Tag Archives: professors

How to beat writer’s block.

Writer’s block.

We’ve all suffered from it. I certainly have and, at some point in time, I’m sure you have as well. Plenty of famous authors have succumbed to it, also. It’s an affliction common to both creative and academic writers alike.

There are many reasons to writer’s block occurs, and nearly just as many strategies to overcome or at least circumvent it. This week, I will cover those particular to academic writing, by going over scenarios that all students have found themselves in. By learning what to handle these kinds of situations, you can unplug the stopper, unblock your writing, and get yourself going again.

You’ve started writing your paper, but you don’t really know where you’re going with it.

This is probably the most common of writing blockages. You’re sitting at your computer starting your paper when you realize, “Crap, I don’t even know what I’m saying.”

This lost feeling is often the symptom of disorganization. I’ve talked about the importance of outlining in some of my posts on personal statements, but it’s just as relevant here as well. When writing an essay or paper, you need to devise a convincing argument– a thesis that is strong from beginning to end, and is presented and explained thoroughly and clearly. One of the ways to ensure this is by creating an outline, so that you can create a framework to build your argument upon.

But, in terms of defeating writer’s block, outlining helps clarify your own thought process. Staring at pages of academic research, peer-reviewed journals, and a blank word document will cause anyone to go into a foggy, non-writing trance. But, realizing that your thesis can be deduced to a basic logical structure, it can ease some of your anxiety. With a well-devised outline, you can see your argument unfold which, in effect, will help you see exactly where you should be going.

You have a topic, but you hate it.

The writing assignments that you dislike are some of the most difficult ones to write– this much is true. Whether you find the topic to be boring, the content disagreeable, or you just don’t understand the material, you have your reasons to dislike the assignment given, all of which are hard to surmount.

Unfortunately, there’s no way out of doing what is asked of you. Sorry, but there’s no way out of doing the work. That being said, you can get yourself through it.

As I have said earlier, you should aim for a topic that addresses the overall theme of the course– what does the professor want you to come away from course with? What major themes or ties can be drawn through the material? If you’re still having difficulty, then consider this: What aspect of the material did you like the best? Or, what can you at least explain the best?

If you’re still deep in trouble, try speaking to your professor or, at the very least, your TA. (This is when having good time management skills will come in handy.) If you are having trouble finding a topic that interests you, they should also be able to offer suggestions. However, if you’re you’re having difficulty with the material itself, you’re experiencing more than writer’s block, and should look to outside help. If this is the case, you must speak to your professor– not only so he/she could understand your predicament but also to better your own understanding of the task at hand. If for whatever reason they aren’t helpful to you (and they really should be if they’re worth their salt), try talking to your classmates. Or, find someone who has taken this class before. Even try speaking to your librarian. Your goal should be to reach out to someone who can give you some guidance– if you’re truly lost in the course, you need to throw out a lifeline. If you find yourself struggling with the material, it will make the writing process that much harder. Do everything you can to find someone to help you– most schools have some sort of advising or tutoring program that you can turn to for help, as well.

You just don’t want to write. 

Well, sorry to break it to you. There’s no real way to get out of this aside from taking an incomplete, dropping the course, or, worst of all, failing it outright.  As fatalistic as it sounds, even if you don’t want to write, you’ll have to resign yourself to the task eventually.

But, sometimes, this extreme dislike is often masking some other problem– do you not want to write because you don’t know how to engage the topic? Or do you not want to write because you don’t understand the material fully? Or, alternatively, do you just not want to do it because you’d rather play Words with Friends? Be honest with yourself. If you’re having difficulties engaging with the material or understanding the assignment, follow what I said above. Often, writer’s block emerges when you are experiencing some sort of difficulty with the assignment, so do a bit of a self-check up. Here, brushing up on your outline will help you figure what kinks need to be worked out– it will help you see where the fogginess is coming from. Talking to others, like your professor or classmates, will help as well– some outside feedback may just be what you need. Try to figure where this writing malaise is coming from; chances are it’s from being overwhelmed by one of the issues I’ve stated above.

But, if you don’t want to write simply because you “just don’t want to,” then you’ll have to get past that. There’s no easy way around it. Get off Facebook, Twitter, this blog, whatever. If need be, disable your Internet connection– save all your articles and research so you can work offline to avoid distractions. Do whatever it takes for you to stop procrastinating and get motivated.  In this case, talking to others may not be the best idea; you can’t afford yourself any further time away from doing what needs to get done. You might not like writing, I understand that. You might be one of those people who just don’t feel “right” in academia– I understand that as well. However, there is no salve or “quick-fix” to getting out of doing the work. (Or at least moral ones anyway, and I’m certainly NOT suggesting those by any means!) And, spending time away from the assignment is only putting off the inevitable which, as time goes on, will only grow in its dreadfulness. So, do yourself a favor and just get it over with. Stretch, go for a short run, take a shower, whatever– then, grit your teeth and rip the bandaid off and just do it. Trust me, you’ll be happier once it’s done.

