Everyone has self-doubt — but try not to make it an existential crisis when writing a paper

With the end of the semester drawing near, students are finding themselves swamped with papers. In fact, almost every student has at least one paper due soon. As a writing center tutor, I have seen all levels of preparedness: students who wait until the day before the deadline, students who come in weeks in advance, and even students who just want some reassurance that their paper is going in the right direction. As a student myself, I will admit that the deadlines and topics are stressful, but there are ways to prevent unwanted stress and ways to make the process easier. Let’s talk about that!

Unfortunately, there are some students who will wait hours before something is due to actually finish it. If you are the sort of person who can write a ten-page paper on alterity in one hour than you are very extraordinary because most of us need more time. While I have been guilty of doing things last minute (this is college — it’s going to happen) I always advise my students to plan ahead. The best way to begin an assignment is to make an outline. I know, I know an outline. It’s a little extra work, but it will be your guide to getting the paper written. An outline will allow you to see where your thoughts are and how they should progress. While tedious, making an outline for an assignment is the most effective way of starting something.

Most commonly I meet students who have a lot of self-doubt. I can’t possibly write ten pages. This doesn’t sound right. Why did I ever enroll in this class? Everyone has moments where they doubt themselves, but try not to make it an existential crisis when writing a paper. My favorite advice to give to other writers is to always read it out loud. Hearing it will always help you decide if it works well or if it doesn’t. The first draft of anything you write isn’t going to be perfect. Sometimes even your second or third draft won’t be perfect and that’s okay.

Another common issue I see often is that students come in with questions that their professors could easily answer for them…if the student asked. It’s important that I say that most professors welcome questions and will happily assist you if you are in need. I have never met a professor who was unwilling to sit down with me and discuss how to tackle a paper. Even the craziest stick-wielding professor (there’s one in every crowd) will sit down and help if you ask. Don’t be ashamed to ask for the help either. Generally, if you have a question about something there’s at least one other student who has the same question and will benefit from the help.

Lastly, I would encourage students to use the writing center as much as they need to. Don’t feel embarrassed by it and don’t assume that the tutors will look down on you by any means. We’re students too and we’re learning alongside you! If you don’t think we email each other papers and ask for guidance you’d be dead wrong. Asking for help is okay and there is literally a center where we will sit down with you and work on anything you might have trouble in. College is hard and this part of the semester is always the roughest, but it doesn’t mean you have to suffer through it alone. Always remember: Outlines, self confidence, and your professors. With those three things you can conquer anything set before you, but mostly you’ll just get your papers written.

-Lydia A. Cyrus


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