Tag Archives: writing

Daunting Term Paper

Term paper season causes a lot of anxiety for students.  The grade is not a matter of memorization but of doing something with one’s acquired knowledge.  Scantrons no more!  The irony is we’re often eager to state our point of view except when it’s obligatory.  Here’s a few tips:

  1. Start with a subject covered in the course that interested you.  It’s important that you find your chosen topic to be intriguing.  Trust me, if you’re bored with your thesis then writing will be excruciating.  Don’t be afraid to connect a subject learned in class with something that aligns with your passion and/or area of expertise.
  2. Don’t worry if you’re momentarily paralyzed by the project.  Many writers feel the jitters when eyeing a blank page. Congratulations, you are normal!
  3. Break the tasks of putting the paper together into manageable bits.
  4. Try free writing (old-fashioned with pen and paper) using the following prompt: “This interested me because…”
  5. Or, try this: “This subject reminded me of…”
  6. At the risk of sounding corny, if your attitude is “Ugh, I have to write this term paper,” consider shifting your attitude to “I have an opportunity to explore an idea and express my thoughts.”
  7. Once you get a handle on your position regarding a topic then begin using the library’s search engine for publications on your subject matter.
  8. Reading the publications ask yourself: does this enhance my view?  How so?  Is this contrary to my view?
  9. Now begin an outline with a clear thesis, order of ideas, and a conclusion.  Why is this topic worthy of writing about?  How is it significant?
  10. Fill in your outline. Again, break the work up into bits if the task feels overwhelming.  Some people do wonderful work hours at a time, but that isn’t necessary for everyone.  Devote at least 25 minutes to pure focus time on your paper and shut off any distractions.  Step away for a while and then return to your work.
  11. Contact the professor if you’re concerned about the direction of your topic.  All professors were once students themselves and they understand the trials of paper writing.
  12. Chat with a friend about your paper idea.  Talking out loud about an idea can inject energy into your work.  Perhaps your friend will add an insight.
  13. After your first draft print your work.  I cannot stress this enough.  Never hand in a paper that hasn’t been printed and edited.  A print version allows you to spot grammar errors and awkward sentence flow better than re-reading on a screen.
  14. Review the professor’s guidelines regarding citations, margins, and other details.
  15. Type up corrections you made from your printed version.  I recommend printing another draft, stepping away from it to do another activity, and then re-read your printed version out loud and slowly.
  16. Edit out overused terms and double check your use of conjunctions.  Most likely due to the world of texting I’ve found many grammar errors confusing possessive with plural.  (Know the difference between it’s, its, you’re, your, then, than, their, there, whether, and weather.)
  17. Make your final corrections.  Print!  Cheer!
  18. Remember, your term paper is an expression of your thoughts.  You are offering an interpretation or analysis on a subject that is unique because it comes from you.  This is an exercise in thinking, not just knowing, and it is one of the ways you learn more about a subject and, in turn, more about yourself.

*Fancy more tips?  Click here.


Unblocking

*Daily Prompt

Composes email to journal. Attaches file. Hits “send.”

A momentary sense of relief sets in upon the completion of a written work. This is usually followed with deep breaths and a generous serving of Pinot Noir. But then the next day arrives and an inkling of unease snakes into my thinking:

“Now what am I going to write? That was it! I am out of ideas! I’m done. Oh no! I’ve got nothing.”

A second serving of wine will not suffice; instead I go for an extra dirty martini.

For me, writer’s block has been nothing more than an appealing way to describe mental paralysis brought on by my own anxiety. When you stop to ruminate on the wondrous thing that is writing, it’s quite astonishing. Ideas that exist only in the mind and do not occupy space needle your physical self to move your fingers and usher those ideas into the physical world. On paper or on the computer, ideas that only the thinker was privy to, become object. Your mental activity suddenly emerges as something to be seen or heard. The beauty of this act of creation also spurs anxiety because in writing, one actively unveils the contents of the mind.

