“Writing is easy. Just put a sheet of paper in the typewriter and start bleeding.” - Thomas Wolfe
Leave it to Wolfe to both mystify and condense his own work. But he might’ve done everyone a disservice. This quote frames writing as something both simple and painful. Which isn’t exactly the case, especially for college students.
Writing papers, presentations, and projects often frustrates the students who have to do it. It isn’t a simple thing to do, and the word craft rightly recurs again and again. But the keys won’t cut into your fingers. There’s no need to fear writing, whether you write academic essays, news reports, lab reports, or formal emails.
What might make writing more comfortable for you—so that you produce the best work possible while keeping your stress level relatively low?
We’ve got a few tips that can show writing in its truer light: an attainable craft requiring regular discipline.
One quick disclaimer — our tips won’t work without fail for every single person who takes them. Writing is a subjective process that differs for all writers, no matter what they’re writing. If you don’t think the concrete advice in today's blog will help you, look beneath the actions for their guiding principles.
1. Understand That You Already Write
You already write. Living with technology means that writing is already available to you. You do it more than you think. Which of these have you done today?
- Sent a text
- Sent an email
- Captioned a snapchat
- Commented on a social media post
- Posted a tweet
These things are all writing. Maybe they’re short, or maybe they use slang, but they’re writing. They place one word after another to communicate what you want to say. That’s all writing is. If you keep that in mind, you might admit that you’re already an experienced writer.
2. Develop a Routine for Writing
Much of what we’re suggesting here is simple habit formation. We’ve mentioned the mindset aspect. Now let’s lay out the little details that can ease you into the writing mindset.
If you can, begin your writing time (not even the writing itself) the same way each time.
Choose a convenient time that you can maintain. Choose the same chair near the window, or the same chair far from the window. Choose one playlist to listen to while working, or the same silence to enjoy while working.
What you choose depends on your tastes; whatever you choose should signal that it’s time to write. If you keep this odd, yet effective little practice, it might help you form the larger writing habit.
3. Read A Short Warm-Up
A quick read can get your mind working just enough to start writing.
What you read depends on what you’ll write. For example, if your assignment is journalistic, pull up a reliable news source and scroll through the day’s reports. If your assignment is more editorial, choose something from the opinion section and dig in. If you have to begin your hefty research paper, skim the sources that you’ll be citing.
Whatever kind of writing you have to do, read something that won’t intimidate you; read something that will make your mind perk up and follow along. An alert mind eases the writing process.
4. Write Something Ridiculous
Now you can begin to write. But we don’t necessarily recommend starting where you think you should.
Your student-mind might tell you to begin at the first word of your assignment. But your brain might appreciate starting with a long, unfiltered stream of words.
Think of this freewriting exercise, or word-vomit, as a warm-up. It loosens your mind enough to let the words flow through. You can choose anything you want as a prompt. Here are a few examples:
- How much you want to do (or don’t want to do) the assignment
- What your plans are once you finish your work for the day
- What your plans are once you finish the semester
It doesn’t matter what you write about, or how well you write it, or if it’s even basically coherent. What matters is that your fingers move on the keys enough to free up your thinking. Just start writing or typing and don’t stop for at least five minutes.
5. Write Something Less Pressing, But Still Productive
Now that you’ve warmed up your mind with some freewriting, you can write something else. It’s still not your assignment. But it’ll help you ease into that work.
What you write is (again) up to you. It could be an email you need to send a professor or employer, or it could be an outline for the coming assignment. The key point of this exercise is that it takes more mental attention than your freewriting.
Now that you’ve loosened up by firing off some words indiscriminately, begin to shape them into one message.
Think of weightlifting: you’ve already stretched to loosen up, but you’re not yet ready to lift heavy weights. And so you do a few reps with lighter weight to ready your muscles for the strain that’s coming. It’s more intense, but still a warm-up.
For instance, this post began with a hasty outline:
- Acknowledge difficulty/discomfort of writing
- Disclaimer: it’s subjective advice only
- Understand you’re already a writer
- Make your own writing routine
- Read to wake up your mind
- Freewrite without a filter
- Write something else to warm up
The writing remains choppy, but the components gain structure and add clear statements that will inform the final article. It’s still thinking through the writing, rather than writing the full piece. And as a bonus, this outline gives the actual writing a roadmap to reference.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog, where we’ll list tips 6-8 on how to make writing less stressful!