Procrastination and motivation

Let’s hear some real talk. When it comes to writing paper, one of ourgreatest enemies is the ever-present procrastination. We all do it. In fact, I’ve procrastinated writing this blog post. There is a chance that you are reading this blog post right now because you are procrastinating writing your paper (but hey, it’s on the Writing Center’s blog, so it kind of counts, right?). I am here to give you a few tips on beating procrastination and increasing motivation.

So why do we procrastinate? Honestly, we procrastinate because it often works. While procrastination may “work,” the truth is that it doesn’t work very well. All-nighters spent writing papers aren’t exactly fun. Beating procrastination is by no means an overnight change. It is an ongoing process of changing our habits and attitudes. This video breaks down procrastination and provides some practical, simple tips for managing it:

The Science of Procrastination and How To Manage It

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1nBwfZZvjKo

I completely understand needing a mental, emotional, or psychologicalkick-start for your writing process. Maybe it’s one last glance at the Twitter feed, one more pin on Pinterest, or one more YouTube video. The trick is to not get sucked into the social media rabbit hole. Dorian’s post provides a step-by-step on eliminating distraction and buckling down. For those of you who do like to dip a toe in the social media rabbit hole, here are few videos that A) supply you with a productive kick-start and B) motivate you to get started, keep going, and finish strong!

Success: How Bad Do You Want It?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsSC2vx7zFQ

40 Inspirational Speeches in 2 Minutes

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d6wRkzCW5qI

These are the perfect time wasters because they encourage you not to waste anymore time. Speaking of not wasting time…get back to writing you paper! Remember the Writing Center is always here to help!

Jen

This post was originally published on November 9, 2015.

The little book that does big things

At times, writing an academic paper feels a great deal like a warrior going into battle. The preparation for the task helps keep you focus and ensures that you are well prepared. The task itself promises, what seem to the writer, as two possible outcome success or failure. It might seem that the process and writing is the true foe, however it’s not. The real battle begins when you are on the ground facing your biggest adversary. For the writer, the enemy can easily be writer’s block, a weak thesis, and an unorganized structure. These rivals severely damage the writer’s point by undoing the foundation of the argument. Similarly, warriors must arm themselves with a trusted weapon. For the writer this means our words that pierce the hearts of our readers. Wiser warriors protect themselves from injuries with a strong shield. Parallel to this idea, the writer must protect himself or herself with grammar.

As writers we often feel like grammar is a secondary to content. In a more idealistic world this could be the case, the content would be strong enough to stand on it’s own but one can also argue that unicorns would also inhabit this magical realm. Content of an academic paper needs the assistance of grammar to ensure your argument is unquestioned by the audience. Grammatical flaws are apparent to the readers like cracks on a wall, the foundation of the structure can be sound; however, the slightest crack will instill doubts upon the viewer.

Understandable you don’t have to be a grammar wizard in order to check your work. Truthfully speaking, many great writers such as T.S. Elliot, Robert Penn Warren, and F. Scott Fitzgerald had editors or friends that would look over their work. If these great writers needed another pair of eyes to check over their literary pieces, then you are justified in asking a friend to check your grammar.

Another option you have is coming to the Writing Center and setting up an appointment to meet with a tutor.  The tutors at the Writing Center are not grammar fairies that will wave a wand and make all your grammatical errors disappear. Writing Center tutors look for structure, content, and grammatical patterns of errors.

What is a grammatical pattern of errors? Grammatical pattern of errors is a series of grammar mistakes that occur throughout your paper. Why on earth would we do that instead of fixing all grammatical errors in your paper? The reason as to why we search for grammatical patterns is to help you as a writer, to identify the error, understand the rule, and actively notice the error in your writing. This approach to grammatical error strengthens your ability as a writer by helping you to become an active editor in your own paper.

There are moments that I too find myself guilty of making a grammatical error repetitively within my paper. Once I have identified the error, I go to my copy of The Elements of Style; also known as ‘the little book’ of grammar rules. Next, I identify the rule I am breaking, then read the section, and examples that follow. Afterwards, I actively edit my paper by correcting that mistake and learning from it for future papers. Preferably, I would ask everyone to own a copy of The Elements of Style, as their one-stop guide on grammar rules, and ask that they carry it around like it is a love letter from Hugh Jackman. However, I am well aware that this might not be the case for some. For this reason, I strongly recommend the website, www.crockford.com/wrrld/style.html, it is a website version of the little book of grammar rules.

The website gives you hyperlinks to each grammatical rule for easy access to a direct section. For instances, let’s say your professor and writing tutors keep telling you to use active voice and you don’t have the slightest clue what they are talking about. All you would have to do is go to that website. On the main page it says The Elements of Style, scroll down and poof! You can see a hyperlink to a page called active voice. Once you click the link for active voice you will see a definition followed by examples. The website is exactly like the sections in the book without the pretty pictures.

