Tag: creativity

Writing for Sanity’s Sake: A Quarantine Companion

IMG_3633Edward English, Assistant Director 

When considering strategies for staying emotionally and physically healthy during these times of closed borders, social distancing, and toilet paper depletion, for most people writing would be an unlikely choice. Writing does, after all, carry a reputation for being a solitary enterprise.  I do, however, believe that writing offers great potential to help many navigate these tough times and here’s why.

The importance of having projects. For those with an ample amount of free time, having a project, or projects, can be a fun and rewarding way to learn and stay occupied. My wife, a junior high science teacher now instructing entirely online, has a loom and is in a weaving frenzy.  I’ve started gardening a bit and trying to get better at home repairs.  It seems I’m not alone in taking on these tasks either—yesterday while driving around, I noticed what seemed to be a Louisvillian ghost town suddenly transform into a dense expanse of cars parked in front of Lowe’s.

For many attracted to writing, the biggest obstacles can be a perceived lack of time and difficulty overcoming writer’s block.  Now, however, free-time is no longer in short supply for the bulk of us.  Also, for myself, I feel that writer’s block is often a product of feeling overwhelmed at the enormity of a project.  Perhaps now is the time for you to start that novel you always wanted to write, but something of a more manageable size might be a better strategy: a short story, a screenplay, or a thoughtfully crafted letter or e-mail to connect with loved ones, offer consultation to those in a difficult place, or express appreciation to those who are working so hard and acting bravely—particularly those in the medical field.

Additionally, it’s worth noting that writing can often be an activity that requires slowing down and thoughtfully managing your time, as former writing consultant Abby Wills explains: Slow Writing: 5 Ways to Rebel against the Culture of Urgency

The importance of working through emotions—especially uncomfortable ones.  These are anxious times—especially to someone in tune with the current headlines.  As many people have little communication with others during this unprecedented time, it might be challenging to process through difficult emotions. For some in these and similar situations, writing can serve as an outlet. In my own life, I’ve found that writing, especially journaling and poetry, can be an excellent way to give definition and clarity to fears, questions, and concerns.  And while these steps don’t necessarily eliminate problems, more often than not they help foster much clearer, and more pleasant, headspace.

For fun insight into journaling, check out former writing consultant Rachel Knowles’ piece: The Writing Center Diaries: Dispelling Myths About Journaling

The importance of exercise and creativity.

If you have the ability to responsibly exercise, jog, or take walks, it’s likely a good idea. The benefits are numerous: physical health, increased serotonin levels, vitamin D to name a few.  But also consider that exercise could be a great way to improve your writing quality and overall experience.

In a recent interview, acclaimed fiction writer Chuck Palahniuk (Invisible MonstersChoke, Fight Club) detailed how much of his writing process actually revolves around lifting weights—arguing that the physical movement and circulation were conducive to helping him feel creative and organize his thoughts. While weight lifting might be a limited option for most—particularly with the closure of gyms—the sentiment is clear, and alternative ways of exercising indoors abound with a simple Google search.

Along similar lines, a few years back Psychology Today published “To Become a Better Writer, Be a Frequent Walker” exploring significant benefits walking can give to writers.  As the article explains, avid walkers abound among great literary figures like Virginia Woolf, Charles Dickens, William Wordsworth and Henry David Thoreau.  Furthermore, walking can lead to increased creativity, provide inspiration, and hone one’s observational skills.

The importance of staying connected.

While a successful writer is frequently imagined as sitting hunched over a laptop typing away in a disheveled apartment, sterile office, or library, more often than not some of the most successful writers I have met put great effort into figuring out alternative and creative methods that work better for them, and this often incorporates social connection as a significant part of their writing process.

And, as many are discovering creative ways of connecting online, it might be worth considering that writing could be a useful means to get feedback or just brainstorm ideas with friends or people with similar interests online.  If you happen to be a faculty member or graduate student at the UofL and are interested, we are still our offering writing group online.  For more details, check out: Faculty and Graduate Student Writing Group

For many, these various options and suggestions might not be feasible. But either way, we at the University Writing Center hope you stay safe, healthy, and connected.  So happy writing…or whatever it is you do to help during these strange times.

Works Cited

“To Become a Better Writer, Be a Frequent Walker.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 28 Mar. 2016, http://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/minding-the-body/201603/become-better-writer-be-frequent-walker.