While writing and thinking are primarily solitary affairs there remains the crucial component of sharing this work. Inevitably, a reader (or readers) need to come into the picture. “What will they think of what I think?” Leading with that question cloaked in fear, I’ve learned, only launches a bout of writer’s block. Here are some steps I take to diffuse the anxiety:

  1. Stepping away for a while allows for the mind to re-boot. Sometimes I honestly don’t know what is more challenging, forcing myself to stop writing or forcing myself to write. I have found that when I overcome the guilt of not writing for a few days I tend to return to my laptop fresh and ready to start.
  2. I make it a point to visit interesting places.

    Yours truly at Huntington Library, Pasadena: Japanese Dry Landscape Garden.

    Yours truly at Huntington Library, Pasadena: Japanese Dry Landscape Garden.

  3. After taking time off, if I’m still at a loss for ideas I resolve to sit down and write whatever is in my head without editing. I’ve eloquently nicknamed this my “brain vomit sessions.” There will be pages and pages of non-sense before a gem of an idea presents itself. I’ve accepted it is okay to unleash paragraphs of ramblings because that is simply part of the writing process.

The best of the worst of my doozies from brain vomit sessions (I sincerely hope this makes you feel better about your own writing woes):

Reasons I Envy My Cat

Things Said At CrossFit That Would Be Awkward In Any Other Context

Chubby Introverted Atheist Growing Up In Catholic School: A Memoir

Mary Wollstoncraft Meets Ladies for Tea

Socrates Decides to Chat With The Oracle at Delphi Himself

  1. I read more and with a notebook handy to write down any interesting word or phrases. After compiling my list I work out sentences with them. Sometimes toying with a word rather than scrambling for a big idea unlocks the block.

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    Unfortunately this little beast often interferes!

  2. Most importantly, when anxiety encroaches on my writing time I stop and journal about why I write in the first place. Without fail, I end up at the same conclusion: I write to improve myself and to understand the world. The more honest I am with that sentiment, the less afraid I am of embarking on another writing project.

Some inspiration:

Sue Grafton: “Seriously: I write because it’s all I know how to do. Writing is my anchor and my purpose. My life is informed by writing whether the work is going well or I’m stuck in the hell of writer’s block, which I’m happy to report only occurs about once a day.”

Mary Karr: “Most great writers suffer and have no idea how good they are. Most bad writers are very confident. Be willing to be a child and be the Lilliputian in the world of Gulliver, the bat girl in Yankee Stadium. That’s a more fruitful way to be.”

Simone de Beauvoir: “I got the desire to write very young….The meaning of this project was to make the world my own, to show my life as freely recreated by me.”

Bryan Magee: “I have written several of my books because I wanted to master a subject: producing a book about it was the best, if not the only, way I could force myself to work really hard and systematically at it over a long period of time. I can sit and think for a while, but not for months on end—unless I write.”


Don’t Bother With These Four Words

I never thought of myself as a picky sort of person. After all, I’ll eat anything, travel anywhere, and I once survived an outrageous perm in the 80s.   However, over the years of grading papers I’ve zeroed in on four words in particular that, scientifically speaking, are causing my hair to turn gray.  That won’t do.

I kindly suggest, dear students, you avoid these four words in assignments:

  1. Basically. No, I don’t want to know what Aristotle is basically saying.
  2. So. This is often unnecessary and could be replaced with “therefore” or “it follows.” And whatever you do, do not put “So basically” together lest you sound like a Kardashian.
  3. Very. Another unnecessary term sprinkled about too many papers.  Throw it out of your vocabulary now. Poof.  It’s officially dead to you. It’s very annoying. Oops.
  4. Goes. What a boring verb! “He then goes on to say…” Yikes! I can’t bear to read one more sentence like this. Are you in need of some verb alternatives? Here’s a quick exercise to spruce up your papers:

Grab a notebook and at the top of the page write “Sports.” Halfway down the page write “Cooking.” Now, list all of the verbs that come to mind regarding these two: Hits, swings, scores, tackles…peppers, boils, chops, seasons, dices… You get the point. Think of ten verbs to write under each category.

Return to a draft of your work and insert two or three of these verbs. Voila!

 

Click here to check out more tips.


