Tag Archives: focus

Super strategies for the self

by Anna-Zoë Herr

We have all been there. We all carry at least a little bit of guilt and shame with us for not being more of a superhero, like the people who are on top of their work, have a balanced life, cook beautiful Instagram-worthy meals every night, and travel to exotic places for no money. While I can’t tell you how to be a superhero, here are a few tips to help you become more productive so you can do what feeds your soul and feel super.

1) Remember why you do what you do.

One reason why we don’t do our work sometimes is because we are stuck in the belief that we do the work for others. That we write that paper for the professor, do that math assignment for our grade, go to college for our parents, and write a resume for our future. Actually though, none but yourself is demanding anything from you. Find reasons to do what you need to do that aren’t related to an outside source. For example, writing that paper will deepen your knowledge, help you become a better writer, teach you how to think more critically, etc., all of which are amazing skills to have for yourself in your own life. Becoming the person you want to be takes work, and all the small little things you don’t want to do typically somehow help you get there. Then all your work is not work anymore, but a step towards something more.

2) Beat Procrastination.

There is probably not a single college student who hasn’t used this word at least once. It is a common theme in the work or school life, and it is mostly related to those tasks we dislike or find challenging. How can we overcome this? Author Roy Peter Clark encourages a different perspective of procrastination when he suggests that we move from the word procrastination and instead think about it as rehearsal time. Let’s say you have a paper to write and it is lingering in the back of your mind and knocking on your mental door. While you procrastinate, it is still there. So, what if you still procrastinate, but use your time thinking about it by thinking about your topic, making a mental outline, reviewing pieces of sentences and related ideas. This takes away the fear of writing, potentially even makes you excited to get started, and you already have something on hand when you sit down on your computer!

3) Adopt a strategy.

Most of us think that we can beat ourselves to work harder through guilt and pressure. We wait for deadlines to become so overwhelming that we simply have to get down to work. Somehow, we trick ourselves into thinking that we will do a better job the next time, that we will be clever enough to start early. We think that we don’t need to manage ourselves, but in reality, we kind of do. So, sit yourself down and recognize the patterns you have that don’t help you out and create a strategy for yourself. Here is what I have learned about myself: I like to work with the Pomodoro timer (I use an app called “Tide” which I love) and I work better in the mornings because I just get slower and more distracted at night. I also noticed that when a lot of projects are happening at the same time, it helps me to work a little bit on all of them over a longer period of time, instead of working solely on one thing and trying to finish it before moving on to the next one. What are strategies you use?

Anna-Zoë Herr is a senior studying art and global perspectives, with a minor in sustainability. This is her last semester and she is spending most of her time either working on her capstone, investigating how creative literature and sustainability connect, or she is talking about it. Writing and reading have been a passion of hers ever since she was very young, and currently her favourite word is serendipity.

Strategies for tackling long-term assignments, part 2

by Maddi Demaree

Part 2: What if I don’t know how to start?

More techniques for tackling challenging assignments can be found right here on our blog, WriteHereWriteNow, but I’ll give you a few as well.

  • Make a list of the tasks that need to be accomplished. A list of these tasks might look something like this:
    • Decide on a research topic
    • Make a hypothesis/thesis
    • Gather resources (print, online)
    • Research & gather data
    • Write intro
    • Write body paragraphs
    • Write conclusions
    • Edit
  • Write these tasks into your calendar so you have a schedule to hold yourself to.
  • Meet with a writing tutor to discuss potential topics or how to find resources.
  • Schedule a meeting with your professor so they can give you feedback on the work you’ve accomplished so far.

But remember, the key to success with long term assignments is to “Start Early and Start Often.”

Maddi Demaree is a junior majoring in education and political science. Last spring she traveled on the Finland Abroad.

Strategies for tackling long-term assignments

by Maddi Demaree

Part 1: Start Early and Start Often

Well, you’ve made it through syllabus week, congratulations! The good news: you won’t have to hear the same spiel about attendance again for another seven months. The bad news: you probably received at least a couple long-term writing assignments. Especially in upper-level classes, these papers are ubiquitous. Now, flash forward to week 13. You’ve known about this assignment since the beginning of the term, but all of a sudden you only have five days to complete something that should have taken you all semester. Is it possible to avoid such a troubling fate as this?

