Layne Gordon, Consultant
In the Writing Center this semester, I have worked with several students who are either returning to formal writing after awhile, or are being asked to do formal writing for the first time. (By formal writing here, I’m referring to things like research papers or argumentative papers that typically require the use of outside sources.) Most of these students have expressed some form of anxiety over the writing process itself—the most common of these being an uncertainty over how to begin the paper.
It has long been established in the field of composition that the writing process is not as linear as past scholars used to believe. You know the old drill: brainstorm-draft-revise-edit-done, with some additional steps sometimes. Instead, it is more of a fluid process in which the various writing activities blend and can even occur simultaneously. For example, I often edit while I’m drafting rather than after. And I frequently make an outline of my paper after writing an early draft rather than before. Contemporary scholars have taken note of these phenomenon and now understand that writing is a highly recursive activity. However, despite this progressive theoretical understanding, many students still have a very real concern over constructing a paper in the “right” way. In the Writing Center this semester, I have found this to be especially true of more formal academic assignments.
So for those students feeling such anxieties at this point in the semester, I offer this advice:
Create a writing process all your own. If you are struggling to write an introduction, skip it for now and work on a body paragraph. If you aren’t quite sure yet what you want your overall point to be, try skipping to the conclusion of your paper and writing about what you want to have proven by the end. In other words, don’t be afraid to try new things in your writing process. To give a personal example, for years I was really against incorporating free-writing into my writing process. But this semester, I decided to try something new and start several papers by simply writing whatever came to mind on the topic. It turned out this was a great way for me keep writing without getting stuck and it let me see how my thoughts were working out on the page rather than trying to sort through everything in my mind.
My point here is twofold:
- if you are struggling to write a paper because you are adhering to a process that somebody else told you was a good idea, then now might be a great time to try something new.
- if you have been sticking to the same process for some time, then it might be worth switching it up to see if you could improve on your personal process. No one way of writing will work for everyone, and taking the time to explore what works for you can not only make writing your term papers easier, but also more enjoyable.
Of course, you can always visit the Writing Center to get more help at any stage of the writing process and to get ideas and strategies for writing.