Tag Archives: writing process

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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In the Moment Monday: Making the Pieces Fit

This week’s post is about putting it all together. Little steps. 

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by Jason F. Martinez

What is it about large projects and taking on too much at one time? Why do we often find ourselves in over our heads when trying to accomplish such tasks after we’ve waited too long?

Or maybe it’s just me…

In any case, if you should find yourself in the middle of one project, or possibly juggling multiple projects at one time, attacking the challenge with some sort of plan is key. Being able to prioritize and organize the components to be completed will usually create less stress both before and during the process. And this is a concept that many have to learn the hard way, as is the custom of all good lessons learned.

When sitting down with a student during a consultation, there is often a sense of overwhelming stress, possibly fall across their face, or perhaps I can hear it in their voice as we discuss the paper. The stress is due to several factors, and the one factor that probably takes precedence is the project’s scope.

Finally sitting town to work when the deadline is too close usually removes any confidence about the assignment and its outcomes. When this happens, most begin to panic. Panic won’t change anything, I can promise you that much. Instead, make note of the procrastination and begin planning for the next assignment. Write down what you did up to this current point of anxiety and procrastination and resolve to avoid those circumstance the next go round.

Documenting where you went wrong is the first step.But when you come across your next assignment, you should have a new plan of attack. Here is what I have done at various points in my academic career in order to have better control over my projects:

Step One – Scheduling

  • Make note of all due dates or milestones for the project(s). Use your student planner or calendar feature on your smart device or laptop to do this.
  • Annotate each entry with contact and resource info in case you should need to reach out to your professor (for assignment specific questions) or classmates (for coordination if a group project).
  • Compare the academic calendar against your work and social calendars (so to speak). This should ensure that you do not over extend yourself and commit to things that you cannot follow through with, or that will interfere with your process.

Step Two – Evaluating the Assignment or Project

  • Determine how much research your assignment may require. Make time to visit the research librarians at the library to get any assistance finding your sources and to determine the legitimacy of the research that you find.

Step Three – Engaging with the Research

  • Begin reading your research, making notes and annotations as you go along to keep track of your progress. Consider making a matrix for your research to document your process and have access to information for the future. Some information to include in the matrix (hand drawn or in an Excel spreadsheet) should be: author(s), title, year of publication, direct quotes, summary of chosen quotes, page or paragraph information, and maybe a URL or location of where you found it.
  • Depending on your learning preference, you can engage with the research you have gathered either by traditional means with printed copies, hand written notes, and use of colored pens or highlighters. Or, if you are a true student of the 21st century, you can use other digital tools, such as Adobe Reader or any other modules that can be found online.

And that’s it for this week. This may seem like it’s cut short, but there is much more to the process that requires more discussion.

Take note of this entry and look for ways to implement a more solid process for you to tackle larger assignments.

If you have the time, please take a look at this website, the Assignment Calculator, as it will help to break down the process of organizing a project. The Assignment Calculator will be covered in a future post.

As always, if you have any questions, please come see us at the MFD WC in the Academic Center for Excellence located in Library 101.

The Writing Practice

by Kristi R. Johnson

The logic behind writing practice is simple: The more we do an activity, the better we will be. The more ways we use writing (summarizing, instructing, thinking, convincing), the fuller our toolkit will be. We will have more comfort, more ways to think about what works for us, and more positive experiences that we can remember and repeat. When we think about writing, much of the time we think about long projects, tortuous sessions at the keyboard, or the angst of knowing it was not the best we could do.*

As a follow-up on last week’s post by Scott, “Writing, Athletes, Practice, and Peak Performance,” I will be talking about my own writing process and how I get myself to sit down in front of the often intimidating, as well as depressingly blank, computer screen. I will go ahead and make the disclaimer that my method is certainly not for everyone, nor will it work for all would-be writers. However, if you haven’t found your own writing process or find yourself becoming short of breath whenever you open a new Word document, there may be something in my own process that will at least help you move forward and out of that paralysis that many students find themselves when trying to write a paper.

