Writing Muscle Warm-Ups

Welcome Back!

Let’s be honest: for a lot of us, writing just didn’t happen over break. Maybe we signed a few receipts or Christmas cards. Maybe we wrote in our journals or typed a few Instagram posts. But now we’re back in the academic world. We’ve been taking light walks, and now we’re being asked to do squats. We’ve been hauling shopping bags, and now we’re lifting weights. We have to use the same muscles, but in different ways, and that can take some adjustment.

What do you do when you have a big work-out ahead? You warm up. You stretch those muscles and get your blood flowing so you don’t hurt yourself. The same can be true for writing.

Most likely, you don’t have any large writing assignments due in the next week or two, so you have some time to warm up. Maybe your professors have already given you small writing assignments to start off with. Whatever the case may be, you may find the following ideas useful in re-engaging your writing muscle, both now and before those bigger assignments.

Remember: Warm-ups are not meant to be done just once. If any of these prove helpful to you, try them regularly to keep your writing muscles engaged and ready for those papers!

  1. Read. This should be easy, since you are in school and readings are assigned regularly. The more you read in the genre that you will be writing, the more naturally writing in that genre will be for you.
  2. Brainstorm/Research Early. If you have a big paper coming up, give your mind some time to work with your ideas and research. Jot down passing thoughts, ideas, sentences, etc. Spend some time online or in the library exploring your topic. You may find yourself working through problems subconsciously once you’ve started the process.
  3. Keep a Writer’s Notebook. Even if your major doesn’t seem to be writing-related, keeping a writer’s notebook is an excellent way to make writing a part of your daily life. Again, this is not crunch time. You don’t even have to break a sweat (or write a full sentence, even). In your notebook, you can write down ideas, thoughts, phrases, words, research questions/answers, narratives, or dialogue. You could even doodle, paste pictures or newspaper clippings, or practice your handwriting. Everything goes. Just have fun fiddling with it and remember that writing doesn’t have to be a full-blown work-out all the time; sometimes it’s just playing around.
  4. Talk it Out. If you are a verbal processor, try talking out your ideas with someone. Find out who helps you process well. Some people are good at asking questions, for instance, while others are good at just listening and affirming, and still others are good at challenging and making you dig deeper. I also find that simply recording myself is helpful. And don’t forget about the Writing Center! We are here to help in ANY stage of the writing process, which means we’ll give you a listening ear even before you have anything on paper!
  5. Free Write. I can’t stress this one enough. It differs from the writer’s notebook in that it is less about gathering and playing with ideas and more about letting things just flow for a certain amount of time–less like dancing when the mood hits you and more like getting a membership to an interpretive dance group. How do you do it? Simply write until either a set time or word count is up. You can begin with a topic that may or may not relate to a project, paper, or story, or you can simply start off with whatever comes to your mind. But don’t stop writing. No matter what. If you have to write “I don’t know what to say” or “My feet are cold,” then write it. The idea is just to write and not worry about the product. It is the ultimate warm-up, and it never fails to get the creative juices flowing.

Enjoy writing!

Advertisements

Free Online Creative Writing Resources

If you love to write, but aren’t a creative writing major, or if you are an English student, but you don’t have a workshop class this semester, it can be difficult to find time to write. Without the support of a teacher or your classmates, it can also be difficult to come up with new ideas, commit to writing regularly, or get helpful insight on your work. Luckily, there are a lot of free resources online for creative writers. Here are just a few: 

Poets & Writers: https://www.pw.org/ 

Poets & Writers is the resource for creative writers. They have tons of helpful articles, a magazine, podcasts, and directories of publications, university-level writing programs, reading venues, literary agents, presses, and more. There is so much stuff here, we can’t even describe it all; suffice it to say that if you’re a writer, P&W has something that will be beneficial to you, whether you’re looking for MFA programs, trying to get published, or just looking for inspiration. 

Association of Writers & Writing Programs: https://www.awpwriter.org/ 

Not only does AWP put on the biggest conference in the Western literary world, their site is also a great resource for finding writing contests, other conferences, and writing programs. They have a monthly magazine, Writer’s Chronicle, and a regularly updated calendar of literary events, literary news section, and podcast series. 