The Rhetoric of Your Dating Profile

Cat Sar, Writing Consultant

Bumble. Tinder. Hinge. Clover. Match. Coffee Meets Bagel

Dating profiles might not come to mind when you think of writing, but even a short blurb about yourself is a type of text. In fact, all parts of a profile on a dating app—basic information about your name, age and location, photos, optional questions, and even the decision to link other social media profiles to your account—are all part of a “text” that can be read and analyzed.

Think of your profile as an argumentative piece. The goal of the argument is to convince someone to engage with you. The type of engagement may depend on the specific platform that you are using. In this case, the evidence that supports your argument consists of all the components of a profile that were previously mentioned. In order to craft a successful dating profile, you’ll need to take into consideration the rhetorical elements involved in writing an argument. Hmm…sounds a lot like your first-year English course?

Let’s break down your “argument” by each part of the profile, starting with basic information: name, age and location. Don’t think that these pull as much weight as your photos? Think of it this way: if you are tempted to fictionalize this portion of your profile—if you are lying about the very base facts about yourself, why should anyone believe that any of your profile is real? The basic information of your profile is the start to building credibility (cough cough ethos). Although online dating and app usage has become extremely popular, we live in the age of catfishing and stranger danger.

Trust is a major factor in dating apps, and in relationships. You should be honest about these facts (and to be honest myself, I shouldn’t have to tell you that). When a house is being built, the foundation is laid first. Everything else is built upon this base. When it comes to dating apps, trust (that the person looks like their pictures, that they are the age that they claim, etc.) is the foundation that you are asking someone to build any interaction upon.

Next, there are the photos. Again, these should be photos of you, and they should be recent photos. Seems obvious. The majority of your photos should be solo shots, or pictures in which it is obvious which person you are. When people are swiping through profiles, they don’t want to have to stop to search for you in every picture. Similar to the importance of clarity in writing, a straightforward visual directs your audience to the point quickly and concisely.

The content of the photos is where the major decisions lie. The photos section of your profile is where emotions arise most readily. For example, when you use a travel picture, you are making the claim that you are adventurous, or at the very least have been on a vacation. A photo of you playing a sport suggests that you are active. A picture of you and a dog? Cue the heart-melt! In this case, a picture is worth a thousand immediate affective responses that will sway your audience to see you in a certain light, depending on what kind of photos you include. Choose wisely.

You’ll be tempted to post your highlight reel—the most interesting photos where you look the best. And you should prioritize the pictures in which you are ~ feeling yourself. But your pictures should also be an accurate representation of who you are. Pathos—emotional appeals (think the involuntary aww that puppies elicit)—are weak without a person’s truth to back it up.

Remember, everything that you include in your app is telling those who view your profile what you think is important in a partner. The (sometimes optional) short answer section is the most direct place in which this occurs. By choosing certain things to include above others, like: are you physically active? what’s your horoscope? ideal first date?, you are showcasing what you consider to be characteristics that will attract a partner, and telling that potential partner what they should find desirable about you.

On one hand, you are saying: these are my most important qualities—the qualities that I believe will draw other’s interests. On the other, you are saying: this is what I find important to advertise on this platform—I am likely to be interested in others who prioritize the same characteristics. The type of language in these responses should reflect your personality and your intention.

Lots of slang, emojis, or typical “text talk” will invoke a different assumption about you than one-word responses, which in turn will have different implications than longer, more poetic answers. (What these assumptions are, as well as their accuracy, will reflect certain biases of your audience. This blog post does not aim to address the consequences of such assumptions, but it would be remiss not to mention that dating apps and profiles are as susceptible to bias and assumption as any in-person interaction.) Basically, your choice of words matters.

Has this blog post ruined the casual ease of swiping through strangers in hopes of finding true love? Maybe. Hopefully it has also helped you to think more deeply about how we go about connecting with others, and offered some clarity about the kinds of arguments we make for ourselves. When we claim that we are able to help with any kind of writing at the University Writing Center, we really mean it.

