Dealing with Obstacles and Developing Good Habits
Many of the tips for overcoming writing anxiety discussed in the previous section are also just plain good tips for getting the job done. Here are a few more good writing habits.
Practice Recursive Writing
Use a variety of writing strategies (many of which you can gather from this text) and avoid the tendency to view writing as a linear process. If you acknowledge that the process of writing is recursive—meaning that you will come back to different parts of the process again and again—you are most likely to keep moving forward toward your final writing goal, and your writing is also likely to reveal your full potential as a writer.
When you return to a previously written section of a draft to generate new material, collaborate with others, or take a break from your writing and come back to it again, you’re practicing recursive writing. Most successful writers will tell you that they practice recursive writing in some way. Good writing doesn’t happen in a single late night cram session the day before the deadline. Good writing takes time. This includes time away from the writing itself to allow for distance and reflection, and good writing requires multiple drafts. That said, everyone finds themselves in a time crunch sometimes. If that’s where you’re at, check out “How to Fix Procrastination,” found under the topic of “Procrastination,” later in this section of the text.
Revise, Revise, Revise
As we’ve just explained, one linear trip through the writing process is not enough to achieve your best writing. In addition to strategies for generating material, you will also find revision strategies in this text. Try some different approaches to revision, and see which ones work best for you. Understand the difference between revision and proofreading, and make sure you allow ample time for each. Revision is the act of seeing something anew. This means considering higher level concerns in your essay, for example, the overall organization or how well you’re addressing the audience or purpose for the piece. Proofreading is what you do at the end to make sure that your final draft is free from errors. For specific revision strategies, see the “Revising” section of this text.
If you play it too safe, there’s probably not going to be anything original or imaginative about your essay. Good writing involves risk. Too often, inexperienced writers will begin writing from a position of considering only what they think their readers expect to read on the subject. What a boring world it would be if we only ever read or experienced what we expected! Begin by exploring your own thoughts and what most interests you about the topic. Open yourself to all the possibilities. Of course, this does not mean that you can forget about the parameters of the assignment or about the audience or purpose for your writing. But allow yourself to be creative first, and then think about how you can best tailor your own ideas to the audience and purpose dictated by your writing assignment.
Be Patient and Be Willing to Learn
Good writing takes patience. As with all good things, it takes time to create something good. And good writers also understand that a big part of writing is learning. You’re selling yourself—and your readers—short if you begin the writing process with the idea that you already know everything you have to tell your readers about the subject. Even experts in a subject area continue to learn new things and expand the boundaries of their chosen fields (that’s how they become experts!).
Neil deGrasse Tyson, a prominent American astrophysicist, writes about the importance of the quest for knowledge in his 2005 article for Natural History Magazine, “The Perimeter of Ignorance” (found online at naturalhistorymag.com). He explains that great scientific thinkers like Newton and Galileo were successful in expanding the boundaries of human understanding (the perimeters of ignorance, as Tyson calls them), precisely because they did not conform the reports of their findings to what society—and especially some of the most powerful institutions in society—expected them to report. I hope that you will also allow the creative and inquisitive potential of your mind to search beyond what you expect to say and what your readers might expect to hear about this topic.
Consider Environmental Factors
Finally, not all aspects of writing are about process or about the inner workings of your mind as a writer. Some factors are external or environmental. Consider what time of day is best for you to write. Write every day, or as often as you can, and establish a schedule (as suggested in the section on overcoming writing anxiety, earlier in this text).
Don’t multitask. Recent studies have proven that the human brain does not operate at its best while multitasking. Switching between tasks has been shown to cause each of the tasks to take longer to complete than if they were handled independently (“Multitasking”). So put away your phone and turn off other distractions (like social media or the television). Find a quiet place to work where you are less likely to be disturbed. And don’t try to work on more than one subject or project at the same time. Make sure you have everything you need as you get started: pens, pencils, notebooks, textbooks, computer, snacks, or whatever you need to be productive and feel comfortable. Allot a set period of time to each task, and attend to each one separately.
Hopefully, these tips will help you to get started, help you gain some momentum, and help you to make the best use of that one precious resource that is limited for us all: time. As with any strategies, try different ones, and if something doesn’t work for you, move on and try something else. Select the strategies that work best for you, and modify them to suit your needs.
Take two or three minutes to list some examples of a time when writing was difficult for you and you found it hard to get started. Note that that your list does not need to be constrained to times when you were writing for school, although you should consider those times too. But also consider other writing situations, such as applications, letters, or requests. Then, choose one of those times and take a couple more minutes to consider what barriers or obstacles may have made it difficult for you to write in that situation:
- Inexperience with the type of writing
- A previous negative experience with writing
- An immediate deadline
- A distant deadline
- A lack of interest in the topic
- Personal problems or challenges
Discuss your list of writing obstacles with some classmates in a small group. Then, as a group, try to identify some strategies or good writing practices discussed in this chapter that might have helped you overcome those obstacles. If class time allows for it, your small group might share some conclusions with the whole class about which strategies and practices would best suit the difficult writing situations that you discussed.