New Pageshttps://www.newpages.com/ 

Like Poets & Writers and AWP, New Pages is chock-full of writing resources from calls for submission, writing contests, writing programs, literary magazines to book reviews and literary links. They even have a guide to bookstores in the U.S. and Canada (a great resource for when you’re on a book tour—or just looking for a bookstore while on vacation)  

Writer’s Digesthttp://www.writersdigest.com/free 

You may have already heard of Writer’s Digest, but if you follow the link above, you’ll have access to free downloads of helpful writing exercises and informative writing tips. Plus, you can check out the rest of the Writer’s Digest site (as we mentioned a few weeks ago in Creative Writing Blogs You Should be Following, they have some good blogs)! 

WKU’s Writing Center bloghttps://wkuwritingcenter.wordpress.com/ 

Our reputation is that of an academic writing resource, but we love creative writing too! Many of our consultants are creative writers, themselves. While not all of our content is specifically relating to creative writing, we do regularly post CW content, and content about writing in general that can be applied to creative as well as academic writing. 

Interested in creative writing resources or a consultation with a writing tutor on a creative piece? Visit the Writing Center today or set up an appointment online. We’re open from 9 AM to 4 PM in 123 Cherry Hall and 4 PM to 9 PM in the Academic Commons in Cravens, Monday through Thursday (9 AM to 3 PM in 123 Cherry Hall on Fridays). 

An Admonition on the Employment of Thesauruses

A Catechism 

What’s wrong with the following sentence?

This sentence may not adumbrate what it is putative to augur in behalf of I’m employing commodious lexemes that resonate sumptuously but that don’t concur in the censure.

If you guessed that the sentence was written using a thesaurus, then you are correct! Here’s what I actually intended to say:

This sentence may not mean what it is supposed to mean because I’m using big words that sound impressive but that don’t fit in the sentence.  

That’s a lot more clear, right? I’m using language that makes sense and fits the sentence’s meaning while also considering my audience.

An Exposition for Why We Manipulate Thesauruses 

If you’re like me, you were told in high school to use a thesaurus to strengthen your vocabulary. This was so engrained in me that I still use a thesaurus on occasion to learn different ways of saying the same things. However, thesauruses can be dangerous if we simply pull out words without knowing their true definitions. We see this all the time at the writing center. A paper will be going smoothly until we come across a word that just—doesn’t fit. Most of the time, not even I know what the word means. When we look it up, more often than not it doesn’t match what the writer intended.

So why do we keep using a thesaurus? To learn new words? To sound impressive? If it’s the former, great. Find a word and look it up in the dictionary. Better yet, look up how it is used in a sentence to make sure that it is being used in the same way you want to use it. But know that you are at risk of using a word that your audience will not have known before either.

If you use a thesaurus to sound impressive, let me take the pressure off your shoulders. Teachers most likely are not concerned about how many letters are in your words or how fancy they sound. What they are looking for is accuracy, clarity, and depth of thought. They are much more interested in what you have to say than in how you say it, so it’s okay to use the words you are comfortable with.

(Note that I have used the word “used” multiple times in the last two paragraphs. That’s okay! I don’t need to pull out the thesaurus so I can replace them with words like “utilize” or “employ” or “adopt” to sound more fancy. That would actually be pretty annoying, wouldn’t it?)

There is a third reason to use a Thesaurus that I think is more helpful, and that is for recalling words you can’t remember. Sometimes I’m writing and realize—for instance—that I’ve used the word “pleasure” ten times. I know there is another way to say it, but I need a little help dislodging those words from my memory. So I look up “pleasure” in the Thesaurus and find words like “delight” and “happiness.” I also find words like “delectation,” “gluttony,” “diversion,” and “fruition.” I know that those latter words do not mean what I intend, so I go with the words that I do know and understand.

In Culmination 

Thesauruses can be helpful in the right settings in helping you recall words or even learn some new words with the help of a dictionary, but make sure you are using words that fit your meaning and your own voice.