Writing and Riding: More Parallels Than You Might Think

Kelby Gibson, Writing Consultant

Writing can be related to more things in your daily life than you might expect. Writing looks different for everyone.  My writing process is very similar to my training process. I ride horses, barrel horses to be exact. I compete at local shows and occasionally a few rodeos. For those reading this that don’t know what barrel racing is, it’s a timed equine event in which a rider takes their horse through a clover leaf pattern around three 55-gallon barrels as fast as they can. I know what you’re thinking, there is no way this can relate to writing, but it really can.

I have learned many lessons and grown so much as a person from being in the barrel racing world. A few of the key things I’ve learned that have in turn helped me in writing are both humility and confidence.

Humility is something that can be hard for a lot of people. Admitting you are wrong is never fun, but the important thing to remember is when you can accept that you need to ask for help you are always going to come out the better person. A friend of mine has a saying, “if you’re scared say you’re scared” and I think this applies here. If you need help, ask for help! Yes, it sucks saying I’ve tried my way, now I need to hear from someone else. Opening yourself up for critique is hard, but once you learn to take the constructive criticism it will only make you better at what you are trying to accomplish, whether that is win a belt buckle or write an ‘A’ paper.

I’ve consulted many different people just in the last year on how to better myself as a rider just as I have continually asked for feedback from friends and colleagues with my writing throughout the semester. I did not become a better barrel racer by only ever riding my way, I got better by asking my friends and competitors questions. You cannot become a better writer holed up in a dark room holding onto that draft just waiting for the answers to come for you. You have to go find the answers. Writing can be social. Writing is social. So have the humility to venture away from the desk, seek feedback, and ask questions.

Kelby horse
Kelby Gibson barrel racing!

Confidence is needed when you’re on the back of a 1200-pound animal that’s running at roughly 40 miles per hour and turning on your command by a few light hand and foot movements. There are certain pressures behind writing that are similar to trying to beat a clock with money on the line. Maybe you’re applying to your dream graduate program, working on your senior thesis, or writing the final paper that determines your grade in class. Stress and pressure do funny things to us and can cause us to under-perform. When I’m at a race I like to try my best to focus on the positives.

While I don’t recall exactly who said it, there is a line from my favorite barrel racing podcast I like to keep in mind with all things in life, “You either win or you learn.” So maybe you try your hardest and your horse gives its all, but you don’t come in the pen and set the pace for the day. Similarly, you might spend hours upon hours on a paper that falls short in the eyes of its main audience. In either situation your initial reaction is to ask, what went wrong? If you pursue that question you will surely get an answer whether it be from yourself or someone else and once you have that answer you can learn how to do better next time.

Not every run is going to be your fastest and not every piece you write will be well received, but as long as you are trying your hardest and putting forth a good faith effort you will succeed or you will learn how to increase your chances of succeeding the next time. Have confidence in yourself. When you’re writing that paper don’t allow the thoughts of what might happen bog you down, clear your head and give it your best shot. As long as you’re trying, what is the worst that could happen?

These two things are just a few of the many ways barrel racing has enriched my life and my willingness to learn. My training process and writing process mirror each other in many aspects and because of that I continue to improve as both a jockey and a writer. What I admire most about this sport is that even the best of the best will tell you that you can never stop learning and finding ways to improve yourself and the same can be said for writing.

What I Learned About Writing from My Favorite Protagonist

Tristan DeWitt, Writing Consultant

I can’t say that writing is always enjoyable for me. Sometimes I even hate it.  I’ve spent countless hours sitting in front of a blank word document having no clue what to say – regretting the choices I have made that led me to writing another paper. I know it sounds dramatic (and I don’t by any means actually hate writing) but sometimes I feel so overwhelmed thinking about my audience and if they will find it good enough, that I don’t even want to complete the assignment at all.

In this situation, it helps me when I think about one of my favorite protagonist in literature, Mary Beton, from Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. Throughout the book, Mary finds herself denied the opportunity to partake in much of the academic culture of the university. In a search for answers to her experiences, Mary finds that little literature is written with attention to the actual experiences of women, both by male and female writers. Woolf herself concludes the novel by telling women that they need is a room of their own in which to write.

I believe that Mary’s experience highlights something about writing that many of us within the university community take for granted. When given an assignment that we don’t really want to do, we see it as something that is being forced upon us. I am guilty of this as well, but thinking of Mary makes me realize how remarkable each opportunity to write actually is. Not everywhere are we given the chance to write what we think and have an audience that will listen.

