Aug 23rd 2018

How to write when you don’t feel like writing

Guest post written by Linda Cartwright.
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If you google this phrase, you will find a plethora of “inspiration” articles that look more like lists of procrastination destinations: watch these themed films, go lurking on these gorgeous image boards, go listening to these productivity playlists. Supposedly, it will get your creative juices flowing. Unfortunately, it does not work for most of us. The only thing such advice is good for is to form some ideas when you are ready to start writing but have not yet decided on a topic.

What do you do when you have to write (and probably know what about) but cannot get yourself to start? First, here is a quick checklist.

  • Have you slept well? If you haven’t, your brain is not fit for any work, let alone ready to be creative. You can soldier on but the result will be less than impressive. Having a quick nap and resuming your work refreshed will allow you to be more productive and to lose less time.
  • Are you hungry? You brain needs food. It is the most energy-consuming organ in our body. If you don’t have time for a hearty meal, a snack on quick-digesting carbs will do the job.
  • Do you feel well? It is an obvious, yet often overlooked condition for being productive. If you feel a bit under the weather, you cannot concentrate on the task at hand.

Now, let’s assume that all of the above points are settled. Now what? Well, sometimes you are just not in the mood to write, even if it is your passion. The good news is that you can still write. Try one of the following techniques.

Brief outline

As a famous quote from Chuck Close goes: “Inspiration is for amateurs – the rest of us just show up and get to work.” If you feel somewhat blocked, you can start by quickly outlining the things that you are going to write about. All you have to do is start working; things will grow from the activity itself. No author has a premonition of the entire script. You may not have the full story but you must have some ideas.

The importance of pre-planning and outlining can best be illustrated by Joan Rowling’s technique. A glimpse of it, can be seen in the one-page plot outline for Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix that was released to the public some years ago. It showed the entire book as a grid with rows representing chapters and columns representing main plot lines and themes present in the book. This way, Rowling was able to see the entire structure before her as the cutout work and at the same time could make the book balanced and addictive for the readers.

On a larger scale, she knew, from the very beginning, that she would have a series of seven books for children where characters would grow up with the readers, she already had the ending in mind and some very specific details decided beforehand. This also allowed her to pepper details throughout the series, which, at first, seemed of no importance, but later gave the readers plenty of thrilling “aha!” moments.

Of course, some characters and plot lines changed along the way, yet she managed to shoehorn them into the original ending anyway.

Planning and outlining works for everything: from epic book series to 5-page essays to 500 words blog posts. If you do not feel like writing, at least you can come up with a plan that will facilitate your work enormously.

Freewriting

Creativity is all about finding unexpected connections and seeing the world anew. This happens in a state of mind when we do not think we are working. One of the ways to get into this state is freewriting.

In the ninetieth century, mediums claimed that freewriting is their way to get in contact with unseen entities, ghosts, and otherworldly beings. In the twentieth century, writers and poets (William Butler Yeats, Jack Kerouac, Dorothea Brande, and Peter Elbow to name a few) used this technique as a way of connecting to the unconscious.

The practice was brought to the mainstream by the Natalie Goldberg, in her Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. Her first rule was to keep the hand always moving and to allow oneself to lose control. Julia Cameron, in her book The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity called this practice “the morning pages” and advised writers to start your writing with three pages of pure stream-of-consciousness writing.

This practice is beneficial not only for professional writers but for anyone who experiences writer’s block. Even students who struggle to write an essay or a research paper can try it instead of employing a paper writing service to do the work, losing peace of mind, enthusiasm for the project, and sleep.

To start freewriting you just have to put pen to paper (or your hands on a keyboard). Write whatever comes to your head. Even if there is nothing, write “I have nothing on my mind. I have nothing on my mind…” You can keep writing it, that’s okay. Alternatively, use an object you see in front of you as a prompt, or a word you pick at random from a book. Do not rush but do not stop either. Do not  cross anything out, and don’t pay particular attention to punctuation or grammar at this point.

This should put you in a flowing state of mind and allow you to unblock your creative ability, even if you think that you are not in the mood for writing today. As Pablo Picasso said: “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”

Mind mapping

A mind map is a diagram used to organize information visually. It shows relationships between the parts to the whole. Mind mapping is used as a mnemonic technique, an educational aid for brainstorming, note taking, problem-solving, and decision making. It has a centuries-long history but was popularized by the British popular psychology author and television personality Tony Buzan in the 1960s.