Call for Papers, Undergraduate Philosophy Conference

GSU Phi Sigma Tau

Philosophical Society

Undergraduate Philosophy Conference

Georgia Southern University

Statesboro, Georgia

April 11-12, 2014

Conference Topic: Philosophy in Literature and Film

Papers that focus on analyzing the philosophical consequences and implications of film and literature are especially encouraged.  Participation in the conference is open to all undergraduate students regardless of major.  The top papers will be published in Georgia Southern’s undergraduate philosophy journal, The Indefinite Dyad.

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Guidelines:

  • Only full papers will be accepted.
  • Student submissions should be no more than 4,000 words.
  • Group presentations will be accepted.
  • Submissions should contain student’s full name, institution, and contact information (including email).
  • Deadline: March 1, 2014
  • Submit proposals to Geneva Hendrix gsuphisigmatau@gmail.com
  • Questions? Contact Danielle Layne dlayne@georgiasouthern.edu

Time to write. But first…

The hardest thing about writing is writing. -Nora Ephron

I mentally shuffle through different writing topic possibilities in the morning.  But first, I must have coffee.

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Coffee drinking complete and now it is time to sit at my desk to write.  But first, I should really check the news.  Mike Huckabee said what???

I have seen enough news so now I can settle down and write.  But first, maybe I should tend to the dishes.

My kitchen is spotless and now I turn to writing.  But first, Oh my, the book shelves are a bit dusty.  I’ll swiffer that away immediately. 

Not a speck of dust on the book shelves!  Great, now I must switch on my computer.  But first, I think the cat needs some food.

The cat thanks me for her food…sort of, and now I can have a moment to write.  But first, maybe an important email awaits in my inbox.  I should really click, read, and respond.

Emails have been returned!  Now I stare at a blank screen taunted by a cursor.  But first, what’s happening on Twitter and Instagram?  

Perusal of others’ lives complete, so I really ought to return to writing.  But first, I could use a snack.  Hmmm, almonds sound good right now.

My stomach has ceased its growling and now I can write.  But first, I must re-read an article or two for research.

I’m satisfied with my updated research.  I should write on what I just read.  But first, did the mail arrive? 

Catalogs, bills, and more catalogs.  I’ll quickly open these bills.  Now I’ll organize my finances and then I can get down to the business of writing.

Finally, it is time to conquer that blinking cursor and type it away!  But first, I’m going to make more coffee and re-fuel.

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Operation Relax

Not too long ago I tweeted the following:

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I am addicted to working.  When I am not teaching I am grading, and when I am not grading I am reading, and when I am not reading I am writing/journaling, and when I am not writing I am thinking about writing, and when I am not thinking about writing I am drinking coffee while thinking about how I ought to be thinking about writing.  Chocolate.

I juggled a few projects over the last year and a half that left me little time outside of…hmmm…anything else.  The last of these projects was a paper I presented for the Simone de Beauvoir Conference in Alicante, Spain.  While putting the finishing edits on the paper I turned to my dear jet-lagged hubs and said, “After this I will take a break.”

He smiled and said, “We’ll see.”

Oh!  I sensed a challenge!

“One month,” he said.

“Okay, one month.  No working.” I chimed.

“We’ll see.”

So here we are, folks, at what I am calling “Operation Relax.”  I’m terrible at it!  In the beginning I chatted up a friend at a dinner party about this “operation.”  Within seconds of the conversation the sweet allure of writing about the meaning of relaxing knocked on my mental door crawled out of the well of my mind like the girl from The Ring.  How do people relax?  Why is it necessary?  What is the difference between relaxing and idling?  Is this a cultural problem relating to the constant need to produce?  Possible health issues?  Physical manifestations?  How about the impact of meditation?  I bet Camus wrote something in his journals on this.  I really must research the dynamics of…

okay stop!

Intuitively, I know that I need to allow time for my brain to re-boot, but accomplishing this is surprisingly difficult.  My goodness, how to relax?

In the book The Art of Learning, author Joshua Waitzkin (chess genius) advocated embarking on long breaks in order to return to any work or craft refreshed and with a brighter perspective.  In this spirit, I’m putting some faith in this plan and trying new activities.

