Stuck on Words

Stressing over a paper you have to write? Not sure where to begin? Worried it’s not making sense or even good? Or still stuck in that place where you stare at the blank screen with no clue what to write?  If any of this sounds familiar, here are a few tips that might help you get going.

1. It’s a paper, not a gun

     Take a deep breath. Relax those shoulders and your mind. Thoughts can’t flow when you’re all tensed up.

2. Pick something fun

     When possible, pick something interesting to you or have a question about and want to investigate. If you’re passionate about the subject it will make the research less painful.

3. Outline

     Think of your outline as a map. You don’t have to follow it exactly but it will help guide you when your lost..

4. Organization

     Take notes while you do your research. Use sticky notes to quickly reference material and jot down ideas. This will all help you find that quote or cited work when it comes time for writing.

5. So what?

     Why should the reader care about what you’re talking about? Keep this question in mind and it will help ensure that your paragraphs, as well as paper, are concise and the words have a purpose.

6. Take breaks

     Don’t block the energy. Take a walk. Do push-ups. Something physical not only will lower the stress level, but it gets you moving after hours of sitting at a desk and stress eating.

7. Ask for help

     Get some extra minds working on the paper with you. Ask a friend, parent, and even teacher to read over your paper and give feedback. The paper doesn’t need to be a finished product when you do this either. This one thing is truly invaluable.

8. Read and read again

     NEVER turn in a paper without reading over it first. This is where you can catch big mistakes and those tiny ones, like the misuse of “no” and “know” or a missing period. Those little mistakes will add up to big points.

9. Be you

     Write as you think and speak. If you don’t understand and use big words, then don’t write them. Let your voice and personality shine through. The reader wants to hear your thoughts, not a regurgitation of somebody else’s.

10. Let it go

     Once you’ve turned in that paper, just let it go. Don’t stress over something that you can’t change (This applies to other things in life as well, not just papers.)

photo by Laura Lin

Just because I like writing doesn’t mean I like writing essays. It takes work and a lot of focus. I work better under pressure so I usually procrastinate, dabbling with information gathering until I have no choice but to sit down and bang it out. I use colored note tabs that coordinate with my outline so that I know right where to go when I need something. The notes I hand write include page numbers and where I pulled them from so I can easily cite them without flipping around or searching for my book.  Everybody has their own system.  It took me many…many papers to finally get my system down so play around with things until you find what works best for you.

In addition to the work itself, the care of you is just as important. Drink lots of water instead of living on caffeine. Try to avoid chocolate or sweets until it is absolutely necessary, instead munch on your favorite fruits and vegetables or even some granola to get that stress eating need taken care of. Healthy choices will keep you feeling good all over. And when you hit that road block, close it all up and move. Just take a walk, clean, do something physical as it will empty your brain enough to get the thoughts flowing as well as start pumping good endorphins once again.

There may be tears, sweat, and even blood, but in the end, hopefully, you will have a product that you can be proud of and that you’re eager to share.


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