Category Archives: Writing Tips for the Everyday Writer

Tips for writing, handouts, and quick references.
New post every 2 weeks.

Getting Back On Track: Tips For Student Writers

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by Jason Martinez, Writing Consultant

Now that we’re about the midpoint of the semester, take a moment and reflect on how often the urge to stop what you are doing has overtaken you. And think of how much progress you lost because of various factors, some within your control and some outside of your control. It is perfectly natural to take breaks and stop working, and it is inevitable for most of us. Let us examine that problem a little closer to see what can be done to remedy procrastination and surrounding anxieties.

All too often, without intention to set myself back, I will stop what I am working on and lose nearly all momentum on the project. Being away from this blog for so long is an example of me feeling overwhelmed at writing, which is ironic considering my role as a Writing Consultant. But when I tell students that they are not alone in their procrastination and associated anxieties and concerns, this should serve as both confession and proof that most of us struggle to keep on top of workloads.

So, moving forward, let us take a look at some ways to regroup and get back on track when we are surrounded by that overwhelming need to stop what we are doing, letting the project get away from us.

First, it is important to remember that we are only human; we are going to get distracted and that is okay, and sometimes necessary to maintain a sense of balance.  This is a natural inclination that most of us have. However, what is not okay, and is more harmful than good is using the distraction as an excuse for not doing the work. Trust me when I say that starting and stopping is not uncommon. But if possible, do not make indulging in distractions a consistent practice.

For many of us, laziness of some variety may play a role in procrastination (spoilers: I am guilty of this), but there are also other factors like anxiety playing a role in what we often label as laziness. Anxiety that is often linked to behavior considered laziness shows that more often we are truly lazy in the sense that we do not make that first move to get started, or more importantly, to get back to work in a timely manner.

Another reason for not working effectively is perfectionism.  Perfectionism is a good excuse to be unproductive and can give a false sense of entitlement to rationalize bad habits.  So, without realizing it, these bad habits have created this delay and procrastination, further adding to a sense of fear related directly to starting or continuing work on a project.

The need to “be perfect” can allow us to nitpick every element, further setting us back and ultimately overwhelming us to the point of keeping us away from the project for too long. What should be a stopping point to reflect over the progress becomes an extended hiatus, which only re-convenes when time has run down to the point of making life harder for us. We now have to go into high gear, a gear that is usually not nearly as productive at the eleventh hour. This is when mistakes are made, details not ironed out or double-checked, and the work is substandard.

With this being stated, we now have a starting point of understanding some of the root issues with procrastination. And more importantly, there is some context as to why these behaviors can occur. What can be done to improve the situation? Here are a few ways to consider making your life and workflow process easier to handle:

  • Break the process down into smaller, digestible chunks that are not overwhelming, but will still yield positive and constructive results. This means that you might need to agree to only working at smaller increments, promising yourself to work for 10-30 minutes at a time without break. Something manageable and as free of distractions as possible.
  • After your first work sequence is complete, get up and away from your work area. Pack up your things and take a walk around campus, grab a bite to eat, call your parents or friends, go workout, or just rest. But get away from the work for at least a few minutes.
  • If you are working in such small increments of 10-30 minutes, a simple stretch and a snack will usually do the trick. If you are doing an hour or more at one time, definitely move around and get some exercise to be sure not to risk being too sedentary and the resulting health issues.
  • Come back to the work. Always come back to the work as soon as possible so that all your hard work is not lost to sluggish progress and procrastination. Staying away too long will set you back and hurt you in the end.

Being effective as a student writer means being honest about yourself and your daily habits. Be free and vulnerable to say that you are lazy at times, or are a perfectionist. But do not judge yourself. Everyone works in different ways. Embrace the imperfections that make you special. Then use those imperfections to your advantage and move forward; find positives out of perceived negatives. Being an effective student, let alone a student writer, means that you are willing to make a plan, assess that plan and its outcomes, and then execute that plan based on all that you know. Commitment to completing the project is also a requirement. The goal is to be reasonable about your outcomes and to realize that tackling a writing project is a process, not an outcome.

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Flashback Friday: Pondering on Prepositions

by Sabrina 

When I was in fifth grade, my teacher gave us the daunting task to memorize a chart of prepositions and then recite them to the tune of “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” At the time, I believed this was impossible (as a young person may at that age), but the challenge drove me to do the very best that I could.

In hindsight, I appreciate the challenge set forth by my teacher because I am still able to recall a great number of prepositions from memory.

Let me state that I am not saying everyone should memorize prepositions the way I did. I included that flashback as a way to introduce today’s Flashback Friday topic.

Prepositions!! Even though I can remember many of them, I still look at preposition charts and instructions on prepositional phrases when writing. So I thought that this would be a good topic for today’s post, as it is something that everyone can appreciate a little reminder about once in a while.

Here is a link to a handy chart of prepositions and examples of how to use them: Preposition Chart
Full credit goes to St. Mary’s College of California for preparing this resourceful tool. Bookmark the chart on your computer in case you ever need a little help.

I also remember being told that I could not end a sentence with a preposition. While that used to be a standard rule of grammar and writing, we now consider that as more of a loose guideline that can be followed but also has exceptions. For more info, check out this link to Grammar Girl’s post Ending a Sentence With a Preposition.

Well readers (& writers), I hope this Flashback Friday finds you all in positive spirits. Happy Writing!

