One Day at a Time: The Key to Overcoming the Fear of Writing & Battling Procrastination

Even for some seasoned writers, the thought of that next upcoming paper can be overwhelming. Worry about topic choices, research time and materials, and the mental road blocks that may ensue begin to consume your mind, and that doesn’t even include the actual writing. The mental exhaustion can be worse for less experienced writers or students who simply dislike writing. The key to overcoming the fear of writing, which in itself can help overcome the procrastination that is always creeping into your mind, is to plan it out. Take the writing one day at a time. Don’t sit and try to write a 5-page paper (especially so if it’s any longer than that) the day before. I know you’ve heard that incessantly, but make it easier on yourself and your grade by planning your writing out.

 

This is a dilemma that I have faced personally and over years of writing have found to work the best. It not only allows for more available time throughout the week, but makes me feel better because I know I can take a break. I don’t have to write the whole thing in 1 or 2 days. I can plan, take some time to think, have a breather, and write better. I have time to tweak and to skip a paragraph or question I should be answering if I can’t quite get it one day. Planning your writing out is always the number one advice I give to students I work with in the Writing Center who are struggling with time and pages, which is always a bad combination. If I have a student come in who says they have a paper due next week and they just don’t even know where to start, I tell them it’s okay. Breathe. We have time, which means you’ll get the number or words or the required number of pages you need without additional pressure. Then, we plan it out together, make subsequent appointments, and take it one day at a time.

Plan it out. It’s almost as simple as it sounds. While it does depend on the length of your paper and the amount of preparation/research required, here’s the general idea:

  • 1+ days for writing out ideas about topics, answers to required questions, thesis, points you want to make, creating an outline.
  • Approximately 1 day per page or section, depending on the type of paper you are writing.
  • 1+ days for editing, again depending on how long the paper is or how much editing you feel you need to do. It’s always a great idea to take your paper to your professor’s office hours if you get a chance or have some serious questions.

 

Taking the time to plan it out, especially on the first day or so of general planning your paper, creating an outline, or simply jotting down some notes on points you want to make, will help save you time and pressure in the long run. Breaking up long papers into smaller segments makes the overwhelming big picture feel and look just a little bit better and much more manageable.

-Alexa

Listen to Other Tutors: The Importance of Sharing Tutoring Experiences

When I entered the writing center at Marshall University as a tutor for the first time, I was a nervous wreck. The previous night I was notified via email that a student signed up for my time slot and he wanted help with his rhetorical analysis. The last time I wrote or saw a rhetorical analysis was when I was a freshman. So it had been a while. I looked up some information on the rhetorical analysis online and while I felt better about the coming day, I was still not confident in my ability to help with the rhetorical analysis.

The next day I entered the writing center still feeling like I was going to let the student, and myself, down. There were two other grad students working that day and we talked about what assignments we were expecting to tutor. I mentioned the rhetorical analysis and my nervousness for tutoring such a task, and luckily, they had already had a couple students who needed help with rhetorical analyses. They shared with me how they helped their tutees; how they taught their tutees to focus more on content and organization (since those issues were more prevalent within the students’ papers), how they recommended the students to change the tone of their essays to fit a more analytical approach. They then reflected on what they could have done better for the students, such as getting the tutee to read aloud a paragraph of their paper to better check for grammatical mistakes. After the conversation, my tutee arrived and we started working. In addition to making sure the student’s paper fit the rubric, along with making sure the analytical tone of his paper was effective, I applied what I just heard from my peers to the tutoring appointment, and I believe the session was successful. It seemed like the student was understanding more about the nuances of the daunting rhetorical analysis than before and he made an effort to continue to write a better paper.

After the session, I reflected on how I helped that student. I realized that, thanks to the two who shared with me what they could have done more, I used that information to my advantage. This led me to the conclusion that more experienced tutors who share their mistakes can be as, or even more, beneficial than sharing their successes. Not only does the inexperienced tutor become more comfortable tutoring, but they also achieve better results. We, as inexperienced tutors, learn not to make the same mistakes as someone before that can easily be avoided if we have the knowledge for them.

