January 2013 -->

Walden University Writing Center

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

The Year of Productivity, Part II: Actions

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Writing Center staff
Last week Walden Writing Center staff declared their 2013 writing resolutions on the blog. But we all know resolutions don’t amount to anything without action, right? To achieve their goals, tutors and editors will be following recommendations from past instructors, established writers, and colleagues. You can use these same recommendations to maintain a long project, tweak your writing process, or create better habits. We asked Writing Center staff What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

On establishing a writing routine:

Tobias: Write every day. Everything else is secondary, even the health of family and the status of relationships. Period.

Paul: Reward yourself! I don’t know if holding out the lure of cake really gets me to write more, but at least I get cake!

Deanna: Write 2-3 stream-of-consciousness pages daily to fight Writer’s Block, to alleviate Fear of the Blank Page, and to stretch the Write-Brain muscles.

Is cake the secret to writing well?
Jen: Write every day. No excuses. Even if it's just a couple of sentence fragments scribbled on the back of an envelope while you're making dinner or changing a diaper or folding laundry. It all counts.

On approaching a topic:

Melanie: I use the funnel to narrow my ideas from general/broad to specific/focused. Readers need background details (my topic’s introduction) earlier in my paper. That introduction gives readers context to understand the more specific issues I want to raise later in my essay. I use the funnel for research, too. I begin with broad library searches and then narrow them with specific keywords as I learn more about my topic. 

Rachel: Write without fear. While I received this advice when I was tackling creative topics (inevitably there are taboos that come up in certain writing environments), I think this is applicable to scholarly writing as well. Sometimes writers are afraid to step out, to risk vulnerability or depth. It is much simpler to skim the surface of a topic, but truth and depth are what make up the nature of good writing.

On choosing words:

Brian: Why are you writing like you know what those words mean? [My freshman comp instructor referencing my poor attempt at an inflated and unnecessary vocabulary.]

Nathan: Quit showing off! – Multiple professors. If there’s a single value that I took away from being an English major, it is that writing needs to have a purpose (to educate, to entertain, or other) that supersedes the demands of style. Back in school, I used to think I was a pretty good writer, but all I was really good at was sounding clever and smart, and my ideas suffered as a result. My professors at school taught me to hone my style to a bare minimum and eliminate all those superfluous rhetorical gestures I had wrongfully associated with “writing skill.” Today I know the purpose of good writing is to be clear and compelling to the reader, not flattering to the writer’s ego. When writing creatively, I try to ask myself this question: Can I make this sentence or idea even simpler? The answer is often yes.

On revising:

Amy: Revise. It is not a novel idea, but it is definitely the most helpful part of the writing process for me. I used to become paralyzed with fear when confronted with a blank page, so my way of getting over that is to vomit words onto the page. The revision process is where I do my best work. I clean up and clarify my thoughts, organization, and grammar.

Sarah: Always have a second set of eyes read over important writing drafts. That second pair of eyes always finds mistakes or clarity issues that seem to make perfect sense in my own mind.

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The Year of Productivity, Part I: Resolutions

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Writing Center staff
By Walden Writing Center Staff

Let’s hope you are no longer writing 2012 on your checks or in your diary, and that your holiday decorations have been stowed. Yes, it’s a new year—full of promise, possibility, and subzero temperatures. Walden Writing Center tutors and editors recently huddled inside, away from the brutal winds of Minnesota, and talked about their goals for 2013. 

Specifically, they answered the question What is your writing resolution?

A few plan to read:

  • Tobias: Resubscribe to The New Yorker and read it every week, before the new issue arrives. 
  • Sarah: Listening to NPR recently, I heard an author talk about a book in which the process of writing a novel was broken down into steps over a period of 90 days. Because I always have problems with motivation, my resolution is to actually read this book. I’m hoping it will give me some ideas for staying committed and on task. [Editor’s note: The book is called The 90-Day Novel by Alan Watt.]
  • Deanna: Write, read, or recite a poem a day.

Others will write in their journals:

  • Melanie: I’m writing in my journal for a few minutes every day or two. It keeps me observant throughout the day. I pay closer attention to ideas that percolate while I’m at the office or in traffic. Writing helps me keep track of those ideas, too. If I hatch a plan for research or baking or knitting, I describe it in my book. The idea will develop or drift aside to let stronger ideas through. Finally, writing in my journal helps clear my head. Reflecting on today helps me organize my thoughts and be more efficient (and observant) tomorrow.
    New Yorker cover
  • Jen: Honestly, with two young kiddos in the house (my oldest is 3.5 years and my youngest is 8 months), I have to keep my writing expectations realistic, which is to say minimal. When I'm not wearing my editor hat, I'm a poet and nonfiction writer, and much of what I write is drawn from the material of my own life, so right now my focus is on maintaining my repository of material (also known as my journal), so when I do have time to write seriously again, the moments I want to write about are not lost in the twilight. My resolution for this year, as it is every year, is to keep up with my journal, which means writing at least three or four days a week, recording moments, stories, problems, responses—whatever seems most important to remember about these early days of my children's lives and my life with them. I write as much as I can, whenever I can—often late at night—and with as much clarity and detail as I can muster in my perpetually sleep-deprived state. And then I just hope it's enough.