Self-Editing Techniques

Everyone Edits

While we at the writing center are here to help you revise your papers, it’s always a good practice to review your work before turning it in no matter how good of a writer you are.   Sometimes not worrying about surface level errors is a great way to let your thoughts flow when drafting, so going back to edit is necessary to making sure your ideas are clear and free of mistakes or errors.

Revising Content First

Revising and editing are two different things. Editing looks at sentence-level errors such as grammar, punctuation, syntax, and formatting. Doing this first would only lead to frustration later if you decide to remove or re-write a fully polished paragraph. Revising happens when you look at the paper as a whole, make sure everything flows coherently and follows the guidelines you have been given as well as the goals you set for yourself, and then make changes to the content.

Use Your Rubric 

If you professor has given you a rubric, use it! Lay it beside your paper and check off items you have gotten right. If something is off, mark it and make the edits.

If you don’t have a rubric, use any other material your teacher has given you, including your own notes. Or, you can write down what you know should be included (i.e. a thesis, topic sentences, conclusion, etc.) and compare your paper to that.

Reverse Outlining 

This is one of my favorite techniques, and it can be done in many ways. I like to read over a hard copy of my paper and write down on another sheet of paper (or in the margins) my thesis and the topic or topic sentence of each paragraph. Whether or not I tried to follow an outline from the onset, whatever I write through my reading is my new outline. Next, I ask the following questions:

  1. Does every paragraph match the thesis? If not, should I adjust the paragraphs, or should I add to the thesis?
  2. Is every paragraph or topic necessary? Is there anything to cut?
  3. Does every paragraph contain one topic?
  4. Is anything missing that should be added?
  5. Does my conclusion sufficiently reflect on all of the points?

Sentence-level Edits

Print the Paper 

If you can, print the paper double-sided or even on the back of used sheets to save trees. You are far more likely to catch errors and look at your paper as a whole if you are holding a physical copy and reading carefully with a pen in your hand.

Read Out Loud 

Our minds have a way of subconsciously correcting sentences, putting words and letters and even punctuation where it should be without realizing that something is missing. Reading out loud slows down the process, enabling you to catch the tiny errors that you might skip over if reading silently. Reading aloud may also help you hear where commas need to be added for pauses.*

Utilize the Internet 

If you are not sure about a grammatical or formatting issue, look it up. With so many resources at our fingertips, we shouldn’t be guessing whether or not we should use a semicolon. Each thing you look up could be something you won’t have to look up next time. Of course, it’s hard to remember all those rules, and I still look things up constantly to make sure my writing is correct.

Conclusion 

Self-editing is not just for struggling writers. Everyone–even J.K. Rowling–must edit their writing.

As usual, the Writing Center is here to help you in every stage of the writing process. Feel free to set up an appointment or stop by any time!

———————————

*Disclaimer: Don’t believe the idea that commas go wherever you pause. Commas are used, rather, to separate phrases.

What Should I Write About?

Brainstorming can be an easy or difficult task depending on your level of excitement about an assignment, your existing knowledge, your timeline, and other factors. While you may feel that a topic is something that floats around until it finally settles into your mind, ready to be written, or that, on the contrary, it is something you chase after but remains out of reach, there are actually many techniques you can practice to pin that topic to the ground.

Where do ideas come from? 

Last week, I had an amazing breakthrough in finishing up a rough draft for a short story I was working on. Suddenly all the ideas clogged in my brain flowed freely and found their place on the page. While some may call this kind of writing session “inspired” or picture a writer stopping in the middle of an activity, grabbing a pen and paper, and writing something beautiful and perfect as if playing scribe to an external “muse,” my experience last week came after days of brainstorming and finally free writing.

Paper topics often come the same way. While I can’t deny that there are some unexplainable instances in which ideas just shoot down like lightning, more often than not, it takes intentional brainstorming time to finally capture an idea.

Set a Deadline 

In my last blog, I addressed how the best time to start your paper is now. That means that coming up with a topic begins now, and that takes intentional, scheduled time. As I wrote before, you may even decide to make a deadline for yourself for when you will finally choose your topic. In other words, don’t wait for lightning!

Thesis or no Thesis?