This sharing of information can be used in various other ways, such as your own writing. This may seem like an obvious assertion, but I have read and heard from fellow tutors that they narrowly focus on tutoring without applying that experience for their personal use. And the more I reflect on that, the more confused I become. I believe each tutoring session is not only a learning experience for the tutee, but also for the tutor. And the feedback provided by fellow tutors adds onto that learning experience from the tutoring appointment. How someone consciously or subconsciously makes that separation I will never understand. Why not take advantage of the many sources of information willingly provided for you, and use it to better your writing? I understand, thankfully, most tutors don’t do this, but I feel like it should be mentioned.

The best example I can give for using the knowledge from a tutoring session to one’s own writing is this blog post. The idea for this post wasn’t solely mine. Like usual, I overthought what I should write about for this post. I knew I wanted to write something about the tutors themselves and not about an aspect of tutoring, knowing the other tutors in my class would cover those bases (and they did a great job of it, if I’m allowed to say). I mentioned this to a couple tutors and one suggested that instead of writing about what tutors should do on their down time (which was my initial idea) I should write about the importance of learning and sharing their experiences tutoring with fellow tutors. So then I started writing this.

  • Justin Kinney

Writing “You”: A Guide to Becoming Your Own Writer

The permeating influence of fictional texts seep into the composition of the students that have consumed them, whether or not those students are aware of this phenomenon. Writers that consider themselves professionals are not exempt from this transaction of style either, given that many contemporary novels are consistently compared to those that came decades before them. While the urge to emulate the techniques of a favorite novelist or academic scholar will be increasingly overwhelming, the fact of the matter is that writing is, first and foremost, a remarkably personal act. In seeking to imitate the stylistic choices that have been utilized in other famous pieces of literature, the action of morphing the written word becomes almost second-hand, a reiteration of something else that has already been said in a similar format. Thus, the general rule of thumb when creating prose within the composition classroom is that of the following: write as your own self, not in a copy-and-paste arrangement that leaves little room for personal growth. The beauty of this particular course is that students have the ability to hone their writing skills that are unique to them (as well as obtain information on citing, formatting, etc.), and in many cases, the utilization of personal voice and experience can greatly influence a piece.

For example, I want to be F. Scott Fitzgerald, or rather, I want to write like F. Scott Fitzgerald. His prose is eloquent, yet tinged with sarcasm and poignant, political criticism that can only belong to that of an author that truly knows his topic and has lived his given subject matters. That being said, I’m a twenty-year-old, Caucasian female that has little to complain about besides the odd night wherein I have to decide whether to complete homework assignments or watch the next episode of Attack on Titan. Clearly, I am not equipped to handle the same aspects of life within my compositions. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have the ability to compose about a plethora of other topics, though, such as: drowning in collegiate financial debt, being a female in an age where feminine oppression is still pseudo-predominant, or losing a Wi-Fi connection and being unable to watch anime on Netflix.

However, this is not to completely discourage the influence that authors have upon impressionable students. In fact, students can discern a great deal about their own stylistic choices by experimenting with the structures that they find within their favorite texts. Fiction students are often encouraged to flip sentence structures and rewrite paragraphs from their favorite novels in exercises pertaining to the morphing of text. The identification with these pieces of writing should be seen as a relative first step in the process towards becoming a self-actualized writer.

