Getting started at the end

By Abby Ponder

 

We’re nearing the end of the semester–or, more accurately, we’re barreling towards it at full speed–and it’s at this time of year that the panic sets in. You have a planner in front of you and a to-do list off to the side, but rather than making you feel organized and coherent, it’s just sending those stress levels skyrocketing because there’s so much to do.

That’s fair.

It’s even worse as a senior.

I am currently preparing to say my farewells to WKU as graduation looms a few mere yards away. Suddenly, I’m looking at an avalanche of things to do to help prepare for the transition from college student to adult in the real world.

It’s a lot–sometimes overwhelming. And, as a result, it might seem easy to let your papers slide and “come back to them later.”

Sure, it’s easy to do that.

But don’t.

This is your time to shine, my friends: to write that stellar final paper and look at how far you’ve come since that early lit review your freshman year. You know the one I’m talking about–the one with more comma splices and missing apostrophes than you care to admit. Furthermore, don’t you want to end your college experience with a paper you’re proud of, your last hoorah?

And you might be thinking that, sure, that all sounds well and good, but it’s so much easier said than done. And, honestly, I’d agree with you. Sometimes its hard to find that motivation when the senioritis kicks in.

my emotions

My advice? Look at the bigger picture. Look at that finish line.

The WKU Writing Center Blog has several pieces of advice that will help you on that journey towards knocking your final papers out of the park, too:

Above all else, though, have confidence in yourself and your writing.

And for all you folks who are graduating, congratulations! Best of luck as you move forward.

13789-parks_rec

Advertisements

Your Paper’s Roadmap

by Abby Ponder

If you’ve ever taken any English class ever–or if you’ve written a paper in general, really–then you’ve probably heard of thesis statements. In fact, you’ve probably used them. Several times. And perhaps you’ve felt a sense of dread building in your stomach upon seeing those words in crisp, clean ink at the top of an assignment. The butterflies are a-fluttering and the tummy is a-rumbling.

Trepidation when it comes to thesis statements is not an unusual phenomenon.

This uneasiness stems from somewhere, certainly, but sometimes it’s hard to put a finger on why thesis statements cause all the organized thoughts in your head to fly out the window.

For some people, thesis statements are simply overwhelming. Ideally, according to the Center for Writing Studies at the University of Illinois, “every paper you write should have a main point, a main idea, or central message […] A thesis statement focuses your ideas into one or two sentences. It should present the topic of your paper and also a comment about your position in relation to the topic.”

In laymen’s terms, a thesis statement is the paper’s roadmap. It highlights what the paper is going to be about and informs the reader on how they’re going to get there.

With that in mind, writing the statement seems like a lot of pressure. It’s got to contain a whole lot of information that you, as the writer, might not know yet. And that’s okay!

So, you know what you should do?

You should save it for last.

tumblr_inline_nxzgsbZFJC1rn1fel_500

When you’re writing an essay, it can be really tempting to write in chronological order. It makes sense, after all: it’s a natural progression of thoughts, exposition, and explanation. However, just because you write the bulk of your paper in chronological order, it doesn’t mean you can’t write the introduction last.

See, sometimes as you write your ideas change. Though you may have started in a structured, “I’m going to talk about this, this, and this,” mind frame, your ideas can evolve the more you put words on paper. Wait until the paper’s finished, examine the main ideas you address, and then construct your thesis.

It helps tremendously–I promise.

However, if you like a little bit more structure before you start writing, the value of an outline in indisputable. If you use an outline, the chances are pretty good that it’ll come into play again when you’re writing your actual thesis statement, too.

And, while you’re at it, don’t be afraid to break away from the traditional “3-point thesis.” The content of the statement is arguably more important than the structure. So, as you write your statement, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does it answer the assignment’s primary question? (If there is one.)
  • Do you reference specific points? 
  • Does it answer the “so what?” question? (i.e., if I’m reading your paper with absolutely no context, am I going to understand why this paper is important?)
  • Does it, ultimately, say something? Sometimes writers get caught in a trap of wandering in circles, using words without really ever saying something. Your thesis doesn’t exist to expand on a word count. Instead, it is there to expand on an idea. Use it to your advantage.