It may be that, while brainstorming, your topic and thesis may come to you simultaneously. That’s great! On the other hand, if trying to come up with a thesis around your topic is preventing you from choosing a topic to begin with, set it aside and don’t worry about it for now.

Brainstorming

Brainstorming is a fairly nuanced word; it can entail anything from reading, researching, note-taking, or just sitting and thinking about topics. A lot of this depends on what works for you, and that often depends on what kind of paper you are writing.

Free-writing 

One method is to simply free-write. This is what I did to unclog my thoughts about the story I was writing. I simply opened a word document and typed away until I had a more solid idea of what to write about. I didn’t stop, even when I had nothing to say but “Anyway” or “I don’t know what to write.” Before, thoughts were flowing in and out of my head, but free writing allowed me to capture those thoughts and process them.

Free-speaking

On the other hand, maybe you process better through speaking aloud, so talking into a recording devise would help you accumulate ideas.  Maybe you need an audience to receive and give feedback to your ideas. At the Writing Center, we can offer a listening ear.

Careful reading

Try keeping a pen in your hand while reading to underline and take notes. Jot down things even if you don’t know for sure it will be helpful later; it just might! For literary papers, think about questions you have, what the author is trying to say, or what theories may be applied to it. For other papers, think about how the topic might apply to other situations or what you might be able to add to it from your experience, from research, or from further study.

Research 

Do some research on your chosen book or field and see if anything jumps out to you. Sometimes seeing what’s already there can help you see what is missing. Think about your paper as a contribution to the discussion.

Questions to get you thinking

  1. What about this subject or book is interesting to you? Do you have any experience with it now? Will you in the future?
  2. What in your reading has left you wanting to know more?
  3. Do you see anything in your readings or lessons that connects with other topics, contexts, or social concerns?
  4. If you are writing on a novel, what might the writer’s intention be? What symbols do you see? Do you see any loose ends? Any connections?

How do you know it’s a good topic?

Finally, here are some questions to help you discern if your topic is not only good in general but also good for you specifically.

Is it interesting to you?

Maybe you are writing about a story that really moved or angered you, or maybe you are writing about the effects of red40 on children with ADHD because your brother had shown side effects in the past. Whatever it is, your topic should engage you enough that you won’t tire of it after the first page.

Has it been done before? 

Some students strive to write something that has never been said before, but that is sometimes a lofty goal, particularly when writing about novels that have been around for centuries. If this is stifling you, remember that this topic hasn’t been covered by YOU and that you have a perspective that no one else has. In your research, you may find yourself putting together pieces of the puzzle that haven’t been linked before.

On the other hand, choosing a topic that has never been addressed before may mean that there is nothing to research, or even that it is invalid. For instance, researching a topic that looked into the probability of apes taking over the world, if anything, might send you to personal blogs or websites with unprovable science. This may be a sign that your topic is improbable.

Is it controversial?

If you are writing an argumentative paper, it is important that your topic have some kind of opposition. If you were to write a paper about why brushing your teeth is good for you, for instance, you would be arguing with no one (or maybe some outliers). But if you wrote your paper arguing brushing your teeth with fluoride may be harmful, or that one should only use a particular brand, then you have an argument and will likely find sources that support opposing sides.

What are others saying?

If you aren’t sure about a topic, ask a friend, a professor, a mentor, or even a tutor at the Writing Center. Note their reactions, their level of interest, and any questions they might have. This will help you know if you are on the right track or if you need to dig a little deeper.

Creative Writing Blogs You Should Be Following

If you enjoy creative writing, whether as your major, your passion, or a hobby, there are endless resources available to you online to help you with your creative writing practice. Whether you’re looking for inspiration, motivation, writing prompts, or publication advice, if you’re interested in creative writing, here are the blogs you should be following.

The Write Practicehttp://thewritepractice.com/

This isn’t just a blog, it’s an entire site dedicated to the practice of creative writing with TONS of free resources: writing assessments, prompts, lessons, classes, tutorials, and of course, a blog with helpful content on a variety of writing situations.

The Creative Pennhttps://www.thecreativepenn.com/blog/

Joanna Penn, creator of The Creative Penn, is a prolific fiction and nonfiction writer and as such has a wealth of knowledge on creative writing. Her blog includes numerous free resources as well, including e-books and video series.

