Written by: Alexa Q.
While it would be great to have everyone come in to the University Writing Center every time they feel a little lost in their writing, we acknowledge that sometimes, it’s just not possible. Maybe you’re too busy this week, maybe there are no open appointment slots during times you’re available, or maybe you procrastinated a little too long and now it’s 8pm and the paper’s due at midnight. We get it—we’ve all been there.
But you don’t have to give up or despair. There are plenty of strategies you can use to help yourself. Here are 5 tips and tricks that I’ve picked up as a writer and as a writing consultant:
1. Ask questions
If you’ve visited the UWC before, you probably know we love asking you questions. It’s a way to get you really thinking about the answers. You can try it on yourself. Whether you’re brainstorming, organizing your thoughts, fleshing out that one paragraph, or forming a thesis, ask yourself questions to get your brain working. Especially, ask a lot of how’s and why’s.
2. Imagine your audience
This kind of goes along with the previous suggestion. Imagine explaining your writing to whomever your audience is supposed to be. It could be your professor, your classmates, a layman, an expert in the field, or even a group of children. Imagine how they would perceive your writing: would they have questions? If it’s your professor, are you explaining basic concepts too much? if it’s a layman, are you explaining too little?
If you’re having trouble putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, try asking a friend to act as your audience.
3. Read it out loud
This is another favorite strategy for Writing Center consultants. Reading your writing out loud helps you process the content a little differently. You might catch little grammar or spelling errors, or you might realize a certain paragraph doesn’t flow as well as you thought it did. Hearing it out loud might make you think about your argument or topic a little differently. You can read it aloud yourself or ask a friend to do it for you.
If it’s late at night and you don’t have a friend available, and you don’t want to disturb your roommate who went to bed early, there are other ways to hear your paper out loud. My personal favorite is Google Translate. Just copy your entire paper, paste it into the box on the left, and press the little speaker button to hear your paper read out to you. You can even put in your headphones so you won’t disturb anyone around you. Make sure to read along while you listen.
4. Start over
Obviously, you don’t have to start over completely. But one strategy I always use for writing multiple drafts is to open a new document and type it all up from scratch. Once you’ve written your words, it can be hard to delete them. Even if you don’t like that particular phrase, you might feel obligated to keep the rest of the sentence the same and only change one tiny part. Starting over from scratch allows you to change up your entire sentences to make them flow better. It also lets you reorganize your points without having to cut and paste and delete that extra period. Wherever you are in the drafting or revising process, this strategy allows you to change each draft more than you might have otherwise, which helps you improve your paper at a faster rate.
5. Take a break
This may seem counterintuitive when you’re working under an impending deadline, but taking a break to do something else for a while really helps. It refreshes your brain so it can do better work when you come back. It can also help you see your writing in a new light. Ideally, most brains work better with a short break every half hour or so, but who has time for that? If you do, great! I commend you for your excellent time management skills. If not, just take a break whenever you start to feel like you’re stuck. When your concentration starts waning or when you find yourself unable to think of what to write next, just walk away from the computer and do something fun for a little bit. This will actually save you time in the long run, because you’ll be able to work faster when you return to your paper. Just don’t forget to return to your paper!