Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Blank-Page Anxiety, Begone

As the semester winds down and Thanksgiving Break approaches, the last thing you probably want to think about is any final projects hanging over your head. But if you’re ready to tackle a big paper headlong and just can’t figure out how to begin, this blog post is just for you.

Take a few tips from a guy who loves starting new projects and simply reveling in the glory of an unrevised rough draft.

1.     Know thyself.
Before you take the plunge into your paper, think about how you typically write. While I always write my thesis statement first and litter my paper with quotes before I actually use my own words, you may have an easier time freewriting until the ideas fall together.

2.     Convert other documents into a paper.
You can turn notes into a rough draft or write on napkins so you won’t take the first words you write too seriously.

3.     Change form.
Try outlining, poetry, or something you’ve never done before. I start all my creative writing in the format of a comic-book script, and even some of my academic papers started as two characters arguing with each other.

4.     Find your opening rituals.
I begin all my drafts with five bold hyphens and a title, while a friend of mine starts everything she writes (even on Facebook) with “::”. If you’re curious about how to recognize rituals you might already have, think about the way you begin writing other things, like class notes or social media posts.

For example, I discovered that the hyphen ritual relieves my blank-page anxiety after I noticed that I actually put lines at the beginning of all my physical papers. I had a perfect ritual waiting for me, yet for so long I used to stare at blank Word documents and struggle to begin.

Don't overlook yours. Or just try out one or all of these.

And remember what we like to say in the Writing Center: It’s called a rough draft for a reason.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

It's Rough for a Reason: Using the Writing Process

 “Instead of teaching finished writing, we should teach unfinished writing, and glory in its unfinishedness. We work with language in action.”
-Donald Murray

A phrase you might hear at the Writing Center is “rough drafts are rough for a reason.” We tell students this all the time. We may have even told you that your rough draft can be messy. It can include all of the no-nos that your professor hates, such as comma splices, run-on sentences, and citation format errors. We want you to free your mind from the baggage that weighs you down when writing.

We too have difficulty writing when we focus on sentence-level issues. We know that we should worry about forming our ideas before fretting over how they sound on paper. When writing, I take comfort in Murray’s words that encourage me to “glory in its unfinishedness” and “discover through language” (4). One method that I use to form my ideas is to freewrite. When I freewrite, I know that it can be messy; I realize that I will probably write to find my best ideas. I use it as a means of discovery to find out what I actually want to say. I normally find my best ideas at the end of freewriting, then I use these ideas to create my rough draft, and then I revise as necessary.

Nonetheless, we also know reality. We know that writing eventually must include our ideas and be as error-free as possible.

The writing process breaks down the looming task of writing into smaller phases from start to finish. Most scholars agree that the writing process includes three major steps: prewriting, writing, and revising. Murray defines these steps as follows: “Prewriting is everything that takes place before the first draft; writing is the act of producing the first draft; and rewriting is reconsideration of subject, form, and audience. It is researching, rethinking, redesigning, rewriting—and finally, line-by-line editing” (4). The suggestions that we make at the Writing Center reflect the basic steps of the writing process.

Brainstorming, freewriting, messy ideas on paper—these are all part of the prewriting and writing process. Just get your ideas down on paper. Period. Then revise. By following these steps, you will free your mind from the cage that you create when trying to do everything at once.

Next time you visit the Writing Center, you may find this subtle, yet essential teaching happening in our sessions. We work with students in all stages of the writing process, from brainstorming to final revision. We’d love for you to visit us.
Murray, Donald. "Teach writing as a process not product." Cross-Talk in Comp Theory. 3rd Ed. Eds.
            Victor Villanueva and Kristin Arola. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English,
            2011. 3-6. Print.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Long Live Latin

Many people say that Latin is dead. However, abbreviations of Latin phrases such as "NB," "etc." and "ibid." show up fairly frequently.

For your edification and enjoyment, here is a list of Latin words and phrases with their definitions and common uses.

Et al. is most commonly used in APA in-text citations when there are multiple authors. It is an abbreviation for et alii (masculine), et alae (feminine), or et alia (neuter). This is a way to say “and others.” Because al. is the abbreviation for any of these gendered forms of the noun, it is politically correct.

Ibid. is short for ibidem, meaning “in the same place.” It is used in Chicago Manual Style, especially in endnotes and footnotes, when the previous citation is from the same source. For example, one writes out the entire reference the first time it appears, and if a second reference to the same source follows, ibid. is used to refer back to the original citation. Ibidem is similar to idem or the abbreviation Id. used in legal citations.

NB stands for Nota Bene. Nota Bene means “note well” or “pay attention to this” for it is “important.” Professors can write this on a paper before a comment, or sometimes people use it in their notes to mark the main points.

Etc. is an abbreviation for et cetera. It literally translates to “and others,” and is usually used in reference to things, not people. In Latin there are genders to all nouns, but "cetera" is gender neutral, so when applied to gendered creatures "cetera" could be considered an insult, in that it takes away gender. So next time you list people who will be arriving at a party, do not say “et cetera” unless you wish to insult the rest of the people who would be on the list.

Many people are fond of the phrase “carpe diem” and claim that it means “seize the day.” However, it literally translates to “harvest the day.” When you think about it, for Romans, “harvest” is more fitting since many Romans were also farmers or owned small farms that were worked by others.

Veni, vidi, vici. In restorative Latin this is pronounced “wheny, wheedy, wiki” and it means “I came, I saw, I conquered.” In Church Latin, it is pronounced “venie, viedie, viechi.”

Spread the knowledge.