Write Bigger Series: Resources for College Bound Students
How to Get After Your Next Writing Project
When I taught college writing courses, almost no one enrolled willingly. Whether it was required for their major or expected on their transcript for graduate school, many of my undergraduate students would have been quite happy to skip a composition course altogether. And with classes called College Writing or Research Writing or Advanced Writing, who could really blame them?
Over the years, however, I noticed an interesting trend among the truly motivated. The students who admitted, even at the cost of their social currency, they wanted to become better writers generally had two reasons:
- They would imminently face an important writing project.
- They were graduating, and although they were almost ‘college educated,’ they felt their communication skills were poor.
Both groups were dealing with as much fear and dread as the uninterested students, but they’d decided that becoming a better writer would make their lives easier and help them achieve their goals.
And here we have the first significant component to becoming a better writer: desire.
How to get after your next writing project
When you’re facing your next writing project or deadline, don’t forget to harness your motivation. This simple mindset reframe is key to overcoming the fear, doubt, and procrastination most of us face when it comes to communicating our thoughts into words that will cause others to act, evaluate, or even, judge.
But don’t worry. This article isn’t just a pep talk.
Here are three simple hacks to helping you get started on your next writing project.
1. Record your thoughts.
No, I don’t mean record in an antiquated way, but actually use a voice recorder to help you get started. It’s much easier to begin a writing project when the page isn’t blank. And with handy software tools from companies like rev.com, you can upload your recorded thoughts and have a printed transcript in minutes. And for only a couple of bucks.
2. Talk to someone.
When I’m working with a new client, I use a question and answer format to help me understand the core concepts. But you can do this for yourself and with yourself by creating a hypothetical dialogue between you and someone else about your writing project. It may feel weird at first, but the point is to anticipate your audience’s questions.
Your dialogue might look something like:
Me: I have to a research paper.
Myself: What's your topic?
Me: Unsheltered people
Myself: Why do you care about this topic?
Me: My friend's brother became homeless last year because of drug addiction. It's been really hard on their family.
Myself: So it sounds like you're writing about relationships and unsheltered people. What do you think is interesting about that?
Me: That most people don't really think of homeless people as having families. And maybe that's why it's hard to find long-term solutions to helping change the rising rate of the unsheltered--homeless people aren't seen as people like you and me.
Myself: That sounds like an angle that could help you organize your thoughts. How might you organize a research paper with this focus?
Me: I could start by telling the story of my friend's brother. Then I could talk about the problem itself and why it's so hard to solve. Maybe I could use my paper to demonstrate that detaching ourselves from the unsheltered keeps us farther away from finding long-term solutions.
And so forth.
You’ll notice that my dialogue is NOT the writing that would go into a paper but it’s helping me identify the core concepts that I need to explore, and in this case, 'myself' is playing the role of the audience.
When I really force myself to think like an outsider, I encounter questions about my thinking and find reasons to care about my project.
Never overlook the importance of emotion and writing. One of my favorite composition teachers, Bruce Ballenger, explains, personal writing is from the inside/out, but meaningful research writing is from the outside/in.
3. Schedule a meeting with yourself.
Let’s face it. We’re all busy. Whether it’s work or family, we have to be intentional about starting a new project or getting a project done. Don’t think you’re just gonna find time. You might at first, but quickly that time will get hijacked by other perceived priorities. Instead, block time on your calendar to write. I recommend finding 30 minutes to one hour daily.
Victoria is a writer, story coach, and author of Write Big: From College Application Essay to Storytelling Standout. She's helped hundreds of students find their voice, gain admission, and win scholarships through her Write Big process. College bound students can learn learn more about how to write like a storyteller and standout in her free training.