Depending on the writer, ‘process’ can be as basic as not submitting the first draft of a project.

At the very least, submitting a first draft as a finished product should definitely be avoided. I understand that writers, most certainly students, often find themselves in a time crunch, sometimes of their own invention. I have heard procrastinators say that they work better under the pressure of having to have an eight-page paper completed before 8:00am the next day, and it is already 11:00pm the night before. I am not a procrastinator. Never have been, and I probably never will be, mostly because I begin to lose my mind if I have a writing assignment due within two weeks and I haven’t at least outlined the entire paper, completed the research (if research  is necessary), and planned out every paragraph and every point I wish to make. Procrastination just isn’t for me. But even for the chronic procrastinators, while cranking out an eight-page paper overnight may not be an issue, I doubt there is little time leftover for any significant amount of editing and revision (any chronic procrastinators out there are free to refute me on this one).

From my experiences working with students at the writing center, it seems that much of the anxiety some of them face comes from them simply not giving themselves enough time to sit and write, much less edit, revise, rewrite, and polish.  If the looming deadline for a school paper is causing you to stress out, waiting until the night before to begin writing isn’t going to alleviate any of that stress.

For other writers, writing is already a process because it occurs in stages over time.

Since I began participating in National Novel Writing Month, where the goal is to write 50,000 words in between November 1st and November 30th, when writing fiction I have taken to simply sitting down in front of my computer, or even my iPad, and writing. I usually do have an outline that I have put together, mostly containing character information, as well as details about whatever imaginary school, small town, or business I have decided to place the characters in, if only for the sake of being able to maintain some consistency as I tell the story. When churning out this first draft, my primary goal is to get the ideas and words on the page, and not worry too much about everything coming out perfect the first time. Because it won’t. And while the goal is to have so many words done by the end of a specific time period, that goal can be met by writing so many words a day, everyday.

…writing as a process is not about the product. It is not about the text that you submit to the professor, committee, or journal.

After so many days, or sessions, in front of the computer or tablet, and I have finally met whatever goal I was trying to meet, I know the project isn’t over. Don’t get me wrong, it feels great to get that first draft out of the way and completed. To me, that means 75% of the battle has been won. But now I need to edit. Because I simply sat down and wrote, without worrying about everything making sense, without taking the time to make proper transitions, and without paying too much attention to grammar, punctuation, use of the appropriate tense, etc, there is no way I can submit my story without some revision.

…the writing process is a practice…Practice is about every day, controllable activity that connects to larger issues and ideas or has longer timelines.

For the novel I eventually got published, I wrote out the draft, then went back over it with a fine-toothed comb. In retrospect, I should have had someone else look over it first before submitting it to publishers, but I didn’t. However, after it was submitted and accepted, I then handed it over to a trusted friend, eventually went over it again myself once she gave it back to me, and then submitted what I thought would be a final copy back to my publisher. But once the design guy formatted it into bookblock, I was given the opportunity to look over it once again, and sure enough, I had more revisions to make.

Writing as practice is not only about submitting more grammatical papers; it is about regularly using the tools of written communication to improve the quality of our learning and thinking. Re-drafting lecture notes, journaling, blogging, or writing letters and emails are small, daily ways to slow the pace of our life and use writing in a practical way and to achieve texts that are not high-stakes.

While I would love to have another novel published, and am currently working toward that goal, it isn’t my only writing project. For one, I occasionally contribute to this blog that you’re reading. Then I have my own book blog where I basically read books and then review them. Most recently, I have began searching out anthologies I could potentially submit my fiction to in hopes of getting some of my shorter fiction published. Even though I have graduated from college and am most likely done with academic writing and now write for fun, I still have to work at it and practice in an attempt to get better at my storytelling.

*Excerpts in italics are taken from the January 22, 2015 blog post, “Writing, Athletes, Practice, and Peak Performance,” by Scott Escalante.