Even in our least favorite assignment we have the privilege to evaluate our thoughts and make something our own. We no longer need a room of our own to write. Within the university, we have a unique opportunity where we are expected to share our experiences and insights, be it with a text or with research.

Working in the Writing Center, people sometimes think that words or ideas just come to me naturally, since writing is what I like to do. However, the truth is that rarely do words just come to me. There is always revising, editing, and what seems to be an unending amount of time spent on rewriting just one sentence. Even when I get frustrated with an assignment, I have to remind myself that this is my work and that only I can say what I am thinking – which makes the laborious process of writing worth it to me.

Mary’s experience applies to us all. We all have had the moment when we question our thoughts or experiences. Next time you find yourself in this situation, where you feel frustrated with an assignment, I challenge you to see writing as the unique opportunity that it is. Not everywhere in life will you be asked what you think, so take this opportunity in college to own your writing.

Writing as Self-Reflection: A Personal Writing Process

Josh Christian, Writing Consultant

When most people write, they do so with a goal in mind. Employees and employers write emails to communicate dates and quotas. Josh ChristianFamilies write texts to make dinner plans. Journalists write to meet a deadline. And students write to meet the requirements of their assignments.

Rarely is any form of writing done without some sort of purpose, to achieve or gain something. This is why not all forms of writing are valued equally by all people. If writing as an employer of a company or a journalist of some big-name paper, your writing will be valued over the student, who is only writing for a grade. What about writing that seems to have even less of a purpose, that isn’t done for a grade or paycheck?

Journaling is a perfect example. It is a form of writing that seems to have no purpose at all. It doesn’t exist to be seen or shared with anyone outside of the writer. So why do it? Here, I would argue that while journaling doesn’t seem to be accomplishing anything, it very much is. And the product of journaling is of endless value. If this is true, a personal writing practice adds to one’s life.

So why journal? Most think journaling is for the dreamy school-girl or angst-filled teen. However, these people don’t consider the benefits of journaling. When journaling, a person is choosing to reflect on a moment, maybe traumatic or joyous; they reflect on their day or the possibilities of a decision they have to make. Journaling is then a form of self-reflection, which is defined by google as “meditation or serious thought about one’s character, actions, or motives.” Self-reflection can be found in most religious faiths, as they promote meditation as a religious practice.

The value of self-reflection has even been noted by major cooperations and business conglomerates, as they have integrated it into their various training programs to insure the making of responsible and effective leaders capable of learning and growing from their mistakes. At a personal level, self-reflection enables one to think over their past choices, words said and actions taken, becoming aware of how their actions or words affected others. Past decisions that caused broken relationships could go unnoticed if not for self-reflection. Journaling enables this form of self-reflection, as it allows one to write about their day, often in a narrative form, which allows for the assessment that leads to personal growth.

Similarly, journaling about an impending decision one has to make enables this form of self-reflection. When a person needs to make a decision about their future, say attending a specific university or taking a job, journaling enables them to reflect on their own characteristics and assess whether they are or are not a good fit for the university or position. Not only does journaling help one process their thoughts, it also helps one cope with the anxiety of the decision.

Sometimes it can feel like so much is at stake in making a decision, the anxiety is paramount, making it impossible to sleep or think. Journaling helps relieve this tension. As one writes out their thoughts and feelings, they process this anxiety and get space from their feelings, enabling them to think objectively. Thus, even in moments where one has to make a difficult decision, it is easy to feel overwhelmed with the many possibilities and weighty pros and cons. Journaling makes this process a bit easier.

Thus, journaling is not useless. It enables self-reflection that generates tangible results for people in their everyday lives. So if you are one of those people who think writing is just about achieving something, either commercially or academically, think again. Begin to incorporate journaling practices into your everyday life and watch as the benefits of self-reflection manifest. It only makes sense that a regular, personal writing practice that incorporates journaling would multiply these benefits. So, journaling, as a personal writing practice, is for everyone. It isn’t only for the journalist, novelist, student or businessmen. And writing does more than make profit. It adds infinite value to your life.

So, if you are thinking about beginning a personal writing practice, here are a few questions to get you started:

  • What did you say or do for someone to make their day better?
  • Did you say or do anything that could have hurt another person? If so, what?
  • What made you feel good, today? What made you feel bad?
  • Are you more anxious than usual? What is different that could be causing your anxiety?
  • How might you change something you have done or said today to have a more desired impact tomorrow, or in the coming days?

