Whee Write

“Be Like Balzac” and More Tips for Writing an Essay!

From the desk of Writing Tutor Alex Foote:

Writer’s block got you stuck? Never fear! Well, actually, fear is a fabulous motivational factor, so fear enough to read the following get un-blocked writing tips! Think of them like a laxative for your writing process. (Sorry.)
Here’s the rub: writing is a different beast for everyone. You gotta figure out what works best for you. And the best way to do that is to try different things. Do you write your notes or first draft long hand, or do you type them up? Switch it around some time; write a few pages long hand, with your quill and ink, and then break out your new fangled type writer. (Look at you, staying hip with the times!)

Get the kinks out of the way: stream of conscious free-write. This is a two birds scenario ~ you get over your writing hangups and have something excellent for your therapist to dissect! Kidding. Kind of. For this exercise, you sit your sweet fanny down, break out a piece of paper (old school, y’all) and you start writing, paying no attention whatsoever to spelling, grammar, even sounding like the kind of person who doesn’t need to be in the asylum. Even if you have nothing to say – you say that. “I have nothing to write about I have nothing to write about my underwear are too tight and they’re impeding my thought process this is totally not the bees knees like that weird blog post said and how the heck am I gonna write a trillion page research paper on the underwater basket weavers of Bengali?!” So that’s an example. You can go about free-writing in different ways. Like the example above, you can throw all caution to the wind and just let any thought bubble trickle down your arm and flow out your quill. Ahem, pen. 21st century here, get it together. Often, this will get those creative juices flowing, introduce you to your writing voice, and even expose possibilities you hadn’t considered. Set a timer for this (5, 10, or 15 minutes is good) and see what happens. Stream of Conscious free-writing is something that gets easier and more enjoyable with practice.

Brain dump. It’s what it sounds like, folks. You drop the neural kids off at the pool. Basically you write out every single darn thing you know or know you want to say in your paper. List it out, or use complete sentences, whatever. This is a great way for you to show yourself what you already know or have to say about something (which is probably more than you think) and to show yourself what you need to pursue from here. Which leads me to….

Let the research inform your writing. (That’s straight from the good Dr. Kinser’s mouth!) For academic writing like critical analyses and research papers, you’re going to do research – that’s a given. But too often, students come up with their thesis and hunt for evidence to support their claim. That can be limiting, and can cut you off from possibilities you hadn’t considered. Read what’s being said on your subject, and ask yourself: What isn’t being said? How can I add something new to this conversation?

Here’s another approach: Put the laptop or notebook aside and find a friend. This can be a human being kind of friend, or a dog or cat friend, a plant friend, or a toaster friend. Sit that friend down. Look that friend in the eyes. (Which can be intimidating with the toaster, I know, it’s so judgmental.) Now – tell this friend the story of your paper. Don’t worry about about it being clunky, and tell them where you still have work to do. You may use a tape recorder and from there transcribe your monologue. Or after you tell you friend, perhaps they have an iota of feedback; take that, and then immediately write down what you said. The natural flow of your story probably is organized in an engaging way already.

Location, location, location. Try out a few different ones. Maybe your spot is a coffee shop on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Maybe it’s your desk at 3 in the morning. Maybe it’s your yacht on a warm mid morning trip out to the Keys. What time is your mind freshest? Where do you feel most comfortable getting those words outta that brain gourd and onto the page? For good writing, a good bit of self-investigation is in order.

Drink coffee, kids. Don’t have a taste for it? Develop one. 19th Century French author Honoré de Balzac is said to have drank 50 cups of coffee per day. And he was famous. And he was a writer. Be like Balzac.

And, of course, as you start to write, ask yourself who your audience is. Who’re you writing to and for? What do you want them to know, feel, think, or take away from your piece? Unless you’re writing in a locked journal, you aren’t sharing your thoughts with an abyss. Keep that in mind.

Ground your paper in a few key ideas or concepts. If you’re writing fiction, ground the piece in physical place. It’s like you’re building a house; you have to have a foundation and a framework to work with. Give your paper an ideological framework.

Take a shower, go for a walk, or engage in a rollicking game of Frisbee golf! Really. Do something to get your mind off your work, for a while. This gives your brain a chance to unconsciously play with ideas while your conscious mind is otherwise engaged. You’ll be amazed what will just come to you on a hike or whilst frolicking with kittens.

Aaaaannnnd here’s the kicker, folks. Don’t wait until the night before to get started. Writing, research, and school can actually be fun. I’m sure Balzac thought so. (But Balzac could probably taste his thoughts and hear the blood in his brain, so…) Give yourself enough time to do the process right.

And oh hey, you know who else had some fancy ideas about writing? Old Kurt Vonnegut. His advice is catered towards fiction, but there’s a universal flavor to these tips. Take a gander:

  • Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  • Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  • Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  • Every sentence must do one of two things–reveal character or advance the action.
  • Start as close to the end as possible.
  • Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them–in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  • Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  • Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

(taken from http://www.openculture.com/2015/04/kurt-vonneguts-8-tips-on-how-to-write-a-good-short-story.html)

Now, go forth and write! And come visit us at the WaLC. We’re friendly. Sometimes we smell nice. We usually don’t have candy, but as a rule we’re neurotic enough to be entertaining and we’ll help you whip your writing into shape!

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