Writing Center

Writing When You Don't Want To

by Matt Alexander, Writing Tutor


Life is hard; so is writing. Both are especially hard when passion is lacking. Toward the end of the semester, it's hard to be enthusiastic even when you like the topic. When I'm asked to write a final paper about the Federal Reserve, I think I'd rather die. I doubt I'm alone in writing long papers about what seem to be difficult, uninteresting topics as the current semester comes to an end.


We've all been asked to write papers about topics we don't care about, and some of us would rather do anything than write a class paper at all. So how should we power through and finish that 2,000-word assignment that is going to make for a dreadful, mind-numbing day or two? It makes you queasy just to think about the research, the pre-writing, the actual-writing, and the revising.


The first thing to do is start; procrastinating only makes things worse. I have first-hand experience with procrastination. Of course, not procrastinating is much easier said than done, and a discussion of it here would be an unnecessary tangent that I don't have the time nor will to write. I can recommend Tim Urban's excellent Ted Talk about procrastination, though. It's a helpful resource in understanding why people procrastinate in the first place. Anyway, letting the assignment ferment in the back of your mind won't do you any good, and ultimately will only make both the situation and the final product worse. Once you start, you might find the assignment's not as bad as you thought it would be. Hopefully, you'll find something about the assignment or topic that excites you, or maybe you find value in an area of the writing process itself. Maybe you're able to find a technique from that-author-you-like's writing that you'd like to sneak into your piece; do that! Of course, this technique isn't applicable to everybody.


This "incorporate-techniques-from-authors-you-love" recommendation is a moot point for those who detest writing/hate authors (I understand). But maybe, if that's you, being inventive/creative in a general sense is something you enjoy, and luckily there are workarounds available to you if writing itself is what you can't stand. Let's say you're me and you have been asked to write an essay about the Federal Reserve, and you've dreaded stitching together your ideas into long form essays ever since you were a kid. Oh, and you're a horrid procrastinator.


First, don't deep clean your apartment or workout for the first time in two years; this is not the time for any of that (although physical activity is good for brain activity, just saying). This is the time to write your Federal Reserve Paper. Now, let's say you're not me, and have done all the research needed for this Federal Reserve Paper. You actually know what the Federal Reserve does, understand the prompt, yada yada yada. But now, you have to actually write the paper. Oh geez. How can you make this tumultuous process come and go without you wanting to cut your arms off or consider a career in the fast food industry?


The first thing you need to do is envision how free and pure you'll feel when this wretched process is over. Envision the end-line, the reward! If you can't find passion in the assignment at all, think about why you're here and think about that sweet, savory grade bump you'll experience at the end of this process (because we both know you're gonna do great). Then, start working. Pre-write, free-write, brainstorm, get your ideas on paper. Here's a link with various pre-writing strategies. Organizing your thoughts will make you feel better. Eventually work your way toward an outline. Knowing what the finished product is going to look like will make the entire process much more manageable. Now, take a short break. Go vent to your roommates about how much you hate the Federal Reserve and words themselves. You deserve this break. You just pre-wrote. Now, get through whatever part of the paper is easiest to you. If that's the introduction and conclusion, write that. Now, take a break. Watch a movie, eat something, call your mother, I don't care, just take your mind off the Federal Reserve. The point I'm trying to make here is that you need to give yourself time to complete this task, and you need to reward yourself and give yourself mental breaks while you work on it. In my experience, saving unwanted tasks for the last minute is a recipe for disaster.


If any of these steps - whether it be pre-writing, or putting together an initial draft - becomes overwhelming to the point where you don't think you can go it alone, I highly recommend you talk to a trusted peer about your paper or make a visit to the Writing Center. Bringing other people's feedback and ideas into your work will do nothing but make your life easier and your work better.


My final piece of advice on this topic is that you simply write about things that you care about. If you're reading this blog, you're probably writing at least at a college level, and those classes are oftentimes open-ended enough that you have at least some choice as to what you are writing about. Writing is a lot like life in that it's all about passion. Writing without it is nearly impossible and an awful experience I wouldn't wish on most. If you find yourself writing about something as removed from feeling and humanity in my view as the functions of the Federal Reserve, do what I did in high school and sneak in some modulated lyrics from songs you are listening to as you draft. That's probably not a good idea, actually. But hopefully, you can find something you enjoy that makes sense to incorporate into your writing. If you can't think of anything else to give you joy as you draft, just envision yourself when it's over, doing literally anything else.

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