“I Don’t Know What I Want to Do With My Life”: Writing as a Personal and Spiritual Guide to Decision Making

Quaid Adams, Writing Consultant

Some people have definitive ideas of what they want to be from an early age and will stick to that path throughout their educational careers and into their chosen field without any hesitation. Quaid AdamsHowever, for those who, like me, have wanted to do a little bit of everything since they were a child, the question, “what do you want to do with your life?” sends shivers down your spine regardless of how confident you are in your career decisions.

This may seem familiar to many people in and out of college these days as our world gets more and more chaotic and the job market gets more and more uncertain. The choices we make may seem like the right one at the time, but when we get started, it is not quite what you hoped for.

I want to stop here for a moment and put your mind at ease—you are not alone in this struggle, it will get better, and it is okay to do what you love.

However, while that’s all well and good, what happens when you do not really know what you love and with so many options how do you choose? Never fear, I am here to offer you some advice, and from where this blog will be posted, you can guess what that advice will entail—writing. To put things into perspective, I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine who has been struggling with not knowing what career path he wishes to pursue a lot as of late.

When he got to college, like many of us, he had ideas of what he thought he might want to do, but as his first semester went on, he became unhappy in his original choice of major and leading to a major change by the end of the Fall. Unfortunately, his new major is not meeting his expectations either, causing him unnecessary stress and anxiety about what he really wants to do with his college career and ultimately his life. The conversation was actually useful for both of us, but one part of it that stood out to me was a suggestion given by our advisor who happened upon us chatting. He suggested that my friend write about it and see if it helps.

While I’ll admit that when he initially suggested this, I thought it seemed a little undeserving of such a big decision. However, the more I thought about it, the more sense it made and the more I appreciated the sentiment in our advisor’s suggestion. Writing is a process, and, in that process, a writer can learn a lot about themselves. It is for that reason that I chose to write about it here.

For those who are followers of our blog, you may remember the entry I did in October of 2018 which talked about the Writers’ Notebook and how this multifaceted tool can serve whatever purpose the writer needs it to. While I still believe in that piece, for the purposes of my friend’s predicament, an entire notebook keeping experience may not be the best use of time, unless it was something he chooses to continue to use, then by all means, check out my last post. However, if he just chooses to use a couple of exercises, the writing aspect serves the same role in providing organization of thought, anxiety easing, and providing a sense of accomplishment when it comes to working toward a solution.

The first exercise was one provided by our advisor. His recommendation was that my friend think about what they want out of a career and write it down. Did he want to work in an office setting with people or would he prefer work that is more solitary? Would he like to work with numbers or words? People or animals? The opportunities are endless, but what is important to this exercise is to actually think about what you want out of a career and how you work best.

It is important here to think about the type of work you want to do as well, even if its just something you think that you might like, writing about it has no repercussions and it will allow you to process your thoughts as you narrow down the field of careers. This is also an opportunity for you to look inward and figure out how you work best. Do you like doing tasks where you get to be creative? A career in journalism might be better for you versus one in accounting. It is important to know how you work best and what you need to be successful in your work when

making decisions about your future career.

Once you have your potential career field narrowed down, it is important to do more research into these jobs. If you’re thinking about a job in marketing, consider trying your hand at writing a sales pitch or creating an artistic campaign and write about the process. How did it make you feel doing this work? Does it spark joy? That was something for the Marie Kondo fans out there, but her message rings true even in this instance; if it does not bring you joy, get rid of it.

Writing in these no-risk situations can really give you a glimpse into how you may potentially feel about the potential work of your chosen careers and it allows you easily comparable criteria for what you want when you write about other careers. Like the Writers’ Notebook, you can also just write about your anxieties surrounding your decision-making process and the career such overall. While it won’t make the decision for you, it will allow you to work through your concerns and identify exactly what parts of the search is causing you the most anxiety. Once you identify these concerns, you can work on finding ways to deal with those side-concerns in an effort to alleviate some of the stress about the larger goal of finding your passion.

