UW Graduate School

April 30, 2015

Cultivating Effective Writing Practices

We’re nearly halfway through the quarter, and we know you are all doing your best to manage and blend academic, interpersonal, and work responsibilities. We also know it can be difficult to find time for that seminar or research paper, or perhaps your capstone or thesis project. Below are some tips to get you on your way to writing. Incorporating these strategies into a regular routine takes time and practice—so be patient, be gentle with yourself, and most importantly, happy writing!

Free write.  For those of us who procrastinate, most of the time it’s because we have very high standards for ourselves. We inevitably end up writing papers at the last minute. One way to work through this anxiety is to free write. Journal or type out all of your ideas and don’t worry about grammar or cohesion. Your ultimate goal is to get words on a page. Try this for 15 minutes and use a timer. More often than not, you’ll glean ideas, arguments, or even a thesis statement.

Making time & making space.  What time of the day are you most productive? Set aside this time to write. Do you enjoy quiet, solitary spaces or bustling cafes? Being in the right environment is important to feeling comfortable and motivated. It’s all about recognizing both when you do your best work, and where you do your best work.

Set realistic goals.  It is rare to get a full day to work on writing, and most experts suggest that these large blocks of time are not actually your most generative. Instead, break up the process into manageable pieces. You may want to carve out 15 minutes each day to write and eventually work your way up to 1–2 hour blocks. Setting up a more realistic writing schedule will allow you to feel successful along the way. By doing a little each day, you will find that the project is always percolating in your mind. You may also have some breakthroughs when you least expect it. Plus, you get to celebrate your progress along the way!

Join a writing group.  Connect and coordinate a writing group with peers from your cohort, or with familiar colleagues from other graduate programs. You’ll find that even just sitting next to one another at a table can help you feel less isolated. Even if you are working on very different projects, you can hold each other accountable and cheer each other on.

Avoid distractions.  This is a difficult one. We live in an age where multi-tasking is the norm, yet this can often be a distraction to writing. Switch off wifi access on your laptop and phones. Once you set aside time to write, commit to it without accessing social media or your favorite websites. Avoid searching for more references (often a great time sink). Many of you are parents, so we understand that you need your mobile phone nearby to connect with partners, caretakers, or your children.

Get support.  The Odegaard Writing and Research Center (OWRC) recommends getting the support you need to complete your work. This includes scheduling a meeting with your professor to go over a draft or asking a peer who is a strong writer to help revise your work. You can also schedule tutoring appointments at your campus writing center, because they assist students at all degree levels. If your department has a writing center, we encourage you to seek out assistance and tutoring from those resources as well.