My parting word, for my fellow writers out there, is to never forget your grammar shield when you are in battle. It is essential for your academic paper and will protect you when your content is in dire need. Just remember, “winter [final papers] is coming.”

Zehra Yousofi

This post was originally published on October 27, 2013.

The importance of voice

I have been seeing a lot of papers in the Writing Center recently that are struggling with one of the most important components of writing: voice. Voice lets the reader connect with what the writer is saying, puts passion into a (possibly) bland topic, and demands the attention of the reader.

But what is voice? And how does it work?

Voice is the unique way that everyone thinks and speaks. If you can talk, you can write. However, based on the papers I have been reading lately, everyone else seems to think there is a “perfect voice” out there that every professor expects you to use.

This is not true.

The best thing you can do for your writing is to write the words that you think. Just write exactly the way you would explain the same thing to a friend, an acquaintance, or a professor. Academic writing does need to be formal to an extent, but it doesn’t have to strangle your voice out of the words. When you are writing an essay, write it in a way that would be interesting for you. Don’t just regurgitate what you think the professor wants you to say. That cheats you from a good writing experience, and it cheats your readers from a pleasant reading experience.

I know what you’re thinking. What about a formal tone? What if my voice doesn’t sound smart enough?

To which I respond, who cares? Formal tone does not mean “stuffy,” “boring,” or “smart-sounding.” Think of formal tone as the way you would talk to a professor or your boss or the president. When talking to those people, you may be more conscious of conventions and grammar, but you don’t completely change the way that you form sentences and ideas.

Also, where does this idea about having to sound smart come from? What does that even mean? If you sound like yourself and you know what you’re talking about, you will come across as knowledgeable in the paper. But the point of an essay is not to sound smart. The point of an essay is to propose an idea and back up that idea with evidence. Do you have ideas? Do you have evidence? If the answer is “yes,” then you have a good paper.

All that you need now is your voice.

Sit down and write your idea and the evidence you have for it. Just write it in a list. Then, connect the evidence to the idea. How did the evidence help you come up with the idea? How will the evidence help you explain the idea to someone else? Just write all this down exactly as you would if no one were ever going to see it. Slap on an introduction to the context, turn the idea into a thesis, and cap it off with a conclusion that sums up the idea and the evidence, and you have your first draft written in your own voice.

Now go back and edit for formality. Make sure your grammar and punctuation are perfect. Take out all the phrases you wouldn’t say to the president, and you are one step away from your final copy. All that’s left is to talk about this with a tutor in the Writing Center, and you are ready to turn that bad boy in.

I understand how difficult it is to find your voice in your writing. It is something I struggle with as a writer in my academic work. People think voice is just for creative writing or that they aren’t supposed to use their own voice in essays, but neither is true. Putting a bit of yourself into a paper is the best thing you can do for it. More people will be able to relate to what you say, and they will be more likely to forgive grammar mistakes or cliche phrases if they can get some personality out of a piece.

Bottom line: Don’t try to be the perfect writer; just try to put yourself on paper.

If you are still having trouble finding your voice, I urge you to read Jeff Goins’ blog post “10 Steps to Finding Your Writing Voice.” He provides a great exercise that can help you recognize your voice ad put it into your writing.

Best of luck,

–Sarah

This post was originally published on October 25, 2013.

Documentation and formatting

Sometimes, citation style and formatting can seem like the most daunting – and the most tedious – part of writing a research paper. Following guidelines about margin sizes, cover pages, and detailed citations can seem like stuffy, academic nonsense and a waste of time for a paper that is most likely only going to be read by your professor. Though it is true that these details are secondary to content, they are not just torture devices designed by your professor to make you suffer and give them something to laugh about with other professors in the faculty lounge: there are actual, legitimate reasons for following these rules and learning appropriate style techniques.

Avoiding plagiarism is the most frequently discussed reason for following citation guidelines. Most of your professors have probably talked to you about this, so I won’t go into excruciating detail and give you a speech you’ve already heard. It’s pretty simple: you have to give credit where credit is due. Not giving your sources credit is stealing. It’s cheating. Don’t do it.

But why use these standard, field-specific styles? Why not just write a note at the end of your paper that tells where you got your information?

When you write a research paper, what you are essentially doing is entering into an academic conversation about the topic you’ve chosen (or been assigned) to address. You’re communicating what you understand about a given subject to an audience, and possibly pointing out something new about a topic that no one has thought of before. Proper documentation of the resources from which you gained your knowledge backs up your point; sloppy or incorrect documentation hurts your credibility (and your grade).

