The Right Time to Write

Have you ever sat down to begin your paper and felt like it just wasn’t quite the right time to begin/continue/finish writing it? If you haven’t, I applaud your ability to just sit down and write. You just might be a writing superhuman. If you have, I’m right there with you.

How many times in our own lives have we put off doing things because it just wasn’t the right time? We don’t chase our dreams because it’s not the right time, we say we’ll do it when we have more money/no kids to take care of/the courage to explore. This is similar to writing.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news but there will never be a right time for anything. But does this mean we should hold off on doing the things we need to do? Absolutely not.  You can’t wait around for it to be the right time, you just got to do it. So maybe it’s a Tuesday night and you have a history paper due on Thursday. A billion things probably sound better than sitting down and writing that paper (Netflix, Twitter, looking up cute dogs to adopt). There’s no guarantee that Wednesday will be the right time to write this paper either.

So I urge you to go to your favorite place to write whether that be your dorm room, the local library, your kitchen table, or in a lawn chair on top of your favorite hill. Gather some snacks (be careful with the Cheetos though, they tend to cause mysterious, dusty orange fingertips) and some water. And with your laptop or pencil and paper in tow, go make it the time to write.

Kathleen Finan

What is a Good Writer?

What is a good writer? To answer this question, you have to examine what it means to be “good” and what it means to be a “writer,” and then fuse those two definitions together. At first, it may seem self-explanatory—you may want to say that a good writer is someone who makes good grades on written assignments, or simply someone who writes according to the rules of syntax—but time in the Writing Center has shown me that very skilled writers can make low grades on papers, and then syntax-sound papers can say absolutely nothing at all.

Let’s start by deciding who is a writer. Do you enjoy writing? Do you have to write for either school or work? Can you juggle fourteen text conversations simultaneously? Are you regularly updating some form of social media? Have you ever put a pen or pencil on paper and formed words? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are a writer. If you constantly tell yourself that you’re not a writer in general, then you’ll be psychologically blocking yourself from becoming a better writer—you won’t see a point in trying, because you refuse to accept that you’re a writer. But, if you look at the ways you use written communication on a daily basis, you’ll see that you indeed do write. In recognizing that we are writers, whether it’s out of necessity or enjoyment, we open the door for opportunities to improve our skill.

So how about “good?” People frequently come into the Writing Center saying that they were always a good writer in high school, so they were shocked when they made a C (C-, D, etc.) on a paper. Inversely, there’s also a large percentage of people who come in and apologetically confess that they’ve never been good writers because they frequently have comma splices or once made a bad grade and have been roiling in self-doubt.

When thinking about academic writing in college, you can’t always rely upon the grades you made in high school to predict the grades you’ll be making now. In high school, I was the 4.0 student (except for that one tricky 3.69 semester) who could whip out a paper in an hour and ace it. Then, college came, and I thought I could do the same thing. One essay-based test by Dr. Gatton later, and I realized that it is a whole different ballgame in college. Writing well, in the sense of pretty sentences and a strong grasp on grammar, doesn’t always make for good writing.

Instead, good academic writing is that which responds to all parts of the question, displays a thorough understanding of the topic and demonstrates authority, is organized in a logical manner, and is concise and clear. Good grammar plays into this, especially when you have the opportunity to revise a piece before submitting, but can’t be the sole determinant of whether or not you’ll make the grade. While the criteria I listed for good academic writing sounds like a lot, it becomes easier to grasp with a little practice.

Here are some suggestions:

First, keep your prompt handy and reference it throughout your revisions. Making sure you have an understanding of what is being asked before you start writing is crucial, and double checking the question(s) will make sure you both answer everything and don’t go off on tangents.

Step two is looking at your thesis: Do I include a single sentence that provides my readers with a specific road map through my paper? A strong thesis can help you self-correct many of the organizational issues that can wreck a paper.

Next, make a post-outline of your draft. Read through and write the topic of each paragraph in the margins. This allows you to do a few different things: you can look through and make sure that each topic is adequately tied back into your thesis and answering the prompt, and you can see if there are instances in which you have two (or more) topics in a single paragraph. If the latter is the case, this can clue you in on separating something into two or more paragraphs so that each point can be fully developed. A post-outline also helps you decide if your arguments are ordered in the most logical manner– does A logically transition into B, which leads into C?

Then, ask yourself if there is a way to make some things simpler. We may associate seven syllable words and dense language with the academic peer-reviewed pieces we have to read for class, but if we aren’t familiar with writing like that, it will come across awkward, not intelligent. Make every word carry its weight, and if something can be said in fewer words, you can reduce it.

Finally, and this is more than shameless self-promotion, seeking a second set of eyes is crucial. Using resources like the Writing Center allows an outsider response to enter the conversation, and it ensures that there aren’t “well it made sense in my head” scenarios.

Tackling Writer’s Block

Blog, blogging, writing center, Bellarmine, need to write this blog, the blog is late already, not sure what to write about, writing process, getting started can be the worst sometimes, how do I start, how do you get over that hump, writers block, how to end writers block. I should write a blog about tackling writer’s block.

Some days when you have to write something it feels like it is impossible. As a writer who has spent their fair share of time punching that writer’s block wall trying to break it down, I want to share my tips with you. Before you bruise those knuckles any further, try these simple tricks to get past one of the most frustrating parts of the writing process, getting started.

If the writing is for a class, revisit the prompt and the material. Oftentimes we get an assignment and put it off so long that trying to start the paper is easier said than done. If a week has gone by since you talked about the topic you are asked to write about, it can be difficult to revert your brain to those days long passed. Looking back at the prompt and revisiting the subject matter you have to elaborate on can remind you of what you needed to write about and give you fresh ideas. Try skimming back over the readings, glancing at your notes, and letting the class discussions come back to you.

So you remember everything you learned and how to apply it the prompt, but you are still not sure how to get started. Never fear, writer’s block will succumb like any villain, we just have to stay resilient. Outlining your main ideas and supporting evidence gives you the chance to create a map for yourself that you can use to follow as you write your paper. It can be hard to know how to put all the information we need into the paper, but our handy dandy outline will lead the way. By organizing your main ideas into a set structure, you can keep track of exactly what you want to say and when to say it.

Now I know what you are thinking, how does this help if you never even got that far? Sometimes you just do not know what you want to write about at all. For this problem, I offer the simplest and yet least tried option to ending writer’s block: write. That is correct, I do in fact mean take out a piece of paper and a pencil and physically start writing. Write down every word, thought, phrase, or sentence that pops into your head. It will surprise you how quickly those things will flow into ideas that you can use to start forming your paper.

Starting a paper can feel like trying to get into an ice cold swimming pool, but nothing gets you used to that water faster than simply jumping right into the deep end. Take the time to look back over your materials and your exact purpose, try and outline what you want to address, and when in doubt, write it out. Writer’s block may be a frustrating aspect of the writing process, but it is nothing to keep you from completing a successful paper.