Those First Few Words
Sometimes, the hardest part of a paper is the first few words. The large blank white space of a word processor can be intimidating, to say the least. But there are a few things to remember that can help make that first jump onto the page easier.
First drafts suck.
This may seem harsh, but it is almost always completely true. A first draft is meant to get your ideas down onto the page. Its the process of editing and re-writing that changes the first draft into a masterpiece. But, that also means there is less pressure to write something profound. All you have to do is write something and then smooth out the edges later.
Paste in your outline.
One quick and easy way to kill that “blank page stare” is to paste in something that you’ve already worked on and will be helpful for writing your draft - your outline. You’ll want to have your outline nearby as you write, so why not fill up the white space with the text you’ve already spent time writing. Now you can use the basic word processing tools to re-organize your outline into paragraph form, spending a little extra time working on your transitions between your outline points.
Start in the middle.
If you’re stuck in the introduction or on any particular point, skip ahead. Just move past the part that is tripping you up and jump to the next point that you feel comfortable with. You can always come back to this point later to wrap things up. When you do come back, you may want to pay close attention to how your paper flows near the place where you moved to another topic.
Focusing on Writing
For many people, writing is a task that is prone to distraction. Writing is a challenging mental task and our brains want to do something that is easier and more fun. Here are a few things you can do to help you focus on writing and eliminate some of the more prevalent distractions.
Find your space.
Find a spot in the library or academic building or your house that you can claim as your “writing space.” Make sure it is quiet, well lit, comfortable (but not too comfortable), and conducive to how you focus. This may mean that it’s a clean desk with only your notecards and a laptop. Or, it may be that you have to disconnect your phone and close social media. I used to work in a library cubby in the lowest level of the basement with only a coffee and my computer. Find a space that fits you and use it as your go-to writing spot.
Break it up into sections.
There are two ways you can go about this, but breaking a big paper into steps can make the process a lot faster. Some people like to do 10 or 15-minute sprints where they work hard for a short time before giving themselves a break to rest. This is sometimes called the Pomodoro method. You could also commit to a paragraph at a time. Commit to finishing this paragraph before taking a quick breather from your work. For both methods, having an attainable goal and a nice reward can make the writing process easier to tackle.
Just so you know, your mind WILL wander and you will get distracted. There’s no need to beat yourself up. It happens. Just let it go and turn your focus back to your writing. Your brain is cool, but it needs you to show it who’s the boss every once in a while.