You can even find more questions to ask yourself, along with examples, by visiting the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s webpage devoted to the topic.

So, take a deep breath. Writing thesis statements takes practice and, ultimately, confidence. The more faith you have in your statement, the more likely you’ll say something worth saying. Write with your shoulders back and your thinking cap in place.

Good luck.

kOdZ36xNm5CBq

Traversing the Interstate

By Abby Ponder

Over the course of the three days leading up to Halloween, several of your Writing Center tutors—myself included—participated in a whirlwind adventure to Oxford, Mississippi. The trip is one of the highlights of Professor Walker Rutledge’s course on Hemingway and Faulkner that also includes a similar excursion into Hemingway’s childhood in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of the bustling city of Chicago.

The course provides a fascinating insight into the lives of two of the U.S.’s Nobel Prize-winning authors. Experiencing their worlds from the very ground on which they once stood is both remarkable and rewarding—an educational experience unlike any other.

In our time in Oxford, we visited a variety of locations: several cemeteries and statues, the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at Ole Miss, and even Faulkner’s home at Rowan Oak.

image
William Faulkner’s home in Oxford, Mississippi: Rowan Oak.

As cool as all this is, though, you might be wondering what this has to do with the Writing Center. Because, sure, some tutors went along, but what does that have to do with this blog?

Well, it’s a good question—I’ll give you that.

See, William Faulkner, like all great authors and individuals alike, did not always have an easy road to success. He had his high points (like winning the Nobel Prize for Literature), but he also had plenty of low points.

The thing about writing is that it can sometimes be undeniably difficult. It doesn’t always matter what genre you’re writing in, whether it’s academic or creative, because sometimes the words simply won’t come. And if that’s the case, don’t feel bad. We’ve all struggled with it from time to time—even writers like William Faulkner. And, look, now he’s got his own statue in his hometown’s square.

image
Let’s be honest, this is how you really know you’ve made it.

Writing is an ever-evolving process that involves starting and stopping and starting again countless times over. Sometimes it may feel as though you’re never making any progress, but you are. See, even if you cut all the earlier words from the paper and transfigure your ideas on the second draft, it is still progress. You’re growing as a writer every day, and each paper or poem you pen is going to be stronger for it.

Unfortunately, however, your writing might never be 100% flawless. Mine sure isn’t by any stretch of the imagination and even an author as inventive and inspiring as William Faulkner still probably had a mistake or two filter through the margins, especially on those first few editions.

And sometimes what you love best won’t immediately be accepted by the general public. After all, Faulkner entirely refurbished the originally crumbling Rowan Oak with the royalties from the novel “Sanctuary,” which is largely regarded as his worst book. On the other hand, it took quite some time for “Sound and the Fury” to reach notoriety among the general public. Though, to be fair, it’s still not the most readable work of the American literary catalogue, especially if you’re looking for something quick and casual.

The real moral of this story is to simply keep writing. Sometimes it’s difficult and sometimes people may not love the words you put on paper upon their first reading. But writing, at its core, is an evolving process.

Keep at it and see what you can do.

We, in the Writing Center, believe that you can do it. And you should believe in you, too.

Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 7.43.56 PM
The students standing in front of the confederate soldier’s statue at the University of Mississippi. The statue is featured in Faulkner’s novel “Sound and the Fury,” though its location is altered in the novel. Photo by Walker Rutledge.

Lines of red and green

By Abby Ponder

Have you ever left an appointment at the Writing Center feeling a little blue? You came in mostly confident in your paper–there might’ve been a few mistakes, sure, but you just know it’s solid–and then watched as lines began to fill the margins while your eyes widened in surprise.

It’s not always a great feeling, especially that first time you see it.

Even if you talk it over with your tutor as you go, discuss why those colorful and intricate markings now dot your paper, you might still be feeling a little upset. I thought it was good–that I was good. What happened? 

Well, I have news for you: you’re not alone.

