Saturday, March 22, 2014

how to write a paper (without going crazy)

I don't think I know anyone who really enjoys writing assigned papers for school.  Writing is great and all, but when you're doing it for a grade?  Unpleasant.  Needless to say, I have a big paper to do this weekend.  While I'm off working on that, here are my tips for staying sane!  (Hopefully they'll work on me...)

Find Your Motivation Sweet Spot
Okay, I know most people would just say, "Don't procrastinate!"  And that's probably smart.  But I also have an appreciation for the clarity of thought a looming deadline provides.  There's a fine line between that and tearing out your hair the night before!  This is what I take into account:

  • Subject interest.  If I don't like what I have to write about, I start early, because eloquent, passionate thoughts are not going to flow from my fingertips.  
  • Time to "ferment."  I let my ideas sit in the back of my head for a few weeks, if I can, to gather up inspiration, develop my thoughts and beliefs, and capitalize on any relevant information I may come across.  For example, when I'm thinking about my paper a long time in advance, I'll often hear quotes that I end up using...but if I hadn't even given it a thought until the week it was due, they would have gone in one ear and out the other!
For me, this means getting an idea of my topic a few weeks early, and then getting down to work about a week before it's due.  

Maintain Your Outline
Keep a running list of your main points as you solidify your idea.  A week before the paper is due, finalize that outline.  Try to make sure your points flow from one to the next, and that similar points are grouped together.  For example, this paper is going to be talking about ambiguity in devotional poetry.  I'm talking first about its relationship with the writer of the poem, and then second about its effect on the reader.  Then, while writing, keep your outline open alongside your paper, to help you stay on track.

Make a Schedule and Stick to It
My schedule looks like this: 
Day 1: finalize outline
Day 2: find quotes, sources, examples
Day 3: take a break
Day 4: write write write
Day 5: write write write
Day 6: proofread, edit
Day 7: turn in

Read Out Loud
You may get some funny looks from your roommates/family, but it really will help you find any place with awkward or choppy flow.  It will also help you develop your writing "voice" in a way that's true to your style. 

I hope these tips help you out!  Now I'm off to finish my paper!