Apart from that, mind mapping is a very effective tool to get the information from your head onto paper. This way, you can organize your thoughts and ideas in proper order if your writer’s block stems from being overwhelmed rather than from a lack of ideas.

This technique is also useful if you have to summarize large volumes of information from many sources and don’t know where to start. This happens quite often when you have to write an essay or do class reports.

Start by placing the key idea at the center of the diagram, either as a word or as a picture. Add sub-themes and connect them to the main idea with  “branches” of different colors. The use of multiple colors will provide visual stimulation and allow encoding and grouping. Then, add topics of lesser importance by adding “twigs” to the relevant branch. You do not have to write yet – use symbols, pictograms, emoticons, codes, dimensions. If necessary, add keywords (one per twig).

There are websites and apps that allow you to create mind maps, however using paper is the best option. Why? Because on paper you can combine mind mapping and freewriting to plan and outline your work, thus uniting all three techniques!

If you still do not feel inspired, try to remember why you are writing. There is a special power in “why”. It can help you reignite the initial excitement you felt when you started your project. The last, but not the least – do not feel bad about yourself if you still do not feel like writing. Bad days happen, it is only human to experience ups and downs.

About author:
Linda Cartwright is an educator and Seattle-based freelance writer, passionate about technology and life-long learning.

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Aug 16th 2018

Know the Difference: Revision, Editing, & Proofreading

Guest post written by Carla D. Bass.Independent thinker and individual leadership concept. Group of pigeon birds on a wire with one at the other side. Flat style vector illustration isolated on white background.

 

Pfshew! After considerable effort, you’ve finally completed that draft document. A cursory proofreading and you’re done, right? Absolutely not … Three critical steps stand between you and success … revision, editing, and proofreading. That application for a grant, submission to a request for proposal, response to a congressional inquiry, essay for the college application, or other product by which you hope to influence the audience … all depend on how effectively you complete these steps.

In completing the initial draft, you’ve presented yourself with a lump of damp clay … congratulations. I state that with utmost sincerity, because you succeeded in creating something – a place to start. You must now painstakingly mold that clay … your draft … into the final art form ready for display … or the written product to present to your audience.

Step 1 — Revision:

 Take a breather, step away from the draft, then return later for a fresh review. Examine it objectively using criteria such as those listed below delineated in a three-step, sequential process: revision, editing, and proofreading. These are neither synonymous nor simultaneous. Each serves a different purpose.

Continuing the sculpting analogy, the artist first molds the clay into the general form desired – little push here, little pull there, add or remove clay, shaping as needed, and continuing until the image emerges. The artist then steps away and allows the clay to dry bit.

This equates to your revision, the overall, substantive review of product. Begin by outlining the draft; some call this technique, “the reverse outline.” Identify the skeletal structure: the title, thesis, main points, topic sentences, supporting data, and conclusion. Consider the following:

  • Does your draft match your original outline?
  • If not, why not? Is your revision to the original outline warranted?
  • Did you find information gaps in your draft; where should you add more? Did you include any unnecessary tangents?

Read your draft slowly and from the audience’s perspective. If you received this information, how would you respond? Other points to consider are listed below. Several revisions might be necessary – and that’s OK, even advisable.

  • Know your audience; tailor your product accordingly
  • Address issue(s)/question(s)/concerns of the audience
  • Use form and style appropriate to the product/audience
  • State goal/purpose clearly
  • Define terms
  • Sequence information logically; rearrange or delete, as necessary
  • Provide supporting evidence for all positions addressed
  • Anticipate/respond to questions not posed
  • Organize and connect sections
  • Identify/respond to counter arguments objectively and factually
  • Present balanced, logical arguments
  • Eliminate tangential information
  • Extend or limit concepts
  • Eliminate bureaucratic blather (imprecise, convoluted, run-on sentences)
  • Complete the circle: harmonize the opening and conclusion

Step 2 — Editing:

The artist resumes his work, applying different, more precise tools to his now dried artifact of clay. Bit by bit, the final art form emerges in glorious detail from what began as that damp lump of clay.