Although writing about your potential career or the anxieties you are feeling about making these big decisions are not going to actually make the decision for you, the process can be incredibly useful. Never underestimate the power of seeing your words and ideas manifested and organized in front of you as well as the thought process that brought those words to life. Writing is grounding and sometimes finding something to hold on to in this crazy world is essential to righting yourself and making sense of the chaos.

My final piece of advice in this is that it is ok to take your time in finding what you love. This is your life and that there is no one else’s timeline you must follow as you figure things out. Take the time to write about your ideas, explore as many different paths as you can, and above all else, find your happiness.

Slow Writing: 5 Ways to Rebel against the Culture of Urgency

Abby Wills: Writing Consultant

The culture—especially that of the university—is all too often frantic.

Image result for abby wills writing centerYou perpetually have too much to do. It’s embarrassing to not be busy. Procrastination both alleviates and creates urgency (and everybody does it, so it’s okay). If you are stressed and anxious, you are merely conforming to the culture.

But thriving at the university does not require conformity. Instead, refusing to conform to franticness often leads to better quality work and increased enjoyment in that work. So try going slow.

“But if I have three papers due tomorrow that I haven’t started yet, how can I get them done slowly?”

Good question. The voice of wisdom is not always the voice of the culture. It’s possible that it usually isn’t. So here is some countercultural counsel:

1. Say no.

Culture: Get involved! Take every opportunity! Get out of your comfort zone! Fill your CV! Your whole future rests on your ability to juggle as many opportunities as you can! You will fail if you miss an opportunity!

The never-ending extra-curriculars, organizations, and opportunities of the university can be overwhelming, and if you attended orientation, you may or may not have been told to participate in all of them. The pressure is heavy.

Wisdom: Think very carefully about which specific opportunities would be most meaningful to you and your hopes for your vocation. Slow down. Consider carefully. Think through your choices for at least as long as you thought about which starter Pokémon to take. Your schedule does not need to be completely full in order to be successful.

2. Ask for grace.

Culture: Never show any signs of failure! Never give up! Hide your weaknesses and pull through by your own strength!

Wisdom: If you ask, more people are willing to be gracious than you might expect. If you have no time to write a good paper in time for the due date—ask for an extension. Most professors would prefer a good paper late than a bad paper on time. Asking is not failing. Asking is showing that you care about the quality of your work (and your health).

3. Get alone.

I used to think that the library was a place that inherently nourished productivity. This depends on your personality, but after my first couple years of undergrad I finally realized that the conversations, passersby, and moving bookshelves (my undergraduate university was higher tech than UofL) were usually too distracting. I did my best writing in the woods (my undergrad was also not in the middle of a city), the empty chapel, and on the floor of empty, soundproof practice rooms in the music building.

Culture: Loners are losers.

Wisdom: Loners get stuff done.

Of course, it would be unhealthy to be always isolating yourself, but a balance between enjoying others’ company and working hard on your own is crucial to success, especially when you are an introverted writer.

4. Go off the grid.

You know what I mean. Put your phone in your sock drawer. Ignore its petulant cries for attention.

Culture: But if I turn off my phone, I will miss important things! What if someone needs to get a hold of me?

Wisdom: You miss important things every time you look at your phone. Get your life together.

5. Stake your time.

If you know your most productive time of day, claim it. For me, this is first thing in the morning, before other people have gotten up, when my mind is clear and I can be alone. I guard this time jealously, which means I usually give up sleeping in. Putting a stake in your productive time usually means giving up something—sleep, social events, Pokémon raids—but if your best work comes from this time, it is worth it.

Culture: Gotta catch ‘em all!

Wisdom: This saying originated in the golden era in which only one hundred fifty Pokémon roamed the region. It is anachronistic to apply it to today.

Slow Down

Remember that franticness is not necessarily productivity. Taking the time to do good work, to rejuvenate, to be alone, to sleep—slowing down in these ways may make your writing flow better than you think. It is possible that the reason you are stuck in your writing process is because you have not had a break from all of the voices—present or virtually present via internet—clamoring for your attention.

Slowness is countercultural, but that doesn’t mean it is worthless. Sometimes revolution is necessary before progress is possible. In a culture of stagnant urgency, slowing down is the resistance.

The Ultimate To Do List!

