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10 Steps To Help You Write When You Don't Want To

Writing is hard. As a creative writing and English major, I know more than most the difficulties of sitting down and writing. There is the second guessing, procrastinating, and general not knowing where to start. In the hopes of helping other people, here are a few steps to help with all kinds of writing from essays and stories to lab reports and history papers. Anything you need to write can be written and hopefully this will help you get from “I can’t” to “I finished.”


Get In The Most Productive Place Possible


Set yourself up at a table, on the couch, or at a desk. Help yourself to a snack and some tea or coffee. Plug in those headphones with music, keep it quiet, be in a place with other people around, or alone in your room. Each person has their own best work environment and finding yours will set you up for success.


Know What You Need To Write About


When starting a new writing assignment, I start by thinking about what I am going to write about and make a plan so I don’t stare for hours at an empty page. A topic may be dictated by the assignment but if you need your own idea, try writing about something enjoyable like writing a history paper on WWII propaganda films if you're a cinema buff or writing on your favourite book from your English course.


Next, collect your evidence, inspiration, research, or data in one Word document for easy access while writing. I have found that the extra step of finding a highlighted quote in a book or paper while writing may cause me to stop writing. You should also, include page numbers, article titles, and your references in this document to simplify integrating quotes into your writing.


In the same document, put down point form notes about what you want to discuss in your writing as a record to look at later. Sometimes just writing down point form ideas for an assignment can be difficult. When this happens, talk it out with a friend and record your conversation. You will be surprised how much knowledge you already have in your brain when you speak instead of struggling to write.


The main idea with this step is that you have your information, quotes, data, and ideas in one place so when you begin to write it is not from an empty page. 


Get Your Message Across


Organize the information in your word document into groups that support the point you want to make. For a scientific paper, group together the information you think belongs in each of the sections and for an essay, collect the information into the groups for your paragraphs. This will give you a basic structure without having to write much of anything. It will also give you an idea of whether or not you need more information to get your point across and allows you to play with the order of your ideas to see which is the most effective way to get your message across.


Write Sentences


Before you get scared, you are not writing your paper yet. You are just taking the information you gathered and organized and going from point form to a sentence. For example, if I were writing on Brooklyn 99 I might have a point form note, “Jake think captain dad” and I would take that and write, “Jake’s behaviour towards Captain Holt suggests that Jake sees Holt as a father figure.” Don’t worry if the sentences are good or have the right tone for your paper just write some sentences.


Put Those Sentences Together


Take your sentences and copy and paste or rewrite them into the document that will become your paper. Essentially, you are transferring your outline into the written format of your paper. It is important to note that you don’t have to write your paper in order. If you are excited about the evidence in one of your paragraphs, write that out first. No one will know or care that you wrote it out of order. Do whatever it takes to get you writing. If one part of your paper isn’t coming together, move on to another and come back.


You Have To Write To Write.


If you are still stuck, write some gibberish onto the page, “I went to the mountains to have high tea with a goat” etc. The act of typing or writing by hand may help get your brain going. All of this can be deleted.


“There Is No Writing, There Is Only Re-Writing”


If you are worried that your writing is going to be garbage and that thought is holding you back from writing, let me tell you, “It will be garbage.” First drafts are always garbage so you have to tell yourself that it won’t be perfect on the first try even if, by fluke, perfection happened one time in the distant past. Writing is about getting words on the page without judging yourself. Go one word at a time and don’t re-read your writing until you are ready to edit. You won’t want to write anything if you keep second guessing yourself. Just keep writing because you can fix everything later.




Editing can be hard, however, at least when you edit you have something in front of you to work with. Read through your draft and when you come across a problem try and solve it or highlight it and come back. Read your writing over and over. Read it out loud or have a robot read it to you. Go through it one time to check that you integrated your quotes properly then go through again and check the grammar and punctuation. Go through and ask yourself questions like, “Is this needed?” or, “Is there more I can say here?” or, "Am I getting the message across?" For more on editing see: Edit Your Way To A Better Grade


It's Too Short! It's Too Long! Nooo!


It might be easier than you think to get more sentences into your paper and no, adding more quotes is not the answer. Start by looking at the evidence already included into your paper and see if there are places where you can extrapolate upon quotes or data to better get your message across. This is the better way to lengthen your paper because you don’t risk putting in a quote that doesn’t fit just to grow your word count. However, you might need more information and if that is the case, go back to your notes and find that extra information to give your argument a boost.


If your paper is too long, check your writing for places where you said the same thing twice in different ways. Look to see if quotes can be shorter or if you filled your essay with unnecessary words. I like to go through sentence by sentence and think if there is a way that I can say the same thing but more concise. You will be surprised how the paper will shorten. Looking for the above while editing will also strengthen your writing.


You Did It!


Reward yourself for writing. Everyone has trouble writing at one point or another but you can do it whether you use these steps or not. When you finish writing, give yourself a break, a TV show, or a bar of chocolate and say, “Good job me!” Writing is hard so reward your effort and maybe the next paper will be a little easier.

 — Chef Amy

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