My editing process, which is discussed more thoroughly in this post here, involves a lot of printing and, well, editing. I’ll often print out a copy of my paper, take a pen to it, make the corrections, and then repeat the process a time or two again. Hey, never let it be said that I am nothing if not persistent. (And, let’s be honest, a bit of an extreme perfectionist.)

Now, I’m not saying that you need to rush home and start editing your papers five or six times with a bright red pen. That’s actually not it at all! What works well for some people might not work as well for others. For instance, I know some people who simply read the document to themselves backwards, looking for typos or misplaced words as they go. Others turn on track changes in Microsoft Word and start flying through the paper.

There is no single right way to edit, just as there is also no wrong way.

The good news is that in the Writing Center, we do our best to avoid that ominous red pen. I mean, there’s a reason that all the “scary teachers” on television or in movies use it. Red packs a powerful punch and one glance at it can sometimes send the message of, “Well, darn, that doesn’t look good!” Markings on paper with red ink have developed into something with a negative connotation but, if we’re being honest, I actually prefer the red pen when I’m editing my own papers. Nothing snaps you into gear quite like the bright and shiny red ink that’s telling you, “Hey, kid, I need to be changed–don’t you dare ignore me!”

Like I said, though, what works for me doesn’t work for everyone. Red pens might not be for you yet, but green pens, on the other hand, are a nice place to start. After all, green is a comforting color–a cool color, in fact.

However, the ultimate thing to keep in mind is that marks on a paper are not a bad thing. They also do not lower your meaning as a writer or as a person. On the contrary, they signify that, sure, something might need improved, but you’re on the right track–you’re almost there. They’re a sign of progress and of growth, and there is something inherently valuable in that.

The markings also aren’t something that you should ever take personally. As evidenced by the picture below, I go to town with my own papers. Sometimes there is more red ink than black ink and white space and, again, that’s perfectly okay. It’s a way of thinking out loud in a quiet room and is something you should never be ashamed of.

FullSizeRender-8

So, put that pen to paper and write. Or turn on track changes. Or read backwards. Or, better yet, come see us in the Writing Center.

I can’t promise anything, but I like to think that you’ll be glad you did.

The final(s) countdown: Getting your paper started

by Abby Ponder 

We’ve reached that time of year, folks: finals week. Or, better yet, crunch time.

It’s been a grande ole’ semester filled with football games and friends, festivities and fun times. But, like all good things, this semester has to come to a close, and with that conclusion, final projects and papers must come to an end, too.

So how are you coping with the stress of finals week?

Well, step one: don’t panic. I know that is much easier said than done (trust me, I definitely know that), but it’s doable. Compartmentalizing is key. I have four or five papers due in the upcoming weeks, and compartmentalizing them is the only way I’m going to be able to remain a fully functioning human being by the end of this.

So, let’s walk through the process. Bear in mind that, as we go, what works for me may or may not work for you. Everyone has a different approach to paper writing, but it is my hope that even if this isn’t the exact path you wind up taking, that this post might help you figure out for yourself what works and doesn’t work, and then provide you the support to build your own foundation from there.

First, look at the assignment and deconstruct what it is asking you. Are there multiple questions being asked in the prompt? In that case, I’ve found that it can be helpful to separate them into different questions. Suppose that the prompt it asking you the following question: “How does The Scarlet Letter reflect the mentalities of Puritan New England? How is this mindset still reflected in a contemporary setting? How do the symbols from the novel reflect the way symbols are used today in regards to shame?” When planning to write this paper, you might break it down like this:

Admittedly, the questions your professors assign will be more eloquent than my attempts, and your answers will certainly be more elaborate, but you get the general idea. Breaking down these long questions can help you figure out what direction you want to take your paper in. I’m a very visual learner, and so having this clearly laid out in front of me helps tremendously.