Yes! The best way to avoid the desperate eleventh-hour cram session is to do something I like to call “start early and start often.” If a professor assigns something to you at the beginning of the semester that is due towards the end that means they you want you to be working on it all semester – starting now! The earlier you start, the better it will be. I have a few techniques I use to motivate myself to work on assignments even if their due date feels far away.

Start Early

  1. Begin your work on this assignment NOW. No seriously, right now.
  1. Don’t just look at the assignment one time today and then remember over Spring Break that you should have been working on it this whole time – putting focused effort (even if it’s not for long periods of time) will ease your burden later in the semester.

Start Often

  1. Put in on your calendar.

Scheduling time into your day or week to work specifically on an assignment will help make working on it a habit. If you have a weekly calendar, schedule in 30 minutes every couple days to sit down and work exclusively on that project.

  1. Have someone help you stay accountable.

Tell a friend, roommate, or even your RCE about your goal to work a least a bit on this project each week. Ask them to check in with you at the end of the week to see if you worked on the project. Sometimes, just telling other people about goals makes us more accountable about working on them.

Stay tuned for some tips if you just don’t know how to start that long-term assignment.

Maddi Demaree is a junior majoring in education and political science. Last spring she traveled on the Finland Abroad.

Writing for a reason

by Jessica Barker

As the semester comes to a close and deadlines quickly approach, the thought of having to write a paper can become daunting. But it doesn’t have to put a damper on the rest of your semester. If you start to feel discouraged or question the value of writing, remember that there is a lot of good that can come from it. Really!

Explore a topic that interests YOU

One of the best things about writing in college is that you are usually able to choose what YOU want to write about within the context of the class. Writing doesn’t have to be an excruciating process. Look for connections to the topic that interest YOU. They’re there, but it might take a willingness to look on your part. Plus, when you are writing about a topic that you are passionate about, the writing process can fly by!

Good practice for college and beyond

If you find yourself writing about a topic that you don’t find particularly interesting, it can be difficult to enjoy the writing process. But this work is not pointless. Honest! You might end up developing a new skill or learning about a subject that you wouldn’t have otherwise researched. You never know, this knowledge might come in handy one day. There might come a time when you need to use research skills, or when your growth as a writer benefits you in another class or in a job after college.

Contribute to the academic community

Although it may seem as though your professors just want you to regurgitate information, most of them would rather read about your discoveries and your ideas on a topic. If you write with this sense of curiosity and discovery, whatever you write about stands to affect your readers and therefore impact that field of study. That’s empowering. Your work is not worthless, and it is not busywork. It is valuable, and it can be powerful!


Jessica Barker is a sophomore majoring in theater and minoring in sociology and anthropology. After college she hopes to use theater to create social change and empower others.





“I don’t get it”

by Shannon Naylor

“I don’t get it” is a sentence I used a lot as a student. Sometimes it was uttered in exhausted frustration after hours of striving to understand a challenging text. But more often than not, I said it reflexively when I encountered something new, and it became shorthand for “I don’t want to make an effort.” When I said “I don’t get it,” I refused to engage with the material, so I never had any hope of gaining understanding, and I risked doing poorly in those classes.

The trick I developed for getting past that roadblock-type thinking was to tack one little word to the end: “I don’t get it…yet.” Yet is a promise that there is hope, that there’s an opportunity for change. But the material wasn’t going to suddenly make sense all on its own. I had to change how I approached it.

So how do you make the change happen? Here’s one method: Ask questions.

  • When you encounter difficult material that you “don’t get,” start by writing questions.
  • Keep reading or listening to see if they get answered. If they do, jot down the answers.
  • Identify questions you can answer for yourself: words you can look up definitions or key concepts you can Google or find in an encyclopedia.
  • Find questions you can puzzle through or make a hypothesis about, based on what you do know and understand.
  • If it’s appropriate, ask a peer or your professor any questions left unanswered.

This is a simple way to engage with difficult material. You move past the generic, dismissive “I don’t get it” and start to identify the gaps in your knowledge and understanding. Once you know where the gaps are, it’s a lot easier to begin to fill them. This doesn’t mean that it the material suddenly becomes easy and you don’t have to actively work at learning it. It will probably remain a challenge, but I hope that this strategy will make the work seem less daunting.