Rachel Rodriguez, Assistant Director to the Writing Center

         To-Do List

1. Embrace the fact that your first to-do list is only a draft. You won’t like your handwriting, so you’ll rewrite it on a clean post-itRachel Rodriguez

2. Write “write to-do list” on the to-do list

3. Adopt a skewed sense of the passage of time as you envision bewildering productivity, and amass a semester’s worth of tasks to accomplish that day. Feel great.

4. For good measure, add a few freebies, like “take out trash” and “return Redbox movie” so if the worst comes, at 11:48pm you could still get 2 things accomplished.

5. Think about the to-do list in the shower, while you’re stirring oatmeal, as you apply mascara. Add to the to-do list about 70% of the tasks that occur to you during this time, and save the rest for existential dread dream-material.

6. Break down large projects into small tasks for more check-off-ability. Long lists are impressive and convince you of your own work ethic, and checking off items frequently is vital for kindling the small fire of hope in your breast. If at all possible, this must be an eternal flame.

7. Once you’re satisfied with the list as it stands, transfer to new post-it in perfect handwriting and cross off #2.

8. Keep the list nearby as you work, like a little nagging buddy, like a cute kitten who wants to sleep on your laptop keys.

9. Watch about 28 minutes of kitten videos. Once you reach Sarah McLachlan, stop.

10. Check in on the list at lunch, and feel panic encroaching. Add “take shower,” “make oatmeal,” and “relax with virtual cats” to list, then promptly cross off.

11. Savor the delicious tug of the pen as it swipes across the items that no longer exist as things you need to do. They are behind you now, cities in your rearview.

12. After a good bout of work, sense the futility of your long list. Adjust as the boundaries of actual space and time demand. Start tomorrow’s draft list.

13. Much more satisfied, allow yourself to accidentally fall asleep in the warmth of the Saturday afternoon sun, which is of course, the best kind of sun.

14. Wake suddenly from a fathomless sleep and immediately add something incredibly pressing and completely clear to “current-you,” yet enigmatic for “future-you” to decipher. See #5. Example: “Beavers and Ducks!”

15. Work diligently.

16. Return the Redbox movie. You only rent movies anyway so you can return them. Both renting and returning are valid reasons to drive around outside and see humans.

17. At the end of the day, acknowledge the stragglers on your list. There will, of course, be several items that have managed to linger through multiple iterations of lists, perhaps even for weeks. These are things you are avoiding. Probably important emails to write, or meetings to schedule. Try to confront at least one scary thing, and reward yourself by moving all other avoidances to tomorrow’s list. At the top, of course, for added visibility and guilt.

18. Save perfecting tomorrow’s list for tomorrow, to give yourself an easy start.

19. Always end your to-do list on an even number of tasks. For luck.

20. Breathe.

Research in Creative Writing

Katie Frankel, Writing Consultant

Paradoxical to the title of this, many people seem to enjoy creative writing because it often does not confine to the sometimes strict, regimented boundaries of an academic essay.Katie Frankel Writing affords an allowance of freedom and imagination that sometimes feel prohibitive in the standard research paper. However, conducting some research for your creative writing can make your piece more vivid, interesting, and overall stronger than before.

In a creative writing class at my undergraduate university, my favorite professor ever required us to undergo and document research for our various pieces. Because, at the time, I was working on my now-finished historical fiction novel, I felt certain that research would bring my characters and story to life even more.

Starting at Half Priced Books, I gathered up some informative and very interesting texts that directly related to my fictional world, such as Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey, America’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines, Children of the Wild West, and multiple others. Many of the specific details of my writing come directly from information I have learned from these books. After beginning my collection of texts that related to my novel, I began to hunt through antique stores, looking for artifacts of the time period I was writing in to try and put myself in the scenes more. One day, I even found and purchased a McGuffey’s Primer published in the time period my characters exist.

Lastly, I began taking trips to a local museum called Log Cabin Village in Fort Worth. I nerded out every time I walked in with my pen and notebook, writing down facts I found interesting from posted information and asking the museum curators various questions, such as how a lower-class family of the time might get by (people who couldn’t afford beeswax to make candles could instead use the fat of sheep, by the way). I walked through the various set-ups and took pictures, envisioning my characters dwelling in the buildings.

Even if your creative writing work isn’t historical in nature, it can still benefit from research. If you’re writing a mystery, researching the tactics of real criminals can be insightful and also very interesting. A novel about life working in a circus can be made more believable and interesting if you read (both fiction and non-fiction) books and watch movies about circus performers. For one particular scene in my novel, my professor suggested that I go to a fire station to ask a firefighter about specific details pertaining to a house catching on fire.

