Writing Your First Paper in College

coffee notebook pen writing
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Writing of many kinds can be stress provoking. Finding yourself doing a chore you normally loathe when there is a deadline on the academic horizon? Putting off starting on the project for as long as possible? Hating every word you have written or, worse, unable to commit to anything because you preemptively hate it? It might be helpful to reevaluate your writing routine. While writing requires many technical and analytical skills, it is also experiential; meaning the way you think and feel about your personal writing, as well as the processes of preparing for and actually doing it, can have a big impact on the writing itself. Do not get too worried, though. You do not need to exorcise your computer or burn sage to smudge your writing space.

Having been a college freshman myself and having taught writing to college freshmen for a decade, I can sympathize with the anxieties of completing your first college writing assignment. Today begins a series of posts with strategies for attacking your first college assignment (or any daunting writing project).

Maintain perspective.

First, take a breath and maintain perspective on this task. This is one paper in a long semester in your multi-year college career in your wondrous and beautiful life. This one paper will make your cumulative college experience neither a success or a failure. It is one moment of a long adventure. While all of these moments are important, remember not to allot more stress than is due for only one moment.

Read your assignment sheet.

You might be thinking you have already done this. You might be thinking, “we read through the assignment in class, so I’ve got the gist of it.” That is a great first step but only that, a first step. There is likely more detail on the assignment sheet than what you were able to cover in class. Plus, your assignment is likely due days and even weeks after you discuss it in class. You are doing yourself a disservice if you are relying on a weeks-old memory of very detailed instructions for a formal, college-level paper. Can you remember what you ate for dinner three weeks ago? If so, I’m impressed. If not, you should re-read your assignment sheet, probably more than once and preferably immediately before you sit down to brainstorm, draft, and edit the paper.

Next time, I will talk about how to make a plan to start (and ultimately finish) your writing project. In the meantime, add a comment or email me if you have other questions about your writing. Or, share a memory of writing your first college paper (if only to show everyone that you survived it!).

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