Alex’s Declassified Writing Survival Guide (Results May Vary)

After a lovely winter break that was a bit longer than expected due to the Polar Vortex of Iciness and Doom, my fellow students and I are back at LMU for another exciting semester of studies! Thankfully, the two extra days we were out of classes to avoid freezing didn’t do much to quell my enthusiasm – if anything, it gave me more free time to kick my creative juices into gear and work on a favorite hobby of mine: writing. I’m taking quite a few humanities-oriented classes this semester (American Literature I, Comparative Religions, World History, and an Honors course devoted to second-order reasoning), and thus I expect that writing will play a decent part in all of them. While I, of course, prefer to devote time to my own fictional creations, I also enjoy writing academically, not only because I’m fairly adept at it but also because it allows me to hone skills that I can carry over to any type of writing. A few of the things I try to keep in mind before beginning or while working on a writing project can be applied to both writing for school and writing prose for fun.

1) Write about things that you like – if that’s not possible, find something to like!

Being able to write academically about things I’m into is an amazing feeling – even if my analysis can never live up to the primary source!

I completely feel your pain: your professor assigned you a five-page paper about the absolute dullest thing you can imagine, right? Been there, done that, and it’s not the end of the world. In academic writing, if you have even the slightest hint of a chance to choose what you can write about, by all means choose a topic that you can get into and are excited about analyzing or researching! On a major research paper in a past English class, I was given the chance to choose my own topic and chose to write about the cultural impact of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, my favorite book at the time, and thus writing the paper was nothing short of a blast. Things don’t always work out so well, though: if you find yourself stuck writing on a completely blah topic, then it’s possible find some way to make it interesting! For a Sociology paper on gender roles in children’s advertising, I chose to analyze the commercials shown during a cartoon I loved as a child, Yu-Gi-Oh!, rather than bore myself waiting for commercial breaks during preschool shows to write about. If one looks hard enough and doesn’t get discouraged, almost every writing assignment can be at least mildly exciting. Trust me on this: pieces of writing almost always come out better if you’re interested in the subject.

2) Don’t let yourself forget good lines and phrases – they may come in handy later.

A rare peek into my own "Phrase Not To Be Forgotten" notebook.

A rare peek into my own “Phrases Not To Be Forgotten” notebook.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come up with an amazing idea for something to say in a story or an essay and then completely forgotten it. Why? Because I didn’t write it down and it then proceeded to get lost in the mess of the rest of the information in my mind. To remedy this problem, I began carrying a small notebook with me to write down any particularly good phrases, words, dialogue, and so on that come to me. It’s certainly an interesting exercise – sometimes I invent dramatic quotes such as “I only ask that you direct your insults to my face and at least pretend that you have a shred of bravery or honor”, snippets to use in scholarly arguments like “Class warfare, more like class massacre until the June Rebellion…”, and slightly strange and random phrases like “We ride at midnight. Bring the fire extinguisher”, that I’m not quite sure if or when I’ll ever use. Nevertheless, it’s an excellent way to keep my thoughts in order; and if perchance I ever do have a need to go back and use that amazing phrase I thought of months ago, I’ll know exactly where to find it.

3) Writer’s block is easier to break than you may think.

Contrary to this comic, writer’s block is rarely fatal and can be defeated!

This is a terrible condition to be sure, and can range from having trouble coming up with ideas, not being able to find the right words, or even not being able to start or finish a piece of writing at all. However a less extreme case of writer’s block just takes a bit of stimulation to kick down. Leave the project behind for a while and focus on something else; this always works best for me if it’s something fairly mindless such as cleaning or drawing. If your problem is with a lack of inspiration, try reading or listening to music that calls images or scenes to mind (when writing fiction, I find this works amazingly with instrumental music from artists such as BrunuhVille and Adrian von Ziegler). You might try studying or working on assignments for a more technical subject; or perhaps getting outside and clearing your mind a bit may work better. The main point, however, is to ignore the blocked writing piece for a while. The more you think about not being able to work on something, the harder it will be to get past the block.

And last, but certainly not least:

4) Research. And then more research.

This should perhaps go without saying, but if it doesn’t in some cases, writers learn quickly to check their facts. This applies to both scholarly writing and personal writing: if you’re working on an essay or research paper for school, find information relevant to your topic and actually read it all the way through. If you’re writing a fantasy novella that involves swords and sorcery, then read up on sword-handling techniques and systems of magic. When I was working on creating a mythos for my own fantasy story, I spent goodness-knows-how-much time digging for information about Tolkien, ancient Norse and Celtic cultures and languages, and various archetypes and correspondences I used to create characters and settings. Research will not only make your writing more awesome, but it also saves the time you would have spent making everything up yourself!

Although writing can be a difficult and sometimes tedious venture to undertake, an element of fun can always be found in creating something with words that is truly one’s own.

Hint: an awesome way to improve your own writing skills would be to drop me a comment sharing your own tips for writing! And for even more stories of my journey through the humanities, I invite you to join in my adventure and follow my blog!

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2 thoughts on “Alex’s Declassified Writing Survival Guide (Results May Vary)

  1. JT says:

    Thank you! I’m going to hang on to this advice!

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