Documentation/citation styles are, much like grammar, or written music, or Latin classifications of plant and animal life (there is, I’m sure, a fancier word for this, but I’m not a biology major), codes that exist within a group – in this case, an academic field – to help people communicate. When you as a writer don’t follow these guidelines, your credibility is hurt. You and your audience have entered into an agreement to use these means to talk about this subject, and you’ve broken that agreement. Oops.

Now that you’re committed to learning and following style and citation guidelines, there is one obvious problem: they can be hard to master. They’re complicated. They’re technical. Lucky for you, there’s also an obvious answer!

We here at the WKU Writing Center really want to help you! As students of English and writing, we’re well versed in MLA style and documentation guidelines, but we’re also familiar with APA and other styles. If you bring in something we’re not familiar with, we can figure it out together.

It’s also important to note that we writing tutors, just like you, are only human. I look up details about MLA style nearly every time I write a paper. Almost no one has this stuff memorized – if you do, I want to know your secret. A really great resource for information about documentation style is the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL). This website has lots of helpful information about both MLA and APA documentation – I use it pretty much every time I have to cite something – and lots of other nifty writing tips as well.

Happy writing!

Rachel

This post was originally published on October 17, 2013.

Creative writing

Many students may think that the Writing Center is just for academic papers, and that makes sense. We are part of a university, so we should focus on collegiate work, right?

Well, actually, much of collegiate work is creative, especially for students who are Creative Writing majors or minors. Stories and poems can just as difficult to write–if not more so–as essays and research papers. And it is even more difficult for most people to share their creative works than it is to share academic papers. Creative writing allows us to reveal very intimate parts of ourselves, and when we are unwilling to show those parts to others, it can become very arduous to get any kind of feedback.

But I am here to tell you, writers, that the Writing Center is here to help. A large majority of our tutors are/were Creative Writing majors and minors; we understand the struggles of writing creatively and we have experienced the fear of showing our most private thoughts to entire classrooms through our writing. Any of us would be happy to work with writers on a creative piece with the utmost respect and sensitivity. Plus, it would really be a refresher from our usual onslaught of essays and narratives.

We know how scary it is to have a creative piece reviewed, but we struggle with the same emotions about our creative writing. We love it, we hate it, we swear never to show it to anyone. But getting feedback from an audience is the most effective way to become a better writer. And when your writing is successful, anything is possible. Who knows–maybe you’ll even get a book deal.

So bring in your short stories and your long stories, your poems and your flash fictions, your memoirs and your novels. Let us take a look at your creative writing and help you make it great. We won’t judge, and we won’t laugh (unless it’s a comedy; then, we’ll laugh unreservedly). But we will help, and maybe even give you the confidence you’ve been missing.

All the best in your creative endeavors!

–Sarah

This post was originally published on October 11, 2013

Total presence in the writing center

Hello, dear blogosphere and assorted Writing Center friends.

The best writing advice I have ever stumbled upon was not in a standard grammar book or Style by Williams & Colomb or even Stephen King’s On Writing. Rather, I happened upon it in a little book by a Catholic priest named Henri Nouwen, and this is roundabouts what he said:

For the sake of your own soul, I urge you to cultivate presence.

“By presence,” he writes, “I mean attentiveness to the blessings that come to you day after day, year after year. The problem of modern living is that we are too busy … to notice that we are being blessed… It has become extremely difficult for us to stop, listen, pay attention, and receive gracefully what is offered to us.”

Is this truly writing advice?

I would argue, YES.

The artist of great language experiences a special joy. We can be such artists! Crafting our language into shapely thought-animals, capable of standing on two (or four) legs apart from our creational clarification… that is achievement and worthy of aspiration.

Yet…

We too often try to make flying leaps between achievement and aspiration and fall flat on our faces! We want the first draft to be the last draft! We multitask ourselves into defeat!

In the quest of creating GREAT ART, bridging the aspiration and achievement is doable. It’s just a process.

So let’s break it down, shall we?

