bumps that create even more puddles and plops, and I've had to release my desire to rigidly control the paint. It simply goes where the water goes. 

Over the past few weeks, however, I've started to think about watercolor in a new way. I've started to think of this finicky paint as a tool for creating visual haiku, a way to quickly capture a moment, a bit of life, an observation of what's outside.


Although there are times when painting outdoors is simply untenable, there are definite benefits to trying it - benefits both artistic and philosophical, and maybe even literary.


En Plein Air, A View of What's Outside

The Wayne Art Center, sponsors of The Plein Air Festival in Wayne Pennsylvania, defines en plein air clearly and concisely: "En plein air is a French expression meaning 'in the open air', and refers to the act of painting outdoors with the artist's subject in full view." More than simply being outdoors while painting, another key element of plein air is to, to build upon this definition, directly view, observe, and therefore interpret what the artist is gazing upon with one's own eyes. 

Yet, unlike painting a still life, which is often prearranged and static, and unlike painting from another image or photograph, painting en plein air captures the movement of life, it's winds and dancing shadows, passing clouds, and changing light. 

Direct Observation

The value in direct observation is related partially to, well, value, in addition to the other characteristics of color and the elements of composition. Instead of working from a photograph, which is already representational and may or may not be a result of an artist's own direct observation, working from life allows for authentic representation of a moment, an articulation of the painter's gaze in the moment. To summarize Ingrid Christensen, a gallery artist and popular workshop instructor, the human eye is simply better than a camera's lens in almost every way. Whereas depth perception, saturation, focus, contrast, and brightness are fixed for the camera, and a two-dimensional representation of one fixed moment is produced by photography, our eyes adapt to the variability of life. Our eyes create a direct link with life, with a fleeting moment. 

In the Open Air

When painting en plein air, or in the open air, the observations painters make are of the outdoor environments in which they find themselves. In a few minimal strokes of paint, in perhaps only a few moments, a painter captures a scene, its season, with as much detail as necessary to help viewers enter that moment with the painter.

In writing haiku, the principles are similar. 

Principles of Haiku

The best explanation of haiku I have been able to find comes from writer Mark Blasini. He breaks down the principles into singularity, accuracy, accessibility, economy, and brevity.  

As Blasini explains these five principles, some of his verbiage seemingly applies to both plein air in general and watercolor painting, specifically: "Focus on a moment that you feel you have to share with another person," he says of the principle of singularity. As for accuracy, make it as "realistic, clear, and depictive as possible," he says. Accessibility refers to building a scene the readers can imagine, and in haiku this includes the principle of kigo, or the illustration of the season. The principles of economy and brevity should also both sound familiar to anyone who practices watercolor painting. Haiku and watercolor both require minimal use of materials, a layering of translucence,  and an ability to work quickly. Whereas Blasini explains that writers "keep the haiku sayable in one breath," watercolor painters keep images workable in one sitting, perhaps workable in one layer of water, maybe even in one unit of wetness.

Puddle and plop though they may, my watercolor challenges (and mistakes) have become something much more meaningful as my paradigm has shifted. Watercolor, especially when en plein air, is visual haiku.

As with haiku, my watercolor paintings can now become a single, observed moment I want to share with others, with an intended audience. They can become a fleeting moment I want to capture with as much detail as possible in order to help that intended audience experience my impressions of that moment. I can stop overworking the paper and overthinking my gaze, and think only of keeping my images to "one breath."

I can also get a little sunshine and fresh air, weather permitting.

Want to read more about haiku? Try

On Kaiseki and Haiku 

Works Cited

Blasini, Mark. “The Five Principles.” The Way of Haiku, 9 Oct. 2013,

Christensen, Ingrid. “Why You Should Draw from Real Life, Not a Photograph.” Artsy, 23 July 2019, 

“What Is Plein Air?” Plein Air Festival, Wayne Art Center, air/

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Please contact the author for permission to republish.