Friday, February 25, 2011

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

What is the first thing you look at when you are given a writing assignment? I bet I can guess what it is. Length. The first thing you want to know is how much you have to write. Well, I’m going to tell you something that might sound a little crazy. When you are sitting down to start a paper, you need to forget the length requirements. That’s right. Forget it. Nothing is more daunting than seeing the start of the paper and counting how far you are from the finish line. This is what can lead to procrastination. It’s the fight or flight response. Some will see it as a challenge and start writing. Others (and this includes me) will take flight and avoid this problem. Ignoring the length requirements will free up your mind, and you will be able to better focus on what you are actually putting down on the page. It isn’t until you have all of your ideas out and on the page that you should think about length. Are you short? Did you go over? These are questions for the revisions stage.

But the length requirement isn’t the only thing you shouldn’t focus on when you are starting a paper. Brace yourself for this. Don’t worry about grammar. That’s right. Don’t worry about it. Now, I’m not saying you should completely ignore it. Obviously put in the grammar you are sure of, but if you start questioning yourself (Should there be a comma here? Do I use a colon or a semi-colon to introduce a list?) just move on. If you are still in the process of writing your paper, there is no point spending 10, 20, or even 30 minutes fixing the grammar of a certain section. When it comes to revision, there is no telling what you will keep and what you will get rid of. There is no worse feeling than cutting a sentence that you spent 20 minutes perfecting. Just like the questions about length, grammar is something that is best left towards the end of your writing process.

When you are sitting down to start a paper, you need to worry about these questions: Am I following the assignment? What is my thesis? Do I need research? Am I staying on task? These are the questions you need to be able to focus on. Once you get past these, you can start worrying about the more technical aspects of writing.

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