[FYW] Tip: Take some time before the semester starts to reflect on your writing

It’s about to get busy around here. Between the activity-filled days of Orientation and the chaos that is the first few week of classes, it can be near impossible to find the time to stop and take a breather. So, before you find yourself on fifteen different listservs and trying to shop three different classes that meet at the same time, it’s helpful to set aside a few moments to set some goals for the coming semester. If you hope to be producing better writing in December, you need to honestly evaluate where you stand today.

When you get a chance, try reflecting on the following questions:

  1. What do I do well? Are you able to write whole papers in one sitting with little to no interruptions? Are you particularly proud of your focused thesis statements? Do you write with mellifluous prose? Take pride in those achievements! Jot down a list of your strengths and post it somewhere within sight. Remember: these are the strengths you can fall back on if other parts of your writing are causing you grief.
  2. What aspects of writing do I struggle with? Time management? Maintaining focus? Wordiness? Simply getting the ideas from your brain to the page? Jot down some areas where you would like to see improvements.
  3. Pick one problem to make the focus of the semester. As opposed to trying to tackle all your weak spots at once, honing in on one critical component of your writing during every assignment you draft greatly increases your chances of improvement. Do you suffer from weak topic sentences? Make topic sentences the focus of your semester. In every paper you write, pay critical attention to your topic sentences and how they reinforce the overall argument of the paper. Bring your work to the Writing Workshop and asking the tutor on duty to concentrate on your topic sentences. Take careful note of any comments your Professors give regarding your topic sentences. Consider this semester a “topic sentence bootcamp”!
  4. Consider the problem area you selected. What type of instruction will best help you overcome this problem? For instance, say you’re great at churning out short response papers but are afraid of tackling more lengthy assignments. You would probably benefit from enrolling in a class that requires you to produce a long research paper. After all, the best way to make it over those hurdles is to force yourself to run at them. While browsing through WesMaps, take note of courses where the assignments align with your personal writing goals. If you’re unsure of whether a particular class works for you, don’t be afraid to email the Professor and ask! Simply explain that you are hoping to use this semester to improve your research skills and were wondering whether their class would be beneficial to those goals.

Taking the time to remind yourself of your strengths and organize a battle plan to beat down your weaknesses can do wonders for your overall productivity. A few semesters ago, I was struggling with finishing papers in a reasonable amount of time. It seemed like every assignment, no matter how long, took me hours to finish! I enrolled in a class that required us to write short response papers for nearly every class. I was so busy that I simply didn’t have the time to spend hours on each assignment and by the end of the semester, I was able to churn out papers much more efficiently.

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