You do similarly in the editing process, examining your final, revised draft sentence by sentence to identify errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, and typing, and other items listed below:

  • Application of Word Sculpting tools (from “Write to Influence!”)
  • Clarity of title
  • Overly repeated, mis-used, or overly used words
  • Sentence structure and syntax
  • Rhythm and flow (sentence to sentence and paragraph to paragraph)
  • Accuracy of cited references
  • Length of document (i.e., number of pages or words)

Be careful with automated tools to check grammar and spelling. Why? From “Write to Influence!” … “Automated systems may recognize valid words but will not correct spelling relative to the context. The following sentence is exaggerated for effect but reinforces this point. Automated systems will revue you’re hole product but will knot be two effective and they’re observations will often lead ewe a rye.”

Here are some editing tips I teach my students:

  • Read your draft slowly and aloud. This is an important and different dimension to editing. Listen … You will hear how words flow … or don’t, identify thoughts that simply don’t connect, and catch words that are excessively repeated.
  • Read the paper backwards. This will help preclude substantive distraction.

Here are some others from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill:

  • Look for errors – one variety at a time. You risk losing focus when trying to identify too many kinds of errors simultaneously.
  • Circle and validate every punctuation mark. As you circle, verify that the punctuation is correct. [My note: This solves only half of the problem. Why? It doesn’t highlight punctuation you neglected to include.]

Step 3 — Proofreading

The artist puts finishing touches on the sculpture; you apply the final polish to your product. This is the last step before formally submitting your document. The story line is now tight, arguments well organized and logically substantiated, conclusion is synchronized with the opening, etc. Your last step is purging the document of mistakes. Look carefully for:

  • Sentence structure
  • Grammar (e.g., verb tense and punctuation)
  • Spelling, typos, use of quotations
  • Accuracy of citations

Pfshew! After considerable effort, you’ve finally completed that draft document. Are you done? If you’ve revised, edited, and proofread … YES and congratulations! You, too, have created a masterpiece.

About the Author:

Carla D Bass, Colonel, USAF (Retired), authored the award-winning book … “Write to Influence!” … and now gives engaging, interactive workshops tailored for professionals in the workforce to students from high school through graduate school. During her 30-year career, she taught professional writing to thousands of people – to rave reviews.

Credits:

https://slc.berkeley.edu/editing-vs-revision
http://www.readwritethink.org/parent-afterschool-resources/tips-howtos/revise-edit-30116.html
http://sites.middlebury.edu/peer_writing_tutors/2011/02/14/revision-editing-and-proofreading-what%E2%80%99s-the-difference/
https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/editing-and-proofreading/

 

 

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Aug 9th 2018

Motivate your kids to study

Parents Helping Children With Homework At Table

 

Guest post written by Eveline Heston.

Getting your children to knuckle down and study hard for their tests or do their homework can be very hard. Understandably, work like this can seem too complicated and too much of a strain for children, causing them to switch off and to avoid it. Avoiding studying or homework can start as an innocent act, but can end up in a dropping of grades, disciplinary from the teacher, and a sudden change in behaviour from your child. What is even worse is that the more they experience the result of their lack of work, the more they will descend into not working and misbehaving. Children need to study, it is beneficial for them and can help increase their knowledge and double their understanding, so here are a few tips on how to get your child to study.

Rewards: You could reward your child if they work hard for a certain amount of time, or get a specific piece of homework done. Now you might be thinking this means a material reward like money, a new video game or something similar to that, but it doesn’t have to, rewards can be anything, from material gifts to just vocal praise and encouragement. As unresponsive as your child may be, we as humans somewhat depend on gratification when we do something well. You tell your child that they are doing well, lets them know that you are aware of the hard work they are doing and that you are proud of them for it. This will encourage them to study more and to finish their duties.

Patience: Though you might want to get your child to finish all their work as quickly as possible, sometimes that is not the best way to go about things. Would you work better if your boss stood over your shoulder and poked at you until you had finished everything that you had to do at work that day? Exactly! People require their breathing space to complete things. Be a mature parent and take a step back, if your child has done an hours’ work and their concentration is wavering, let them have a break for a while and come back to their work after some rest. Tell them to play with some anti-stress toys and get all their stress out! They will go back to their studying in a more concentrated frame of mind than before. Have them rest or eat something to make them feel more alert and ready to study.