However, while some assignments may be long and elaborate, there are others that are completely open-ended. In some cases, these assignments can be even more overwhelming. You know you’re supposed to write about something, but with no specific guidelines or instructions, where on Earth are you supposed to begin? In that case, find a topic that is both interesting to you and is relevant to the class. Making a list can be helpful, and taking a look back at the syllabus can also give you an idea of everything you might’ve forgotten from earlier in the semester. (But you wouldn’t forget any of the material, right?)
Photo Credit 
Once you have a general idea as to what you’re going to be writing about, I’ve found that writing up an outline can be particularly helpful. Outlines, in my experience, can go in a couple of different directions.
One option is the bare-bones skeleton. This is the idea of just putting words on paper to have some sense of direction as to where the project should go. I typically write this outline on paper, because drawing arrows and crossing things out can sometimes be especially satisfying, and it definitely lends itself towards making you feel as if you’re making progress–because you are!
The above picture is from the beginning of an outline I was working on for a class earlier this semester. It’s nothing terribly elaborate, but more of an idea as to where the paper will eventually go. Even if the paper deviates from this path, it’s a nice way of gathering your thoughts and saving them for later. You never know what epiphanies will happen!
Once I have finished my bare-bones outline, then I start a quote-based outline. In most of your academic research papers, secondary sources are crucial. Instead of flipping back and forth while writing the paper, I like to have a good idea of what quotes I’ll be using and where I will be using them before I even get started.
Following the bare-bones outline, I created this one to plug in resources that, if the paper presented an opportunity for them, I could cite.
While you may still need to pull out some other quotes as you go along (because, hey, papers develop in different ways sometimes), this way you already have the central ones at your disposal. If you follow this outline (ha!), though, make sure you continue to mark where you’re pulling the quotes from. Citations are critical, and you’re not saving time in the long run if you have to go back and find the author and page number after the fact. Do it all upfront and you’ll be golden!
From there, the next thing to do is just start writing. And remember, the first draft doesn’t have to be perfect–that’s why it’s called a first draft. If you have the time, check out one of our recent post about the editing process for some extra assurance and advice.
Also, don’t forget that the Writing Center is here to assist you with any stage of the writing process. We are not an editing service, but we will gladly help walk you through any bumps in the road you may stumble across, whether you’re on the preliminary outline or looking at a final draft. Sometimes it’s just nice to have a second opinion on things, too.
Like always, you can schedule an appointment by clicking here and selecting a time that works well for you. If you’re struggling with the system, we also offer a step-by-step tutorial for how to make an appointment. We are also available for drop-in appointments, but please remember that those function under a first come, first serve basis. Because of that, we strongly encourage students to go ahead and schedule an appointment in advance to secure their spot.
Good luck in the upcoming couple of weeks, my friends, and have awonderful break!
Happy Writing!
This post was originally published on November 24, 2014.

“Red, the blood of angry pens; black, the marks of mistakes past…”

by Abby Ponder 

For almost all writers, editing is a fundamental aspect of the writing process. Without it, mistakes can be glossed over and points can remain unrefined. And while in a lot of cases editing is no one’s idea of a good time, it certainly doesn’t have to be the nightmare most people make it out to be.

Whenever I’m writing, my first draft is, to put it rather bluntly, a bit rough. Actually, it’s more than a bit; it’s generally so rough that I almost always refuse to let anyone else even glance at it. My first draft is usually a compilation of various outlines (a step outlined in a recent post) that have been tossed together into an assortment of paragraphs that are usually long and rambling with very little cohesion. It’s something resembling a paper, but it’s not there yet. Like I said, these initial drafts are rough–but that’s okay.

Anne Lamott, most known for her novel Bird by Bird which highlights tips for successful writers of all genres, has a chapter in the aforementioned novel called “Shitty First Drafts.” In the chapter, Lamott explains that a first draft is just that: a first draft. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it is a starting point. The whole point of the first draft is to get words and ideas on paper, after all, and that is almost always the hardest part of writing: you have all these fantastic ideas, but you might not have a specific place to start or a way to tie them all together. However, between the help of your outline and your “shitty first draft,” you’ll begin to have an idea come together and slowly but surely that idea will begin to blossom.