When writing any type of creative piece featuring characters or events that you’re not personally familiar with, research can only serve to enhance your fictional world. Not only will you learn a tremendous amount through various forms of primary and secondary research, but you will more than likely have a great time doing it and be inspired to keep writing.

Lifetime Letters: How A Writer Changed my Perspective on Faith-Based Writing

Anna-Stacia Haley, Writing Consultant 

I was making my way through all forty books in the Left Behind: Kids series. I spent my summer days at the library reading them. The workers at the time took note and eventually gave some of the books to me. After a few Christmas presents, library trips and trips to Hallmark, I soon had a collection of my ownAnna-Stacia Haley

The books are still sitting in my book shelf at my apartment. The series, co-authored by Tim Lahaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, comes in three versions: adults, kids, and graphic novels. All of them are fictional depictions of the eschatological beliefs of the Christian faith, beginning with the Rapture and ending with the Second Coming of Christ.

Given that my favorite book of the Bible has always been Revelation, these books were perfect for me. These books gave language, faces and fullness to a subject that I adored studying. They made it come to life for me even the more and I wanted so badly to create something of my own that could do the same.

I was so enraptured—no pun intended—by the series that I desperately wanted to talk to the people that had created such a treasure.

That’s how I found myself sitting in the Madisonville Public Library. I was sitting at one of their computers, furiously scribbling down Jerry B. Jenkins’ address from his website. I was sure he had a lot to do, being a best-selling author and what not, so I wasn’t sure he would respond. However, my childlike hope refused to be deferred as I sent off my first letter to him and waited for a response. I won’t tell you what I put in that letter, one of the reasons being I don’t remember—ok, all of the reasons are that I don’t remember. I am sure that I mentioned something about how much I loved the series and how pleased I was that Vicki and Judd (two of the main characters) got married.

Sorry, spoiler alert.

I would wake up eagerly, and watch the mail man place mass amounts of mail into my grandmother’s mail box and then go on his merry way, completely unaware of how much his visits had begun to mean to me. When I got my first letter from Mr. Jenkins, I hit the ceiling. Yes, I said first. Overtime I began to write him letters as often as I could and he would always respond. There’s very little that I remember about most of the contents of the letters, but I will always remember the letters I sent when my mother became ill. It was a hard time for me, and I looked forward to his responses. The time he spent writing to me has shaped me into the person and writer that I am. I will always honor and respect him for taking the time out to respond, for never becoming too “important” to reach back out to a reader.

The letters I wrote became less and less until eventually I stopped. The letters I so earnestly cherished, were lost after our house caught fire during my latter middle school years. It was so long ago, I doubt he remembers me, but I will always remember him and what it felt like to have one of my heroes in Christian writing value me as a reader.
It is through writers like Mr. Jenkins, Tim Lahaye and Frank E. Perretti that I find strength to try new and exciting works. It is authors like them that break ground for new aspiring writers of Christian fiction. I have always admired their style and demonstration of ministry by way of literature.

The contents of their writings could be viewed as controversial, and maybe even strange. The topics covered like the End Times, Spiritual Warfare, Angels, Demons, and the Miraculous are all fare and fodder to a lot of people. To write about these things through a fictional scope, can be challenging; but to write about these things as you believe them to be, can be somewhat of a scary task. It strays a bit from mainstream works and can come off as a little more daring.

Their works have their own genre, that many others are also apart of, but they were the first that I ever encountered. Their ground-work in my life inspires me to step out and venture into places of boldness that I wouldn’t normally tread in writing.

As a writer whose writing and inspiration stems from my Christian faith, I often wonder where I fit, especially in academia. However, authors like Mr. Jenkins, Mr. Lahaye and Mr. Peretti inspire me to believe that the basis and joys of writing aren’t found in or decided by what is important to others. Rather, it is determined by what is important to you. They gave me a model, they gave me a guide and they presently give me hope and motivation to create my niche wherever I am.

Because in being true to myself and my identity as a writer, I can create masterpieces that touch the lives of little girls in small town libraries just like me, who dream of writing works that don’t just touch lives, but touch souls.