Shannon is the CTL post-graduate intern.

1-2-3-4 Introduction!

by Meredith Hamilton

Introduction paragraphs are easily the most daunting part of the writing process. It’s easy to feel intimidated by the sheer magnitude of information you need to convey. If you’re feeling this way, take a step back and take a deep breath.


  1. Logical organization. Think of your introduction paragraph as an upside-down equilateral triangle—broad at the top and focused at the bottom. Mirror this in your organization. Begin with a broad statement about your topic and slowly ease your reader into your focused thesis statement at the end.
  2. Assertive voice. Try not to use words like “seems” or “appears.” This will weaken your overall argument and not make the strong stance that your introduction paragraph should take.
  3. To the point. Don’t give in to the temptation to state all of your information in your introduction. I know it sometimes feels like you need to tell your readers everything at the beginning so that they’ll understand later, but this just isn’t the case. It’s actually more helpful to a reader if you keep your introduction simple and focused—drawing on the basic information that will best introduce your topic.
  4. Re-evaluate. Okay, so you’ve finished your introduction paragraph. Leave it alone for a few days. Let yourself have time away to think and evaluate. You’ll come back with fresh eyes and a new perspective! Then you’ll be able to revise your introduction as needed.

The key to a good introduction is a clear focus. If you know and can articulate where you want your paper to go, then your introduction will reflect your intentions. So don’t be scared! Introduction paragraphs are the best way to build a claim, and it’s about time you made your own claim!

Meredith Hamilton is a sophomore majoring in political science and English. Two of her favorite college experiences thus far have been studying abroad in England and Spain. 

Out loud and backwards

by Laura Tibbetts

Sometimes, by the time you have written a paper, revised it thoroughly, and gotten to the final stages of editing, you’ve read through it so many times that you practically have it memorized. Even if you haven’t quite reached that point, you might at least have a basic idea in your mind of how the sentences look and sound. If that is the case, it can sometimes make be difficult to notice small grammatical mistakes as you’re reading.

When this has happened to me in the past, I have found it helpful to follow some advice I received from my dad, who was an English major at Principia. His suggestion was to read papers out loud and backwards. Just to clarify, that does not mean reading the entire paper backwards word-for-word. Instead, you read each sentence forwards, starting at the final sentence and working your way backwards until you reach the beginning of the paper.

This is helpful for two reasons. First, reading the paper out loud causes you to look at individual words more carefully than you might if you were reading in your head. It changes the pacing of how you are reading, which also helps you to notice mistakes that you might not otherwise see. Second, reading the paper backwards prevents you from getting caught up in the flow of the paper and allows you to focus on each sentence individually, which helps you edit more carefully.

The out-loud-and-backwards technique has helped me on multiple occasions, and I hope it helps you, too!

Laura Tibbetts is a French and art major, and her favorite college academic experience so far has been studying abroad in France.

Use WIRMI when you’re squirmy

by Ellen Sprague

A student just left my office, the third this week to whom I’ve touted what is fast becoming my favorite revision strategy—WIRMI. When students come to me feeling squirmy about their writing; when they are confused and uncertain about why their professor has told them to “clarify” or “explain”; when their professor has dared ask “What do you mean?” in the margin—that’s when I like to pull out WIRMI.

I learned about WIRMI in Linda Flower’s now out-of-print Problem-Solving Strategies for Writing in College and Community. That title zeroes in on just what WIRMI does; it solves problems.

WIRMI stands for this:






Here’s how to use it:

When you’re working on clarifying a thesis, just start with “What I really mean is” and follow with a direct explanation. You can refine the language once you get the right ideas  onto the page.

When you’re writing or revising a draft, WIRMI can act as a placeholder—again allowing you to get the ideas out before worrying how to craft them into graceful prose (which comes after other revision steps). After the paragraph, or perhaps in the margin, write “What I really mean is…” and complete that sentence simply and directly. The new sentence will likely serve as the basis for a clear and accurate topic sentence.

Don’t worry about the actual words “What I really mean is” cluttering up your paper. In some instances you can replace WIRMI in your draft with something like this, “This means that…,” and again, complete the sentence. It will flow. In other cases, you can drop the initial phrase completely because the rest of your revised sentence will be clear and say, believe it or not, what you really mean!