P.S. If you are in San Antonio this weekend and want something non-school related, check out the 6th Annual San Antonio Book Festival on Saturday April 7th from 9-5, held at the Central Library (600 Soledad) and Southwest School of Art. Lots of authors will be there for panels and signings, including Claudia Gray (all my Star Wars fans should know who I am talking about) and Sandra Cisneros.

 

(Don’t) Put a Ring On It: The Danger of Getting Married to Your Thesis

by Kristi R. Johnson

 

https://frinkiac.com/meme/S04E15/1290705.jpg?b64lines=
From The Simpsons episode S04E15: “I Love Lisa”

Thesis: A statement or theory that is put forward as a premise to be maintained or proved.

No, the WNW, also known as Word Nerd Wednesdays, has not quite returned for the Spring 2017 semester. But I did feel the need to address the issue of students jumping head-long into a commitment with a thesis that is just not worthy of them.

And if I am now responsible for possibly getting a certain Beyoncé song stuck in your head, I apologize for nothing. It is a great song (and an even better music video) and there are certainly songs that are much more annoying, though just as catchy, that I could have referenced.

While in school, I often told myself that finding a topic to write about, along with knowing the general argument I wanted to make, was half the battle of writing a paper. And for me, that was true, but it is not true for everybody. For most people, the actual writing is at least 80% of the battle, if not more. Of course, the topic is always important, and a thesis can make or break a paper.

If you are fortunate, you are able to go to your college library, or search the myriad of article databases out there, and come away with a sufficient amount of articles that will support your thesis. But the chances of the thesis you originally came up with being the exact one to make it into the final paper are small, for most people.

So what do you do when it isn’t working out with your thesis? Do you break up? Or do you try to make it work?

Hopefully you aren’t so far along in your paper that letting go of your thesis will require a lot of backtracking. And if it does require some backtracking, fingers crossed that you have allowed yourself enough time before the deadline to do so. If at most I had an outline, and maybe an introduction paragraph, but my research was leading me in a different direction, I was still in a position where I could go back and change things without feeling like I had wasted too much time.

But what if nine pages of a 15 page paper have been drafted, and the thesis gets weaker with every new word that is put down? Oh, and the assignment is due in the instructor’s inbox by noon tomorrow. This is when many people just try to make it work. Even if the deadline isn’t coming up within the next 24 hours, having already written a good chunk of the paper will make almost any student avoid considering a rewrite.

Or even worse, what if the paper is completed, and then you do something silly like go to the writing center at your school, and all of the feedback points to your thesis not holding up?

Full disclosure: I don’t have a real answer. I personally try not to marry my thesis in the first place. Only after I have done the research and made sure it is a point I can make in the required amount of pages do I start to become attached to it. And even then, things can still get altered slightly.

It happens all of the time that students realize, too late it seems, that it just isn’t working out with their thesis. And as a writing consultant, I am not sure if I could ever tell a student that an entire paper should be scrapped…not unless it was clear that they were missing the mark completely. However, instructors have asked that students do a complete rewrite, which is preferable to simply being given a poor grade.

Honestly, putting together a solid thesis that you can stick with can often come down to allowing yourself enough time to do the research, as well as outline the points you want to make before actually sitting down to write the paper. When I allowed myself time to plan ahead, there was a smaller chance that my thesis would end up being scrapped for a different one. When students rush and do not have enough time to edit and revise, the urge to stay married to a flimsy thesis is strong, if only because it feels like there is not enough time to find a new one, much less rework a paper for it.

But this is college. With four or more classes and at least three of them requiring various papers and essays and reports of different lengths, who has time to plan and outline? Even so, it may save you some heartache if you do.

In the meantime, don’t put a ring on it. Even if you like it.

Need Some Help Starting that Research Paper??

By Sabrina Z.

Everyone needs a little help now and then. And that is perfectly alright.

As midterms approach, mid-semester projects will be due soon and final research projects will be joining the conversation.

I can truthfully say that there are some assignments that I put off, whether because I think working off the adrenaline will help or I simply procrastinate. It happens to everyone and we just have to own it.

But if you want a little help to develop a plan for your next assignment, the Sueltenfuss Library and ACE collaborated and created a nifty little tool called The Assignment Calculator.

Enter your due date and the calculator will put together a timeline of dates and stages that will guide you through the work process to completion.

Having a strategy for completing work can ease some of the stress from the work process, and ideally inspire you as a researcher and writer.

If you want to try it out, click on this link: http://calc.ollusa.edu/ollu_calculator/

The link can also be found on the left side of this blog page, under “Resources.”

Check out the flyer below for more details:

Give it a try for a little extra organization when working on your major assignments.
Give it a try for a little extra organization when working on your major assignments.

Happy Writing!!

Need to get that research paper assignment done on time? It is not how much time you have, but HOW you use your time!

Give it a try for a little extra organization when working on your major assignments.
Give it a try for a little extra organization when working on your major assignments.

The Sueltenfuss Library and Academic Center for Excellence (ACE) have collaboratively created a new time-management tool that outlines the process of researching and writing and provides recommended links for your expanded understanding.

This Research Project Assignment Calculator will help you:
Use your time wisely.
Stay on schedule.
Succeed.

Give it a try. Questions? Contact Us!

Library Contact: (800) 846-4085 / library.ollusa.edu / @OLLUlibrary / Sueltenfuss Library

ACE Contact: (210) 528-7160 / http://www.mfdwritingcenter.wordpress.com