You are bathed in the blue light of your computer screen. A blank Word document is open. The cursor blinks over and over, your own personal Tell-Tale Heart, reminding you that your essay is due tomorrow morning and you haven’t started yet. There are so many things you would rather be doing—Netflix is calling your name and so is a bottle of rosé. You could be hanging out with your friends right now. Or working out. Or taking a nap.
Or maybe you have already written your essay, but upon rereading it you realize that frankly, it sucks. Maybe your grammar is atrocious. Or maybe it’s your syntax. Maybe you just don’t have anything to say. Or maybe you are trying to cram too much in. There is no question about it—writing can be really hard. Even James Joyce—author of Ulysses—struggled: “Writing in English is the most ingenious torture ever devised for sins committed in previous lives.”
Writing can be a struggle, but there are ways to make it a little easier. Here are some tips that might make finishing your next essay a little easier:
Read. Read often. Read anything and everything. According to author Stephen King “The real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing…Constant reading will pull you into a place (a mind-set if you like the phrase) where you can write eagerly and without self-consciousness.” Andrea Tate, a teacher at AUSB and an author in her own right, says that she thinks reading is one of the most crucial parts of learning to write. She suggests really paying attention when you read, so you can see how authors craft their work.
Write what you know (or what you want to know). When you have passion about a topic, the time spent writing and researching doesn’t feel as much like work. The same is true if you don’t know a lot about a topic but are interested to learn more. There are, of course, times when you have to write about something you don’t particularly care about. If that is the case, it can be beneficial to try and find some angle, some way of looking at what you are writing about, that sparks something within you.
Find your voice. Don’t try to emulate someone else’s voice. Don’t constantly turn to the thesaurus looking for a better word. Your writing should sound like you. After all, these are your words, and your thoughts.
Be okay with a “shitty first draft”. According to author Anne LaMott, perfectionism kills creativity. Sometimes, when you are struggling to start a paper, it can be because you are standing in your own way. Sometimes, the best way to get a paper going is to just let the words flow. You don’t have to worry about nuance in a shitty first draft, just get what you want to say out. You can edit later.
Read your draft aloud, and let others read it. Both of these can be embarrassing but do them anyway. When other people read your rough draft, they can give you a better perspective on what makes sense, and what doesn’t. Abby Pasley, a tutor at the Writing Center, says she recommends reading your work out loud, so you can hear if your pacing and style are correct for the genre you are going for. She says that reading out loud also will help you see any major errors in your writing, like incomplete sentences.
Use the resources available to you. At AUSB we are lucky enough to have some amazing resources at your disposal. AUSB offers several writing courses beyond the required Academic Writing that can help you gain some new skills. Another fantastic resource at AUSB is the Writing Center. Tutors are available to answer any questions you have, or simply help you figure out what you want to write about.
Let go. At some point, you have to stop working on something, and be ok with what it is. This can be hard when you feel like your work isn’t perfect yet. But, sometimes you just need to let go. In the words of Tina Fey “You have to let people see what you wrote. It will never be perfect, but perfect is overrated. Perfect is boring.”
Keep writing. This may seem intuitive but the more you write, the better you get. Allison Adelman, director of the Writing Center emphasizes that one of the best ways to become a better writer is to just keep writing. The more you write, the easier it will get.
If you want to practice writing, or just show off your prowess, AUSB has something for you—a writing contest.