The next stages of the process are slightly more ambiguous. As aforementioned, writing is a personal matter, and imitation will be honed in upon immediately. In a similar vein, following the precedent that has been set by others can be incredibly constricting when it comes to improving individual art formats. As cliché as it sounds, most refining will be spawned from the honing of skills and the eventual rebellion against the techniques that the writer has learned. In this way, writing is almost like that of a backwards cycle, given that so much of it hinges on the stylistic choices that are formulated by the twisting of specific restraints. No other field of study will encourage students to combat the rules that they are taught once said students have properly mastered them; it is almost as if composition professors are molding miniature, literary anarchists. For instance, students in varying forms of composition (personal statements, fiction pieces, etc.) are often warned against the onset of stereotypical and cliché statements, given that they can often contract from the content. However, in other such classrooms, such as that of the sciences or business-related fields, clichés and standards formats are encouraged. Thus, composition exists in a limbo-like stage wherein students are both asked to conform and rebel against given class constraints.

Within the Writing Center, I often hear, “I really don’t understand how this applies to me,” to which I generally reply, “That’s great!” While students are often confused by my response, I encourage them to analyze why it is that they feel this certain way. Compose a list of general thoughts and analyze them. How do they influence the product that the student has created? How is the student’s personal voice utilized? This exercise demonstrates that student reaction and experience within the composition classroom not only influence the student’s general opinion of the assignment, but also the final product that is submitted.

 

-Morgan

Research Papers: Don’t Fret

Research papers always make me nervous, as a student and a tutor. In high school I never had to do research to the extent I have to in college. I was never taught how to use data bases until I had college English classes, and librarians would come in and show us. I am in my senior year, and research papers still make me nervous.

I became a tutor this year and have learned to tell students to start the research early. I have never practiced what I preached when it came to school. I will admit I am a huge procrastinator. However, this year things have changed. I am still a procrastinator, but I start things earlier than what I used to.

To keep things on the rails, here is some advice for students: Start things early, stay focused, make a schedule, if you need help ask, and get your work double checked. When the semester first starts I sit down and look at all of my due dates for major assignments so I know what to expect. Most of the time all of my classes have major assignments due around the same time. If you know what is coming, as students we can prepare and get the little things out of the way.

When doing research, I find a reoccurring problem. I end up on other websites that have nothing to do with what I am doing. Staying focused is key. I recently found out that sometimes, I can’t study in my room. When this happens I move to a place I know I will be able to concentrate. Most of the time it is in the living room or in the campus library. When going to the library I reserve a study room ahead of time. On campus, as a student, I can only have so many hours a month reserved for a room. Having this time restraint pushes me to do all that I can in the little time allowed. I stay focused easier and I have found I get a lot more work done.

Part of focusing is having a schedule. If you know you work or focus better at a certain time of day, clear that time for your research. Once you have that schedule and get used to it things will become easier and flow more smoothly. I found out that my study habits have changed over the past year, I now study on the weekends and some nights during the week. I have classes during the day so studying at night is ideal. However, on the weekends I can get ahead in classes and focus on more depth assignments without having to worry about getting up early the next day. Since my habits have changed and I have found my niche, I am less stressed and can have fun during the week.

Once things begin to finish up, about mid-way through the assignment, make an appointment with the writing center if you have one. This will allow a fresh set of eyes to see if you are on the right track. As students sometimes we need help with research. Making an appointment with a research librarian is also a good idea. They can teach you how to search for academic sources. If you cannot find a research librarian, the writing center can also help. As tutors, most of us have used the sites as students, so we know our way around. When things wind down and the due date for the research project is approaching, set up an appointment once again. This time tutors should focus on global issues once again but then move to local issues, such as sentence structure, punctuation and grammar.

Just remember that research papers sound scary, but if you take your time, ask for help and follow some tips, things will be less nerve racking.

-Hillary

 

Keep At It

Why does this matter?

I frequently pose this question to my tutees after reading their papers, not as a means to question a perceived arbitrary assignment, but to invite elaboration and to dig beyond the surface of their assertions. I have tutored students from a variety of disciplines, and this issue is one I encounter most frequently—succinct points with little explanation. Fortunately, it is an easily fixable issue, one that can be answered with the aid of two simple questions: “Who is my audience?” and “So what?” Both questions help the tutee establish credibility, create rapport, and write a concise paper.

