Writing Your First Paper in College, Part II

This is the second in a series of posts about writing your first college paper. Look back at the last post for some tips on getting into the right mindset before writing.

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Make a plan for doing the work.

Once you understand what the assignment sheet asks you to do, select specific dates and times for when you will do the work that is necessary for finishing this paper. Yeah, unfortunately none of the spells you learned reading Harry Potter will help you with this stage of the writing process. Sometimes there is no replacement for sitting down and getting to work. As a recovering procrastinator myself, I will attest that writing an entire paper the night before it is due is not the way to go. If you hit a major roadblock, you have left yourself no time to ask more questions or get help from an instructor or Writing Center. As an instructor, I have seen many students struggle to manage their time. Honestly, most adults struggle with time management too. It is a hard skill to master but do not let that stop you. Make a schedule and do your best to stick to it. A planner, either digital or physical, can be a great tool for doing this. Plus, getting a physical planner is a good excuse to buy pens, highlighters, stickers, etc. to help keep yourself organized. Yes, Virginia, you do get extra points for color coding. If you find that your schedule is not working, revise it or make a completely new one and try again. A schedule puts you in control of the process and can help calm nerves by breaking a large project into smaller steps.

Think of writing like flexing a muscle.

Approach writing the same way you would establish any other habit: positive experiences for moderate amounts of time. Think about your writing as though it is a muscle you want to strengthen. If you write for short periods of time on a regular basis, you are making it a part of your routine and are less likely to become overly frustrated. Keep your writing spurts to twenty minutes to one hour. This way you are flexing your writing muscle, not exercising it to the point of exhaustion. Just like going to the gym or taking an exercise class, you need to respect your own limits. By not working to the point of burnout it is more likely that you will return to work on the assignment more rejuvenated after a break rather than putting it off indefinitely to scroll social media, binge a new show, or discover a new hobby you simply must explore rather than do your writing. Similarly, if you struggle with writing in general or suffer from writer’s block, shorter writing sessions can make those issues more manageable so that you are not staring at the blinking cursor on your computer screen for hours on end. (She says, staring at the blinking cursor on her screen. Let us agree that the blinking cursor is an evil demon and does not like any of us.)

Next time I will talk about resources for getting feedback on your writing and how to prepare for receiving a grade for the paper.