Understanding: Your children do not need to write an essay online just yet! What I mean by this is, though the work they are doing at the moment is essential, there’s no reason to think that they will understand everything entirely at first. They may have struggled in class with a specific aspect of the work, and that’s why they are now struggling with writing a critical analysis at home. Their confusion is not always a ploy to get out of work, and although you may not be an English professor or a mathematician, you owe it to your child to sit down with them and try and work through it to help them towards an answer. You may improve their understanding of the task greatly, and they will be able to proceed on to the finish line, all because you sat down with them and helped them through it. But even if they don’t end up understanding it, you will have tried your hardest to help them, and they will appreciate that in the long run.

The Bigger Picture: What are some of your child’s aspirations? Musician? Sports star? Astronaut? Well, they are more likely to achieve these if they do this work! Try and show them the palpable difference that doing this piece of homework can cause. It might help their understanding of the course leading to a better grade, which means overall better grades, which means a good university which leads to good connections and degree and results in a fantastic job! It may sound long and drawn out, but that is what happens! We cement our understanding in secondary school, and then we display that understanding at the university.

There are just a few tips to help your child to study, and to motivate them to complete their work. With schools getting tougher as they try and push grades upwards, we need to understand the position our children are in, and they have a whole lot to deal with. Looking around us at the world as it is today it’s a wonder they can even concentrate at all. But if you follow these steps, I am certain that with your help they will be able to study and retain an understanding of the work that they are doing!

About the Author
Eveline Heston is a freelance writer who has a year of experience in writing for educational resources. She majored in pre-school education and English language and literature, which helps her during her researches and guides.

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May 22nd 2018

Improve your writing and not just the grammar

Best writing improvement tips for 2018

A good writing is not just about grammar, it is about how well you can engage the readers. Having good writing skills is invaluable; whether you are sending professional emails, making reports and presentations or creating a captivating blog, it can help you to grab the attention of the audience. No matter how good your content is, if it is poorly written then your audience may not take you seriously.

I have listed down a set of steps that you can implement in your daily life to improve your writing and not just the grammar. Whether you are sending a professional email or making a report for your boss, you would want to make a strong impression.

With no further ado, let us get into it.

1) A structure is important: No matter what you are writing, having a structure is important. It should have a beginning, a main body and a concluding statement. Before you start writing, make a mental note of the outline. It does not have to be complicated, but make sure that you know what goes where: what will be in the introduction, in the body and in the conclusion. In case of blogs and reports, you are usually restricted by word count. In such cases, you need to divide the word count as well. Typically, 10% of the word count goes into the introduction and conclusion and the rest is for the body.

2) Choose your words carefully: Most of us unknowingly make the mistake of tautology. For the uninitiated, it involves repeating the same set of words frequently. Let me clear that up for you with an example: if you have written “organization” in one sentence, try writing “firm” in the next one. Use synonyms to avoid tautology. Not only will it boost your quality of writing, but it will be pleasing for the readers as well. However, using a variety of synonyms requires you to have a good base of vocabulary. You can improve it by reading a lot. Make it a habit. It will allow you to learn new words and their usage.

3) It should flow like a river: A moment ago, I talked about having a structure in your writing, which typically should have a distinct beginning, a body and a conclusion. Not matter what structure you follow, the transition between each segment of your writing should have proper continuity. You cannot abruptly start a new segment, which does not have a direct connection with the preceding one. Despite of having structural segments, your writing should read in a flow, where the transition between each segment is continuous.

4) Do your research: A good piece of writing is a conjugation of sufficient data, good vocabulary and structure. This is where your content comes into play. Make sure that the information that you are providing are accurate. Wherever possible, you need to reference the source of the information. The last thing a reader would want is well-written false information, so be careful about that.

5) People are busy, make it worth their time: Since brevity is the soul of wit, why do not we use it in our writing. You need to consider the fact that your audience consists of busy people. They do not have time to read through chunks of text to find very little information at the end. Be precise; you should not stretch a point more than it is necessary. Avoid filler words; although they may add a flair to the writing, but do not over use them. Put bulleted or numbered points wherever relevant. Make the paragraphs short; it goes easy on the eyes. If it is a report, give proper headings.

6) Proofread for spelling and grammar: Yes, they are important. Read what you have written and make it a habit. However, when the deadline is right on your throat, you may not have the luxury of doing so. In such cases, you can use applications like Ginger. It makes proofreading a breeze.

Improvement can only come from practice. Keep these six points in mind whenever you are writing something. It should definitely help you to improve your skills.

About the Author
Peter Lewis is a professional blogger. He specializes in the area of technology, current affairs and e-commerce. Through his insightful articles, he puts forward his views and facts on various areas of interest that can have thought provoking impact on the readers. Presently he is a contributing author in Penmypaper.