Still others pledge to stretch themselves as writers—by breaking the procrastination habit, taking on new strategies, or seeking publication:

  • Paul: Finish drafts well before deadlines so that I have time to revise! I am a horrible procrastinator and usually scramble to get even a first draft done by deadlines. My writing gets infinitely better the more times I revise, though, and I need to work on getting a first draft done earlier so that I can revise multiple times with feedback from friends.
  • Amber: In 2013, I plan to copy the writing strategy of a friend of mine. Rather than waiting for the mythical free afternoon to offer itself up to me, I am planning a 15-minute writing break into each morning. I prefer to work in longer stretches, but those aren’t often available to me these days. My challenge will be to learn to work within the time frame I have, rather than wishing for the time frame I prefer.
  • Nathan: Write more about themes or subjects I am less familiar with, and write less about the things that I know (particularly myself).
  • Rachel: Actually stick my neck out and submit some of my work for publication. It’s a little bit scary to take that step, but I guess I need to take some risks in order to get anywhere.

Finally, we cannot forget the little things:

  • Amy: To integrate a wider variety of vocabulary.  By doing so, I hope to avoid clichés and words that have atrophied due to overuse (such as awesome and great).
  • Brian: To not use sentence fragments. Ever. Even if I’m tempted.

What’s your 2013 writing resolution? We wish you good luck!

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There’s an App for That: Top 5 Writing Apps for 2013

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Julia Cox
By Julia Cox, Writing Consultant

Do you ever wish an omnipotent force would freeze your browser and lure you back to your writing project? 

Not to be cliché, but there’s an app for that. Technology has made it easier than ever to manage your time, enhance your writing, and achieve your academic goals.  As I sit here attempting to write this blog post on a sleepy Sunday—with open tabs of Facebook, Perez Hilton, Oprah.com, and Gchat—I can certainly relate.

In no particular order, here are some popular apps to help you make the best of your writing:
Freedom literally takes away your ability to browse the web during certain hours. Simply load the software, tell the program how long you wish to write internet free, and it does the rest.  Highly recommended for procrastinators, blog junkies, and professional time wasters.  If the antics of Justin Bieber hinder your writing goals, this app’s for you.
Adhering to the mantra of no bad crash goes unpunished, Dropbox prevents a computer disaster from signaling a lost document. Available for computers and mobile devices, Dropbox saves all files to a cloud folder accessible anywhere.

Grammar App HD 

This app contains four sections—Learn, Test, Games, and Progress—helping users master trickier grammar topics. You can also use Grammar App as a guidebook for common rules and guidelines.

Dragon Dictation

Ever had a brainwave on the go? Needed to jot down a personal communication? This iPhone/iPad app is a transcriber for the future. Simply speak into the app and it generates text. You can then email it to yourself or store it on the app. You can even tell Dragon Dictation to send texts!

Advanced English Dictionary and Thesaurus

This is not your average mobile dictionary. With 250,000 entries, 1.6 million words, and 134,000 pronunciation guides, the AED can help you determine the right word, access synonyms, discover root words, compare multiple meanings, and find examples. It’s also excellent Scrabble training.
Have a favorite writing app not on this list? Feel free to Tweet or Facebook our pages and tell us about it!

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Steer Your Reader Right With Effective Transitions

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Photograph of Kayla Skarbakka
By Kayla Skarbakka, Writing Consultant

As Sarah noted a while back, our lives are filled with transitions ranging from the petty to the profound: one mood, time of day, year, or period of life to another. Just as transitions help us navigate and find meaning in our lives, they can help us find cohesion in our writing. It makes sense (both in life and in writing) to acknowledge shifts in time, situation, or thought rather than jumping willy-nilly from point to point.

It’s not enough, though, to just sprinkle a few random transitional words into your paper. Instead, use transitions mindfully to highlight clear and thoughtful connections among ideas. Consider the following tips to ensure that your transitions are always appropriate and effective.

1.  Different types of transitions require different levels of acknowledgment. 

On my friend’s birthday, I sent her a card. When she got a new job, I called to congratulate her. When she got married, I bought a plane ticket to be there in person.

Just as we observe life transitions in different ways, depending on their significance, you’ll want to be aware of how you emphasize transitions in your writing. Transitions between sentences are generally fairly short; transitional terms such as for example, however, similarly, and additionally are often sufficient to help connect ideas within a paragraph.

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Writer's Workshop #6: Visualize to Revise

Hillary Wentworth
By Hillary Wentworth, Writing Specialist

If your paper was a shape, what would it be? A straight line, an octagon, a DNA-style double helix?

I once participated in a workshop where attendees were asked to visualize their essays as just that: a shape. Thinking about my work, I picked up some colored pencils and began to draw on a plain white piece of paper. Even though the act of scribbling made me feel a bit childish, I took the exercise seriously. During those 10 minutes, I created a multicolored swirl where each pencil color signified a different theme in my essay. As the swirl began, the colors were separate, weaving and wandering, until all coming to a pinpoint at that conclusion.  Another participant imagined his essay as a pyramid, another as an arrow, a balloon, and so on.


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