college writing

Overcome Writer’s Block With These Summer Writing Exercises

Writer's Block

Ah, the summer is here and you’re ready to kick back and relax. If you spent last semester struggling to overcome writer’s block, picking up a pen is probably the last thing you’re planning on doing over summer break. However, soon next semester will sneak up on us and you’ll be back to stressing over how to start writing a paper. The truth is, there is no secret to being a great writer. Simply put, practice makes perfect. Writing and reading are exercises for your mind. The more you practice the craft, the better you will become. You shouldn’t stop writing simply because the semester ended. When school starts back, lose the stress by practicing these four writing exercises over the summer:

Free Write

Some students appear able to begin writing a paper without taking any time to brainstorm. Before class is dismissed, they’ve written a novel and are off to claim their National Book Award. While we can’t all be the next Edgar Allen Poe, we can improve on our ability to overcome writer’s block. Practice free writing, an exercise writers use to strengthen their creative ability and sharpen their voice. Free writing is trying to continuously write for 15 minutes without interruptions. Sound easy enough, right? Well, the challenge is your pen should not leave the paper until those 15 minutes are up. Free writing is not about stopping to think. It’s about actively writing whatever pops in your head. Try walking outside, whether it be in your backyard or in a local park, and finding a comfortable spot to write about your surroundings. 

Once you are finished, take an hour or so before you review what you wrote. After you read your spontaneous creation, take time to make any necessary revisions and turn it into a story. This great exercise for young writers strengthens their thought process and improves their editing skills.

“My first…”

 New experiences create rich memories filled with lasting emotions and detail. Many people can recall their first day of school, their first pet, or their first time driving with distinct clarity. All of these firsts are great story telling opportunities. Try to think about how you felt those days or in those moments and expand on them. What details stand out in your mind? What senses or emotions can you remember? Think of it like you’re telling the story to someone else; what would you want them to know? Start a paragraph with “I remember” or “My first” and let your memories dictate what you write. This will help you create strong stories and sentences because you’re practicing reporting information and using descriptive words.  

Use Online Prompts

The internet is a great source for education. There are dozens upon dozens of online writing prompts that will help strengthen your skills and reduce writer’s block. The best part about using prompts is your freedom to search for and customize them to fit your interests. Prompts usually start with a subject or topic (I.E. What’s Outside Your Window) and feature questions to help you brainstorm what to write for your story.  For a more creative approach, you can combine two prompts to create one bigger story. The options are endless!

Ask Journalistic Questions

If you’ve spent more than 10 minutes in a writing class, you’re likely familiar with the five W’s. Who? What? Where? When? and Why? This formula is often used by journalists to create leads, but it’s a great tool for other writers to utilize. Imagine your walking through town and suddenly see a dog chasing a cat. The dog chases the cat up the street until both animals run around the corner of a building and disappear out of view. Who is responsible for that dog? What caused the dog to start chasing the cat? Where did the two animals run off to? All of these questions create awareness of your surroundings and help with describing a situation.

Writer’s block is the last thing anyone needs when facing a deadline. Doing any of these exercises once a day, once a week, or even once a month can help keep your writing skills sharp throughout the summer. Write, take a break, come back to read it, and learn from your experiences. Now go practice writing! 

 

3 Ways to Go from “Good” to “Great” Papers

Ask any one of my friends.  When I have to write a paper, I want to literally shoot myself in the face & end it all.  I’m dramatic and whiny but I always get it done, correctly and on time.  I can’t make the process any more enjoyable but hopefully these tips can take your paper to the next level.3 Ways to Go From "Good" to "Great" Papers

#1 Don’t worry about filling up pages.  This is the number one way to get a C or lower on a paper.  It leads to rambling repeated ideas rephrased and a lack of coherent structure.

#2 A great way to avoid #1, determine the scope of your paper.   Scope means the size of the question you want to answer.

I’ll give you an example of a prompt I received in an ethics and public policy paper.

“Which is more important: maximizing happiness or minimizing rights violations?”  The reading for the paper was 200 pages and the scope of the original question is HUGE.  A doctoral thesis could be written on that question alone and I only have 3-5 pages to work with.  So I change the question.  Instead of addressing everything, I answer ‘maximizing happiness is more important that minimizing rights violation when conditions A, B and C exist.  Boom, thesis and scope knocked out in one fell swoop.

Which naturally leads to step…

#3 unpack your ideas.  Focus on two or three points for a paper of 3-5 pages and then thoroughly argue them.  How do you achieve this?  Think of every objection you can think of to the point you are trying to make and address those weaknesses and objections.  Addressing counterarguements makes your thesis stronger, not weaker and it builds up to that page limit constructively while leaving the writer with only a few points to address well. That is, in a nutshell, what unpacking is.

One last word of advice, it is such a rookie mistake we have all been guilty of at one point or another, and it will bite you in the butt every time.  The thesaurus is not a data mine for you to intellectualize your paper with more eloquence. The thesaurus is to tease out nuances for an idea you are trying to express (ex. I don’t just want to beat my opponent, I want to hammer him).  Use with caution!

Good luck, I hope this helps!  Questions are welcome in the comments section.

 

Wonderbread

I’m reading Biology: Concepts and Connections