How to make your professor like you.

How to make your professor like you. (From @boetter on Flickr.)

Now that the semester is fully underway, I’ve been getting a number of questions from students about how to ensure good grades by this semester’s end, from general paper-writing help to more subject-specific questions. However, an interesting one came to me earlier this week that I thought would be best served by a post all to itself (here you go, Erika!):

“How do I get my professor to like me?”

This question is an understandable one– after all, why wouldn’t you want someone to like you? Of course, there are more practical reasons to win over or even befriend your professor; for instance, your grades. You may also have to ask for a letter of recommendation— an equally important reason to give your professor your best impression. Or, you can be in search of an advisor to mentor you during your course of study, also a very important reason to win at least one professor over.

Professors can certainly be intimidating. They are in an authoritarian position, and are generally well-respected in their field– a field that you are still learning and still new to. But, here’s the kicker: professors are people, too. Yes, I know, this may seem like a surprise. But, consider why they would they chose to become professors in the first place. Ideally, they did so with the best intentions in mind– to educate people like you on topics they hold close to heart, whether it be English or economics, gender theory or quantum physics. As such, professors do want to see you succeed, especially in a field they love and enjoy being immersed in. For these reasons, don’t think that you have to do something extraordinary or tricky to “get” him or her to like you. But, you do have to put some effort into it.

So, here are a few tips on how to impress your professor– and maybe even become friends with them.

Have a good attendance record.

One of the key ways to impress your professor is to be present in class. I know this is somewhat of a no-brainer; after all, it’s hard to leave a good impression on a professor if you’re not there. So, make it a point to attend class, at all times. Yes, professors usually do offer some sort allowance for absences, but don’t take this for granted; avoid using “sick days” to play hooky, as you never know when you’ll really need them later in the semester. But, should you find you’re unable to attend class for whatever reason, let your professor know as soon as possible. Whether it’s because of illness, a family emergency, or work issues, a heads-up is always appreciated– it is considered a sign of a responsible student and is even just a nice thing to do.

Do your assignments.

Okay, this is yet another no-brainer. But, really, you must do all your assignments, written or otherwise. When I say this takes effort, I mean it– you can’t just glide through class, shirking off coursework, and expect a professor to have only a positive impression of you. While, yes, you can possibly get away with minimal work and input, you risk leaving at the very least a neutral impression, which is dangerously close to no impression at all. So, read all the assignments given, follow the syllabus, and do what is being asked of you. Follow all directions given to the letter, including deadlines. You certainly don’t want to be remembered for what you don’t do correctly– that is definitely not the way you want to get attention. If you have a question, don’t hesitate to bring it up to the professor; this will actually help you with the steps that follow.

Be active in class.

Imagine standing in front of a group of people, trying to explain a number of crucial concepts. Yet, some are dozing off, some are clearly distracted, and some seem to just not care. You ask a question… and you’re only met by silence. Consider what your reaction might be– would you be annoyed? Anxious? Maybe even aggravated? Regardless of which of these feelings you might have in this situation, I’m sure it’s not a feeling you’d want your professor to have during lecture or seminar.

While your physical presence is necessary to succeed in a class (see above), active participation is also key. You’ll need to pay attention, and participate in class discussion– yes, this includes volunteering information, not just waiting until your professor calls on you. Interact with the material; see what themes you can draw from the material (lecture, readings, etc.) and how this relates to the arc of the course. (I’ve written a few blog posts that elaborate on this.) If you’re not certain about the material, ask questions– openly asking about something you’re not sure about not only shows you’re paying attention, but that you care enough to ask for further explanation.

Talk to your professor outside of class.

Active discussion doesn’t have to be relegated to just class-time. Consider talking to your professor outside of class– either before or after class meets, or during his or her office hours. Is there something particularly exciting or interesting about the material? Does the class in any way relate directly to your field of study? If you answered yes to either of these questions, then you have plenty of fodder for conversation, especially if the part of your major or program of study. Talking to your professor about your academic interests is almost always a good idea. Not only will you gain upvotes in the eyes of your professor, but you could potentially open some doors for yourself– you never know if there’s an internship, assistantship, or other great opportunity around the corner. Likewise, this kind of discussion is what fuels great letters of recommendation— you’ll allow your professor to get to know you and also show them how much you care about your work, your education, and, yes, their class.