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May 17th 2018

Tips for Non-Native English Speaking Students

tips and tools

Writing in English can be a challenge, especially if you’re a non-native speaker. Writing academic essays in English is even more challenging, and many non-native English speakers struggle with this in college every day. It takes a lot of skill in language, syntax and grammar to effectively express your ideas, and this intimidates many non-native speakers to write in English. The language barrier seems like a hard wall to break through, but the truth is that any language can be learned, and good academic English writing can be accomplished in no time.

We have come up with a number of useful tips and resources to help non-native English-speaking students improve their English writing skills.

Read as Much as You Can
If you’re a non-native English speaker, you need to read everything you can get your hands on. Read books, magazines, blog posts, newspapers and anything else that you think you’d find interesting. Reading is the easiest and fastest way to learn a new language. Why?

  • It expands your vocabulary – The ideal way to learn new words is to see them being used in sentences. If you want to learn English specifically in your field of interest, you might want to stick to reading material that uses terms from your field. For instance, literature majors may want to read books with “bolder” English words, while business students may want to read articles that have business-related terms.
  • It helps you infer meaning through context – Forget about carrying a dictionary with you everywhere. Reading lets you practice contextual learning, which is when you read, word and infer its meaning based on how it was used. Plus, the more you encounter the word, you’ll naturally memorize it and come to know its meaning.
  • It gives you an idea of what different styles of writing are like – There isn’t just one sole type of writing. Sure, college almost always requires students to write using technical terms, but if you have creative writing classes (or maybe your professor just wants you to write in your own style), technical writing just isn’t a one-size-fits-all case.

Practice Your Writing
Reading would be useless if you didn’t put what you had learned into practice. Whenever you can, write — you could even create a personal blog where you narrate your daily experiences just so you can get the feel of writing. Let your native English-speaking friends read your work so that they can give you feedback. There’s no better critic than someone who knows and uses the English language on a day-to-day basis.

You could also practice copying because it helps you study each word as you write it down, understanding how it functions when placed alongside other words.

Use a Paper Writing Service
At some point (or at all points), every college student will become overloaded with writing college papers. It helps to be well-versed in terms of the English language — if you’re equipped with a high vocabulary and comprehension, then producing high-quality college essays can be a piece of cake. But, when there are too many papers to turn in, it can be difficult to write multiple technical essays and term papers of excellent quality, especially if you’re having trouble writing in English.

Paper writing services, such as College-Paper, can help you produce impressive and professional essays that your professors will admire. You simply need to provide the instructions for your writing assignment, pay a student-friendly fee, and wait for your paper to be finished. With your paper out of your hands, you can focus on other assignments while you continue to hone your English-speaking skills.

Make Use of an Online Grammar Checker like Ginger Software
You might have a brilliant idea for your paper, and you already know how you’re going to construct your essay. The only problem is, you aren’t a hundred percent confident in your grammar and spelling. This is a common problem faced by many, if not all, students, but there’s a quick student hack that can help you write the most kick-ass essay.

Online grammar checker tools are designed to correct your writing as you write. If you’re confused with the difference between “they’re” and “their”, or “its” and “it’s”, these online grammar checkers edit your text and highlight mistakes as you go along. Ginger Software is a handy tool for non-native English speakers, which lets students write on a clean and user-friendly interface. Mistakes are highlighted and suggestions are given for improvement.

Don’t be ashamed of using an online grammar checker — even the pros use it!

Study Both American and British English Writing
Although you aren’t obliged to learn both American and British English, it does help to familiarize yourself with some of the terms that may be different in both kinds of English. Knowing how they differ can help you write a consistent all-American or all-British essay, which for some classes really does matter. In spelling, for example, Americans write labor while Brits write labor. In a similar way, Americans use the term vacation to describe a getaway, while Brits would call it a holiday.

With these tips and tools, you can become an expert in all aspects of the English language, from spelling to grammar, and from vocabulary to tenses. You’ll finally get to write the most impressive essays — you might even write an award-winning piece, for all you know!

All it takes is discipline, patience and determination and you will be well on your way to writing flawlessly in English.

About the Author
Nancy Spektor writes about digital marketing and advertising strategies. She strives for learning and improving every day. Her favorite things to do are reading books, cooking and playing with her dog, Bok Choy.

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