How to Cultivate Total Presence in the Writing Process

  1. Turn off that cell phone. Be where you are. (Where are you? See #2)
  2. GO someplace that will lead you to “pen-to-paper” productivity.
    • Being alone is perfectly acceptable. Library, study corners, your room…
    • I prefer a semi-quiet environment. Coffee shop, kitchen table, the Writing Center… These are particularly great places if you need positive peer pressure to get your work did.
    • Outside is always an option. Beware of this one, though. Looking for that one word on the tip of your tongue can quickly turn into looking at that mermaid-shaped cloud or looking at how cute the squirrel is. Construction is also to be considered.
  3. Shut off:
    • Safari
    • Chrome
    • Mozilla Firefox
    • (the ever-popular) Internet Explorer à My other Writing Center friends are much more technology savvy than I, and they say they know ways to get the technology to workagainst them, e.g. have your browser lock you out of Twitter or FB after 2 hours of surfing for no good reason (other than seeing those wedding photos for the hundredth time or revising your movie list or checking out Drop-Dead-Gorgeous So-and-So). No no no no no. Every bit of research ever done by anyone ever says we can’t multitask and expect excellence.
      • So get off. Now.
  4. Put headphones in, even if you don’t or can’t put on music. I have gotten into a writing zone for hours and realized I never opened iTunes, but once I took the headphones off, the osmosis of thought between my computer and me was disturbed unto death. Wearing headphones alone is a silly trick. But it works. Honest.
  5. You tell yourself you can work with friends. You cannot. Statistically speaking, the likelihood you will, in that grand social atmosphere, write anything is zero percent.
  6. Get a hot drink to plant your tail.
  7. Finish drinking and thinking and staring at the blank screen.
  8. Then just begin to write the thing. Turn off the inner critic and promise yourself, now that you’re writing Round ONE, you can work on the craft of your creation after it’s finished getting created.

I believe in you. And once you discipline yourself to stay on task and just write, you can begin to engage in the great joy of CRAFT. Creation stands apart from craft. But in both seasons of the writing process, your presence is vital. And you know… Writing goes faster the more you pay attention: that’s why the best parts of our lives seem to fly by. We’re invested!

So invest! Pay attention! Lock into the beautiful specifics of your own writing process and, as Neil Gaiman urges us,

make good art.

I happily anticipate your creations.

~Dorian

This post was originally published on October 4, 2013.

Grammar, grammar, grammar!

Happy Sunday everyone!

One of the biggest things we’re always getting asked about at the Writing Center is grammar.  This should surprise absolutely no one, since English grammar is pounded into our brains from the moment we step into kindergarten until…well, to be honest, people will never stop hounding us about our grammar.

If your first language is English, you’re lucky enough to have what’s called “native speaker intuition,” meaning you can spot and hear major grammatical mistakes, often without being able to explain WHY you know it’s wrong.  However, this doesn’t often cross over to smaller grammatical aspects, such as homophones, punctuation, and verb tense.  If English isn’t your first language, well, you’re learning with the rest of us!

But let’s get real here, you say, when does knowing the difference between affect and effect become obvious in a conversation between two friends?  When is your mom going to notice if you don’t put a semicolon between two independent-but-tightly-related-like-that-one-annoying-couple-you-know clauses?  The quick answer: it won’t!

And yet, we’ve all got that friend who corrects grammar on Facebook.  We all had that eighth grade teacher who drilled subject-verb agreement into our heads.  So what’s the big deal?

It’s easy to believe that grammar doesn’t matter at all, but it’s not a very practical opinion.  English, like every other language, has grammatical structures that are unique and essential to it.  These grammatical structures mean the difference between saying something like “I ate dinner with my dog,” to “I ate my dog with dinner.”  (Sorry Fido!)

Although it may seem easy to write off ALL grammar, the fact of the matter is, you need grammar to communicate.  Sure, it might still be readable if you use the wrong form of a word, but it will take away from your meaning.  And less meaning means less effectiveness.  And, in the end, less effectiveness may tell some readers that you are less intelligent, less worthy, less important.

THIS IS NOT THE CASE.  

You are a intelligent individual, regardless of your educational training, and you should be able to use whatever language is needed to make a strong and effective point in any situation.  It’s easy to think of grammar as a punishment, but try thinking of it as a tool instead.  When having a debate on Facebook with a friend, your grammar doesn’t matter, but your content does.  However, in academic writing, both are equally important.  Your content may be fresh and powerful, but if your delivery lacks, readers may be confused or even turned off by your paper.

This isn’t just an English skill.  You will have to write papers for every aspect of your life.  You will apply for things, you will write romantic/funny/friendly things, you will NEED to have the skills that will allow you to pound out a few amazing and effective sentences on a page instead of a mash of text speak.  Sometimes text speak is amazing.  Sometimes it’s not.  That’s just a fact of our lives.  So, learning grammatical points and knowing which situations to use them in is a key skill to developing yourself not just as a writer, but also as an individual.

With this in mind, I recommend Grammar Girl‘s wide array of grammatical lessons.

Mignon (like the filet, but much funnier) publishes tips and tricks under a wide variety of methods.  She has a blog, she has a podcast, she has an APPLE IPOD APP (how cool is that?!).  She is here to help you, not to preach a rule or slap your hand with a ruler.  Her topics range from homophone usage to comma splices to silly English idioms and where they come from.

Grammar Girl (and the WKU Writing Center) are here to help you kick grammar’s butt!  Take advantage of that!

–Teresa

This post was originally published on September 29, 2013.