WIRMI will help your reader understand exactly what you mean because you’ll actually have to write it clearly. Quit squirming and give it a try!

Ellen Sprague teaches Principia College’s writing/research tutor training course, Teaching the Writing Process, and manages the tutor program and this blog. She holds an MA in French from Middlebury College and an MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Capstone conquest

by EliSabeth Bancroft Wessel Meindl


We’ve all heard it, a lot of us know it as an old friend, or sordid enemy. And regardless of your relationship with it—whether you’re just getting to know it, talking about it, or already heavily involved with it, it’s a big deal. The secret that I want to let you in on is that (come closer)—it’s not. That final capstone product is made up of a dozen (okay, or more) little things that are completely in your grasp, even through blurred vision of sleepless nights.

Here are ten tips to help the process!

  1. Stay focused, go back to that contract and your advisor as many times as you need to make sure you’re not veering off the path of intent. You will find many tangents that could easily become their own capstones, so remember to keep your topic and purpose in focus. When I was first attending Principia I was in a class where there was a huge assignment due at the end of the term. We had been working on it the entire semester, and about three weeks out I was still unable to pull this thing to a manageable paper. So I met with my professor, who was kind enough to be blunt and tell me that I was ignoring the assignment. That’s why I was struggling. It happens, we get side tracked, so be aware of this pitfall and don’t waste your time.
  2. Be honest—with yourself and with your advisor. There is no person out there who is looking for you to fail, especially your capstone guide, so be willing to let go of the fear that you haven’t done all he or she has asked and keep recognizing that you are doing God’s work just as much as your own work. It’s our job to be obedient to the one Mind, and part of that is humility. If you’re struggling, talk to your advisor!
  3. Write what you know. That can’t be said enough! Write down all the things you know, and when you get stuck, sit down and write what you know again.  This will help you break writer’s block and give a fresh perspective or tone to your own “voice” in the writing, because there on the paper will be all those facts you’ve picked up during this project in your own words.
  4. Outline. The same five-paragraph paper outline they taught me in high school was where I started my 60-page capstone, and you know what? It totally helped. It gave me a simple starting place, and kept me focused in a logical direction. Point, sub-point, sub-point, repeat. There will be more than five paragraphs, and more than two sub-points, but creating a simple “form” to plug your information into it will help you organize your thoughts and all those factoids you’ve learned.
  5. Don’t pre-edit; it doesn’t help anyone. If you’re so distracted by the sentence you just typed that you’re not paying attention to the next one you’re putting down, you are pulling focus from every good idea you’re reflecting.  Just put the words down and let them sit together. Stay attentive to the ones you are writing and get through the whole idea before returning to check your commas or seeing if there’s a different adjective you would prefer to use. These are all important things, but they come later.
  6. Save multiple drafts. Label them any way you want, but don’t limit yourself to just one draft that you change again and again, because tomorrow you may realize that the silly idea you typed today was actually brilliant, but you can’t quite remember it. I went through 20+ drafts of my capstone. No, you don’t need 20 versions, but for me it was helpful to just “Save As” every time I went in to make changes or continue writing.
  7. You do have enough information. Don’t over-research. Write! So what if you have some holes—get the paper down and see what kind of Swiss cheese you’ve made and then go back and look for specific answers. But what if you don’t have enough information? Go back to your main sources: who are their sources? Go find them. It’s a good place to start if you haven’t already been there, but get it all down on paper first to find out
  8. Take breaks. Writing for 16 hours is impressive but highly unproductive. Set timers, use other homework as the balance, and tell yourself, “I’ll do 30 minutes of capstone, then 30 minutes of [blank].” After a 45-minute session with your capstone, stand up, walk around, and stare at something farther away than your computer screen. It will help you stay focused, and you won’t feel like your trapped under the never-ending project.
  9. Use technology for good. Install a blocker on your search engine that gives you five minutes to surf the Web in-between 25-minute blocks of Internet lockdown.
  10. Breathe. You’re going to do this.

Elisabeth Meindl resides in Bellville, Texas, and is a current MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts student at Goddard College. Last semester she completed and turned in her religion major capstone at Principia College.