Often, I read tutees’ papers and find myself impressed with the conclusions they make. However, reasons as to why their conclusions are valid or plausible are sometimes missing. When I ask why their assertions are valid, the tutees are frequently able to articulate their reasons. Often, though, they do not convey their support in their papers due to a major misconception, specifically that their professor already understands their conclusions, therefore making further elaboration unnecessary.

As an English undergraduate student, I understand the struggle of juggling multiple writing assignments. I know what it is like to decide which paper takes precedence over the others, which means some papers receive better explanations, thus sometimes sacrificing the rhetorical soundness of my work. I once believed that a few of my similarly-minded professors simply understood what I meant, especially as I wrote about theories and social issues relevant to our mutual interests. I was wrong. I took my audience for granted, especially as I did not take the time analyze and elaborate my own statements. I simply assumed my audience knew what I meant.

Don’t ever assume.

When I ask a tutee for their paper’s audience, they often act as if it is a trick question, as if a question so simple has a more involved answer. Usually, the answer is easy—their professor. As the professor is the educated figure, they already know the topic at hand. They want to see if the student understands the concepts taught through lectures and readings. To prove this understanding, I tell my tutees to think of themselves as experts. As such, I tell the tutees to assume that their professors, the audience members, know nothing about their topics, which in turn encourages them to be as thorough in their explanations as possible. It is an exercise in understanding and comprehension. This push for explanation creates a tutoring mantra of sorts: Give them the facts. Make those assertions. Add support. Keep at it.

When in that mantra mindset, I remind tutees to ask themselves a key question: “So what?” This serves as a continuation of Keep at it. I worked with a tutee who wrote a poetry explication. The tutee made an interesting point about the usage of color in a rather minute detail and promptly noted this significance in their paper. However, they did not say why the color was significant. Rather, they stated it as fact, like what item featured the color, and moved on. Reading such an interesting statement, I wanted to know more. I asked why the color was significant, which led to a brainstorming session about the color’s higher meaning. Asking “So what?” creates a conversation, one where the tutee’s thoughts mingle with the both the text and their own thoughts. It kept the tutee working on the tasks at hand—dismantling the poem’s higher meanings and exhibiting their expertise.

As a tutor, this is the process I enjoy most—challenging tutees to think deeply about their assertions. I want them to think of their texts in a deeper context and to articulate their conclusions in nuanced and rhetorically sound ways. By pushing tutees to keep their audience in mind and to further elaborate, my intention is to make tutees go above and beyond. It is all about challenging them to do their very best.

For those interested, I find this site useful in helping my tutees with this elaboration endeavor: http://www.learnnc.org/lp/editions/few/685.

-Nathan

Riding (Writing) the Storm

The writing process. We’ve all heard the phrase. Perhaps you even had a poster that illuminated the steps of the process in your English classroom in middle school or high school. It may have looked something like this:

kallel1

http://wves.southwestschools.org/ourpages/houpe/images/writing%20process.jpg

Unfortunately, if you’re like me that process often feels restrictive rather than helpful; most often my thought process is something along the lines of: “What do you mean prewrite? And doesn’t almost the rest of this go on at the same time?” For many writers, myself included, the writing process is less a process and more a Writing Storm—and that storm can sometimes be intimidating. There are options, however, to make the storm less chaotic and more constructive.

One of the things I always do and often recommend to the students that see me in the Writing Center is to have an awareness of audience. Though we can and do help with any step in the process (or at any port in the storm), an awareness of the audience for an assignment is one of the first things I always try to establish both with students and in my own writing. You know your professors better than we do, and considering what a particular audience may expect or be familiar with is often a good way to begin harnessing the lightning. What does the professor want from the assignment? What are the conventions that they may have expressed in the classroom regarding their expectations? Is there any subject that they specialize in and therefore are going to be more critical in grading? And yes, even: are there any biases that professor has on a certain topic that may color their interpretation of your work? All of these are important factors which may affect the way you write.

