When someone learns a new, complicated process for creating something, the first attempt may not be perfect. In fact, it’s often a flub! How many of us have attempted a new recipe only to end up with something we’d hesitate to feed a dog, or worked on a project for a long time before realizing we made a crucial mistake early in the process? Sometimes, we are able to spot the deleterious or beneficial influences during the process of creation, but just as often, it is only later we are able to look back and identify the complex effects of our environment and processes on our product. To extend the cooking analogy: When my mom forgot the sugar in her cake, she didn’t realize it as she cooked—she only realized it when she ate the terrible cake. The same can often be true for writing! When a writer is in the heat of the moment, pen blazing or keys clacking, it can be hard to step back and see how one’s own thoughts or surroundings are influencing the writing. This is one reason writing teachers often ask students to engage in reflection: in order to make visible the processes and results of drafting and revision. When students can articulate what helped them be successful and what may have contributed to a botched assignment, they can work on their own process in order to produce a better product next time. Some of our own students can help illustrate this principle through reflections they created in their English Composition I class with Professor Robinson.
Procrastination is one of the most common elements students identify as problematic in their writing process. First, Morgan Sadnick recognizes that “Writing papers for any class can always be stressful.” No matter the topic or assignment, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed when faced with the blank page. Most students recognize that procrastination can create even more anxiety, as Sadnick attests: “Doing the assignment the night before always adds a level of stress that should not have to be there while writing. . . The skills do not always come naturally for all people.” Even experienced writers can get overwhelmed, and for first-year composition students, that pressure can feel incredibly heavy. To help avoid this problem, Logan Cheatham reminds us, “One thing I would advise for anyone looking to writing their first essay is to not procrastinate. Dividing the work over a couple nights is beneficial because one can get a more quality essay without stressing the very last night. Taking multiple days also allows someone to be more likely to catch a simple mistake they could’ve missed.” Breaking an assignment into manageable chunks and working on it piece by piece is a good way to achieve a writing goal, while leaving it until the last minute almost guarantees a poorer product.
Another major influence on writing is our surroundings. For some writers, home is a great writing harbor. IVCC student Jessica Gleason agrees: “An important part of creating an essay is being able to focus while writing and thinking about the topic. I do my best thinking and writing at my house. For me, my home is a very relaxing environment and when there I am able to fully focus on the topic provided. . .” However, what sounds relaxing for one person might be distracting to another; a single mom with kids tugging at her pants may not find home to be the best writing environment. Cheatham suggests writers “find out where one writes best. For me, it is usually in a quiet space with as little distraction as possible.” You can find spots like this at IVCC in the Learning Commons computer lab, the Writer’s Workshop in the Writing Center, Jacobs Library, or other nooks around campus. Other writers find hustle and bustle inspiring, and may work at a busy coffee shop, the Student Life Space at IVCC, or another location. Find out what environment best suits for your writing process, and work to create opportunities for yourself to get there.
Taking the time to articulate what writing process works best for you and thoughtfully engaging in it for each writing assignment will help create the best essay you can. With the help of her teacher and a solid writing process, Myah Trujillo has experienced this already: “Whether it’s an important email or a recreational post, I feel more confident about getting my points across in a well thought-out manner.” So many writers lack confidence in their work, and one influence on this uncertainty is a haphazard writing process. A writer whose process is scattered is more likely to create a scattered essay, while a writer who creates an effective writing process may produce steadier, more confident writing—and just plain feel better about it! Gleason shares the steps in her successful writing process: “When I first received the prompt for the work essay, I approached the topic by brainstorming a list of possible topics I could use to write my essay on. After brainstorming topics, I chose the one that most interested me and brainstormed about subtopics that fit within it. Next, I wrote out an outline for my topic and then created a rough draft by writing down all the thoughts I had about my topic. Through all of these steps, I was able to approach the assignment and create a well-polished final essay.” These steps probably sound familiar; they are tried and true steps on the road to writing success. If you don’t know what a solid writing process looks like, Gleason’s example is an excellent place to start!
In their reflections, several students also identify getting feedback on a rough draft as a key part of their process. Of course, it’s a great idea to have others review your work, but you must take great care with who you ask for help! Even college graduates or strong writers in professional jobs can give utterly terrible advice for writing in college. They have not been sitting in your class, nor do they know the expectations of our faculty. The way they cited sources may be outdated, and perhaps they never learned a crucial tidbit that plays a key role in your project. Many, many, students have received horrible writing advice from otherwise wonderful, brilliant people! Therefore, when pursuing writing feedback, it’s a good idea to rely on feedback from your class peers, professor, and Writing Center tutors. In fact, some students recognize the Writing Center as an integral part of their writing process; Sadnick calls it a “wonderful asset.” In class, you may have the opportunity to do peer reviews, which can also be very valuable. Alexis Borg agrees: “The advice I would give to new students would be to get as much peer review and help with your paper because in the end your paper will be much stronger.” When every writer in class offers thoughtful feedback to her or his partner, every student receives something valuable in return for the effort.
If you take some time to reflect on how, when, and where you usually write, you can probably articulate your best-case writing scenario as well as the factors that tend to drag down your writing. Furthermore, you may find your writing process does not look like everyone else’s, and that’s OK. What’s important is to find what works best for you—and you may find yourself arriving at a wonderful destination, as Ally McMichael did: “I was able to express emotions I didn’t even know I had.”