10 Tips for Improving Your Writing Process

Start early.

This suggestion counters people’s desire to procrastinate, but the earlier you initiate the writing process, the better off you’ll be in terms of preparation, ability to change directions as needed, and minimize stress.

Pre-write.

Use the journalist questions, free write (writing continuously for a pre-determined amount of time), cluster or map, make lists (and then make more lists), draft a series of statements beginning with “What I know about X” and “What I don’t know about X.” Complete more than one prewriting activity. (Don’t skip this stage.)

Schedule.

Plan your writing times, much as you would schedule a class, a work shift, or a routine medical check-up. Furthermore, when you finish a writing session, jot down a note indicating your next writing tasks. Entering the next writing session with an agenda prepares you for a successful session.

Set measurable goals.

Don’t merely “schedule” writing from 8-8:30 p.m.; create a specific, reasonable goal. “Work on my History paper” is nebulous and unhelpful. “Draft five working thesis statements” is more specific, as is “draft 300 words” or “rewrite conclusion paragraph.”

Incentivize.

You might not enjoy writing as much as an English professor does, but you’ll still have to write a lot in college. When you finish a writing session, reward yourself! Play Xbox. Eat some good chocolate. Watch an episode of your favorite show on Netflix.

Eliminate distractions.

Those glowing rectangles with which you surround yourself. Your time is better spent on twenty minutes of writing (without distractions) than two hours of back-to-back Walking Dead episodes during which you occasionally scribble or type something. (See earlier tip about incentivizing.) Switch your tempting devices to airplane mode. Resist the urge to go online unnecessarily.

Be ready for ideas.

You don’t know when an idea might strike for your paper. You might have already completed some prewriting, even started a draft, and when you’re folding laundry (mindless tasks like this are great for thinking through writing projects) you realize your essay would be more promising if you wrote about Y instead of X. Have a place to jot down your ideas. A notebook. Record memos on your phone. Whatever the means, have a means to record ideas.

Separate drafting from revising.

It sounds counterintuitive, especially if you procrastinate and write that five-page paper the night before. In drafting, you shouldn’t pressure yourself for a “perfect” essay (whatever a “perfect” essay even looks like). Instead, your goal in a draft should be singular: finish the draft. Also, you are not “required” to finish a draft in one sitting. 

Revise.

It’s very rare that I receive an essay that wouldn’t benefit from another round of revision. Engaging in thorough revision facilitates successful writing.

Proofread.

Work from a paper copy and in a different font from the one you typically use. Separate final revisions from the proofreading stage by several hours (even better if you can sleep between the tasks). Proofread the essay, beginning with the last sentence, and then work your way backward until you eventually read the first sentence. In such a method, you are isolating each sentence as its own entity. You are (obviously) not reading for organization, development, focus (those are in the revision stages). 

The Department of English promotes the knowledge and appreciation of literature, introduces basic concepts of rhetoric and argumentation, and helps students master effective writing principles. If you are passionate about creative writing, communication skills, or critical thinking, we invite you to visit our website for more information.
Dr. Nathaniel Hansen

Dr. Nathaniel Hansen

I am an Assistant Professor of English at UMHB where I also edit the journal Windhover and direct the annual Windhover Writers’ Festival. My poetry, fiction, and reviews have been published in various journals and magazines.
Dr. Nathaniel Hansen

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Dr. Nathaniel Hansen

About Dr. Nathaniel Hansen

I am an Assistant Professor of English at UMHB where I also edit the journal Windhover and direct the annual Windhover Writers’ Festival. My poetry, fiction, and reviews have been published in various journals and magazines.