Another important consideration is that the process we’re taught from early in school on isn’t linear—in fact it’s often cyclical, a spinning mass of different aspects of writing that can take place in any order:

kallel2

http://madwomanintheforest.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/writing_process_2-copy.jpg

And even that may be too structured for some writers. Much of this can take place as thought without any writing taking place on page or screen. Sometimes, even ‘early’ parts of the process can reoccur later as an assignment develops into a more finished and concrete such as realizing an idea (brainstorming; typically a part of prewriting) that would strengthen your argument while performing minor editorial steps. Perhaps during finalizing a paper, you have an idea for another perspective on the subject; this doesn’t have to mean re-doing what may have been a long and dreary amount of work. Keep the idea as a brainstorm for another related or later assignment. If there is any universal for writers here who struggle to capture the storm or even follow the steps we all know, it is that the writing center can help at any stage of the process. We are here to serve not to revise and edit, but to make the Marshall community better, more confident writers who can confidently navigate the storm.

-Kallel

Your Second Grade Teacher Was Right

Think back to second grade, when you were first learning the basics of sentence structure. Your teacher probably began by illustrating the main parts of a sentence: subject, verb, and sometime even an object. There are of course more parts, but you were only just beginning to grasp the concept of a complete sentence. Adding more onto that would only serve to confuse. Simplification was, and still is, the key to understanding complex concepts. One method of simplifying sentences that you probably learned, but discarded along with your cursive penmanship, is the sentence diagram.

Those of you who even briefly recall diagramming probably picture archaic forty-five degree angle lines jutting down from two connected plus signs (one missing its bottom), covered in words. But, it doesn’t have to be so complicated. Everything beyond the two words on either side of the giant plus sign serves as either a modifier or an object in the sentence. The goal of this exercise, which I have often done with my tutees, is not to completely diagram a sentence, but to find a sentence’s main subject, verb, and object. Too often in the writing center I will read through a beautiful sentence, laden with ideas, only to discover it wasn’t even a sentence in the first place. It was that sin of all sins: a sentence fragment. Most of the time this is an easy enough fix. I will ask the student what they were trying to convey through their sentence and they will be able to find the omitted word or phrase. However, there have been a few times when that is not the case. That is when I have used this exercise.

I begin by showing the student a short, simple sentence. Examples include: “The dog ate a treat.” or “He drank the potion.” I will then diagram one of these sentences for the student (only s/v/o that is, not the rest of the sentence’s information). Then, I will have them diagram one to check for comprehension. If they get the concept right away, I will move directly on to their sentence. (If not, I will continue providing examples, increasing the complexity slowly, until they grasp the concept.) The first step to diagramming their sentence, I tell them, is finding the main subject, verb, and, in the majority of cases, the object of their sentence. Sometimes two or more sets of s/v/o exist in the student’s sentence. I will have them pick through the sentence set by set. If it is the case that the student is missing one of the parts, one of two outcomes will occur. In the first outcome, the student realizes that they are missing part of their sentence and will catch it themselves. We can then move on to adding in the omitted information to their sentence. In the second outcome, the student either does not find all of the parts or mislabels one part as another. In this case, I will use leading questions to help the student identify their mistake. Once this is fixed, we can create a new and improved sentence. For those of you who want to play along at home try to find and diagram the subjects and verbs in the following sentences. Some of them have more than one subject/verb phrase to diagram.

“Hell is empty, and all the devils are here.”

“Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

“Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall.”

“We should speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.”

“Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.”

Once you’ve diagrammed these sentences provided by the Bard himself, you should be able to get through anything the world throws at you. (The ability to dodge actual thrown objects is not guaranteed by this blog.) So, as you have probably guessed by now, I’m quite a fan of diagramming and believe it to still be quite relevant and useful. Anyone who is analytic and breaks things down to learn will find it useful as well. If you desire to know the full rules of diagramming sentences, the website: http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/diagrams2/one_pager1.htm has more information. I hope you’ve enjoyed reviving this dead learning method as much I have!

-David