So, after you’ve written that first draft, some people write another one… and then maybe another one after that. I know that I usually go through several drafts before I am finally satisfied.

My British Fantasy Literature paper rocking some Les Miserables lyrics, as one naturally does.
For example, I took a class last fall where I had to write a paper breaking down the concept of love in works of British Fantasy Literature. (Harry Potter was, unsurprisingly, incorporated into this assignment.) However, even though I intimately knew the subject matter, there were still a number of changes that needed to be made. A friend of mine helped me to put the editing process in perspective, made me take a step back and laugh at it, and the break from the seriousness was a tremendous help.
Editing, in my experience, is mostly about taking that step back and examining what the words staring back at you are trying to say. It’s akin to reading another person: they’re trying to say something, but it is up to you to decipher the meaning.
There are two things that I have found incredibly helpful in the editing process: (1) printing off the paper, and (2) reading it out loud.
While it is easy enough to edit a paper on the computer (and, admittedly, it does save some on printing costs), there is something about editing a paper on, well, paper that makes a huge difference. People tend to be more inclined to skim when reading online, and consequently it can be very easy to skip over the small mistakes–especially when you’re not on the hunt for a misplaced pronoun or a comma splice. When you print the paper out and literally put pen to paper, you’ll be surprised at how many things you see. And, like with my paper above, there is a sense of accomplishment that comes from seeing a marked up paper. Sure, it means you still have a ways to go, but it also symbolizes progress, and progress is never a bad thing.
Next, reading the text to yourself (or another person) can alter your perception of the words. Reading aloud forces you to interact with the paper and actively think about both the content and the style. Additionally, most people have a tendency to catch any misplaced words or confusing phrases when they’re hearing or speaking them. What sounds good in your head may not always work out loud, and this step can do a lot in terms of drawing attention to that.
Just make sure that whenever it seems like too much, and you feel as though you can’t make sense of the words anymore, take a break. Sometimes you need to give your brain some room to breath, and then you can come back ready to get back to work.
Comic by Debbie Ohi.
When you feel like you’re finished, though, or even if you’re stumped along the way, don’t forget to utilize the WKU Writing Center. While we are not an editing service, we will help walk you through any bumps in the road you may be having. Sometimes it’s nice to have a second opinion on things, too.
As always, you can schedule an appointment by clicking here and selecting a time that works well for you. We are also available for drop-in appointments, but those function under a first come, first serve basis.

Happy Writing!

This post was originally published on October 20, 2014.

Valentine’s day

Valentine’s Day is tomorrow, and whether you love the love or take a more cynical approach to the holiday, you cannot deny that it is an important part of our culture.

Before Valentine’s Day became quite the commercial success it is today, it was very popular–and expected–to create hand-written sentiments, cards, or letters for your loved one(s). Today, it is leass common, so stick out to your valentine and do something unexpected–make a hand-written card.

When trying to come up with an original valentine, it can be easy to fall into the cliches of “roses are red, violets are blue.” You can stay away from this by creating an original rhyme of your own or by expressing a specific reason you love or care about the recipient: “I love the way you are obsessed with Harry Potter” or “Your laugh when you’re embarrassed is what first drew me to you.” The more specific the better. Show your loved one that you really pay attention to what makes them who they are.

After you create a rough draft of your valentine, show it around to some of your friends and get feedback. Does this sound too cheesy? Does this sound too cliche? Getting feedback on your work can give you a sense of how your loved one will react to their card, while also giving you the benefit of an extra pair of eyes to catch any mistakes.

Editing and revision are very important elements in any part of writing, but especially in a love letter or card. If you leave an obvious grammatical error in such a personal piece of writing, it can give the impression that you don’t care enough about the card’s recipient to edit and look over your work. On the other hand, by editing and revising your card–no matter how short–you prove that you are willing to spend the extra time on making sure your gift is perfect for you loved one.

After editing, create the final version of your card or letter and give it to your loved one. They will more than appreciate the thought, time, and effort put into your gift.

Have a lovely Valentine’s Day, everyone.

–Sarah

This post was originally published on February 13, 2014.