In the last 3 weeks I’ve done the following:

1. I joined CrossFit.  This has by far been the most insane daunting thing I’ve ever done.  For those of you who are familiar with it, you’ll understand when I say that every time a “WOD” (Workout of the Day) is posted I gasp: “No (expletive) way.”  On the bright side, the physical activity draws me out of my mind and into the present.  My students will never again be able to look at me with their big worrying eyes and complain that an assignment is “too difficult” because if this gal can run, row, do burpees, push-ups, and whatever hellish exercise they throw at me, then no one is ever getting away with saying “I can’t” in my presence.

2. I indulged in a shameless TV binge of  seasons 1 and 2 of Game of Thrones.   I couldn’t bear to wait for Season 3 so I bought the book. Armed with said book I secured a place at Starbucks and have come to know the local Starbuckians, but  I know to avoid Tom because he mistook my study of Philosophy for an invitation to tell me at length his thoughts on The Book of Revelations and the impending Rapture.

3. I am re-doing my patio and learning the basics about plants, like which ones are most likely to survive.  I put every plant in a pot with my fingers crossed in hopes that I don’t kill it. “You must live,” I whisper.  The neighbors might be concerned.

4. I reached out to friends and mildly drifted from my classic introverted persona.  This has confused everyone involved, but in a good way 🙂

5. I’ve been to two comedy shows because why not?

A few days of this “operation” remain and I’m still somewhat stumped by the complexity of it.  No doubt, I am guilty of immersing myself in a project, and near the conclusion, immerse myself into another one without stopping to relish the moments of the project itself.  Relaxing, ironically, has fallen into a similar category for me.  However, in my defense, I do know this: I’ve found a profession, namely Philosophy, that has gripped me in such a way that I don’t necessarily want to let go.  I read classical and contemporary works with an overwhelming feeling of being grateful for the opportunity.  That being said, with this “operation” I am also learning I must experience the world more fully in order to be thoughtful.

*By the way, this blog entry doesn’t count as working and, yeah, don’t tell hubs, okay?


Free Download on Amazon!

Students, Educators, and lovers of the “Advice & How To” genre, my book Tips From the Professor A Guide for College Success is free on Amazon from Tuesday April 2nd-Thursday April 4th!  (Just give the title a click.)

photo-16 9.24.30 PMI wrote this book because I want students to get the most out of their University experience.  I offer easy “how to” steps to boost students’ grades.  If you do fancy a read, please kindly leave a review on Amazon.  I’m starting my second book for university students, so any feedback on this first book would be most helpful.

Some topics Tips From The Professor addresses:

  • How to organize your time.
  • How to be involved in campus life.
  • How to study for exams (alone and with groups).
  • How to give presentations.
  • How to approach professors with questions (some do’s and don’ts from a professor’s point of view).
  • What to bring with you when meeting a professor about a letter of recommendation.

*Book Review by Dr. Wayne Hubert

Tips From the Professor: A Guide for College Success by Dr. Gwendolyn Dolske  is not just another student handbook for successfully navigating undergraduate life.  It is not ponderous, theoretical, and impractical as so many student guides are, but rather it is concrete, experiential, and most of all, fresh in its approach.

Naturally, Dr. Dolske covers familiar and expected topics like time management, strategies for studying, writing papers, classroom presentations, and she illustrates them with specific examples from her own experiences as an undergraduate as well as those of her own current students.  Instead of theory, Dr. Dolske grounds her presentation in real life, her own and her students’.

Dr. Dolske also covers issues that are not usually found in student guides.  For example, she explains to her readers how to talk to their instructors, how to ask for letters of recommendation, how to manage money, how to understand grading, and–without doubt my favorite–how to be fully present during class time.   It is worth purchasing the book if only to read this section.

I also appreciate how  Dr. Dolske speaks to her audience as a mentor, eager to help, encourage, and pave the way for those new to the undergraduate experience.  She has learned much as a student and as a Professor, and she wants her readers to have what benefits she has earned and received.

Though this wonderful handbook will enjoy wide appeal, Dr. Dolske has a particular audience in mind.  She is writing to students who not only want to enjoy college and get good grades, but she is also writing to those students who understand the need for personal responsibility and discipline, those who in the end desire a good education.  With Dr. Dolske’s lively and useful guide, those students can have it all.

Wayne Hubert, Ph.D

Emeritus Dean Of Arts and Humanities

Chaffey College

Rancho Cucamonga, California


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