With the paper guidelines (a 5-6 page scholarly response) in one hand and my primary text (Shakespeare’s The Tempest) in the other, I walked back to my dorm after class, sat down at my desk, and started procrastinating. I thought of all the things I wanted to do: take a nap, watch TV, and even clean my messy dorm if it would give me a reason to avoid getting started on my paper. I knew I had a general idea of what I wanted to write about, and I knew I had some idea of how to use the text to support my argument, but I was dreading taking the next step: sitting at my lap top, just me and Shakespeare, and starting to write. As a writer who frequently stresses herself out about putting initial thoughts on the page, I can sympathize with those who have a mental block on starting the paper writing process. But don’t get sucked in by the temptation of a long afternoon of watching random YouTube videos and updating your Facebook status. Use that time to get started, even if it’s just the first few steps.

Try a ten minute, uninterrupted free write about your intended paper topic. Don’t worry about perfecting the ideas or editing the mental process of the initial brainstorm. You may even discover things in this process that are important to your topic that you didn’t realize were there. Before you worry about sentence structure and clarity of ideas, write what comes out and let it, if nothing else, get your ideas on paper and out of your head.

I often talk to my roommate about my initial ideas for papers, and even though she may not be in the class, she can offer good general suggestions and give me preliminary feedback on my approach. It can always be helpful to talk to a peer, especially a classmate or someone whose opinions you trust. Don’t hesitate to schedule a Writing Center appointment, even if you haven’t written anything yet! We tutors love to talk to you in the early stages of the writing process. And if you have any misunderstanding, questions or concerns about the assignment, schedule an appointment to talk it over with your professor. They are great people to bounce ideas off of and can tell you if you’re heading in the right direction.

Finally, give yourself the luxury of time. Start early so that you don’t have to rush the necessarily gradual writing process. Complex ideas can take time to develop and come together, so allow them to “marinate” in your brain before you try and pull a paper out of them! And when you’ve written a rough draft, let it sit for a day or two. Get some sleep, some food, and some perspective. Doing so will allow you to start the revision process in a constructive frame of mind. When it’s all over, you’ll feel confident in your finished product. Go ahead and update your Facebook status, “I finished my paper!”


Leah Kuenzi is a sophomore and a tutor at the Agnes Scott College Writing Center.

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