Write to Donehttps://writetodone.com/

Write to Done has great articles on CW topics, including publishing and marketing, an important but oft-ignored or neglected aspect of the writing process for creative writers.

Daily Writing Tipshttps://www.dailywritingtips.com/

It’s exactly what it sounds like: daily writing tips. From commonly misused words to formatting dialogue in fiction, Daily Writing Tips has tips on every writing subject imaginable.

The Writers’ Academyhttp://www.thewritersacademy.co.uk/blog/

The Writers’ Academy is created by Penguin Random House—one of the Big Five publishers. It has quality content on CW and lit topics, as well as fun stuff about libraries, bookstores, and other lit-related subjects.

Writer’s Digesthttp://www.writersdigest.com/

In addition to the Editor blogs, which are full of useful writing and publishing advice, Writer’s Digest has pretty much everything creative writers need, including writing prompts, forums, contests, guides, and other resources. Writer’s Digest also has webinars and classes (some free, some at a price).

WKU’s Writing Center blog: https://wkuwritingcenter.wordpress.com/

We’re not ashamed of self-promotion. While not all of our content is specifically relating to creative writing, we do regularly post CW content, and content about writing in general that can be applied to creative as well as academic writing.

Interested in creative writing resources or a consultation with a writing tutor on a creative piece? Visit the Writing Center today or set up an appointment online. We’re open from 9 AM to 4 PM in 123 Cherry Hall and 4 PM to 9 PM in the Academic Commons in Cravens, Monday through Thursday (9 AM to 3 PM in 123 Cherry Hall on Fridays).

Weekly Poetry Workshop Begins Thursday, 9/7! 

UPDATE: As of 9/21, the Writing Center’s poetry workshop will be held from 4–5 PM on Thursday in the Writing Center, CH 123.

Every week, the Writing Center will be holding a poetry writing workshop for interested students. Whether you’ve been writing poetry for years or you’re just interested in trying it out, this workshop is for you; it’s open to undergraduate and graduate students of any major or concentration.

The workshop will be held weekly on Tuesdays in Cherry Hall 026 from 1–2 PM, and will consist of poetry writing prompts, sharing written work, and craft discussion. The workshop will be led by Hunter Little, writing center tutor and MFA candidate in poetry. Participants are encouraged to bring their own work to the workshop to share and discuss.

This workshop continues the tradition started last year by MFA candidate Zane DeZeeuw. Previous students who attended the workshop found it to be a fun, positive experience with benefits for their poetry, and their writing in general. Adrian Sanders, senior Creative Writing undergrad was a regular attendee of the workshop last year, and plans to attend this year as well. “The poetry workshop was a great opportunity to write outside of a classroom setting and further explore poetic forms,” she says. “It also gave me the opportunity to meet other English majors that I may not have otherwise had the opportunity to meet.”

Student-led workshops and writing groups, independent of the classroom can be beneficial, even if for academic rather than creative writing. These workshops can be formal groups—like the Writing Center’s poetry workshop—with defined meeting times and a designated facilitator, or they can be more casual, such as a few students from a class getting together occasionally to workshop papers.

Workshopping is one of many feedback systems writers and student writers can use to revise their work. It provides a different type of responses than teacher feedback, which can be directive (such as pointing errors to “fix” to improve the paper and grade), or writing tutor feedback, which is often developmental (focused on helping students develop and clarify their ideas in writing); peer workshop responses are all suggestions, which you are free to take or ignore. Additionally, workshopping allows you to read other writers’ works, improving your critical reading and editing skills, which are in turn helpful to your own writing.

Be sure to stop by the poetry workshop this week at 1 PM in CH026 for some thoughtful work in poetry. If you’re interested in learning more about student-led writing workshops, have suggestions for other writing center workshop offerings, or would like help starting your own workshop group, stop by the Writing Center and we’d be happy to help! We’re open from 9 AM to 4 PM in 123 Cherry Hall and 4 PM to 9 PM in the Academic Commons in Cravens, Monday through Thursday (9 AM to 3 PM in 123 Cherry Hall on Fridays).