Feeling good about academic writing
However, in academic writing, it can help to try to replace negative thoughts with positive ones; if you can focus on enjoying academic writing, it can become less intimidating and as your confidence builds, you’ll find it’s a more positive experience for you.
Here are twelve tips on how to feel good about academic writing.
The writing environment
1. Find your positive writing environment
Having a positive space to write in is really important. There’s no such thing as a perfect writing space that works for everyone, but small changes you can make in your own environment can have a positive impact on your writing. Start by thinking about your lighting and writing space. You might find music can be helpful, so try different music playlists; many people find that having music with a strong beat and either no lyrics or lyrics in a different language can really help them with their writing. Others prefer silence or white noise, so find what works for you.
Think about mixing up your locations. Sometimes working in a library or coffee shop, surrounded by people and energy, can be a really good motivator. Similarly, sometimes working outside, or working on a sofa instead of a desk, as a change, can work very well. A change of scene can help you reappraise a task or give you a new perspective. It can also help if you write in the company of others even if they’re working on different tasks.
“I find different tasks work best when written in different places and different times. It’s like the paper is a living thing that chooses to come into the world in a particular way. Last year I wrote an entire report in an MOT waiting room; I have an article that will only be written in the garden, and another one that will only come to life on the sofa. It’s just finding what works for different tasks.” Kate Lister
2. Maintain wellbeing around writing
It’s important to listen to yourself and consider your mental wellbeing throughout the writing process. Many students assume that writing needs to involve a degree of suffering but that’s not true!
There are many wellbeing practices; it’s about finding what works best for you. First, it’s important to make sure you take care of yourself – taking regular breaks, staying hydrated, eating well and getting enough sleep. Additionally, some people like to use mini meditations, physical activity or even ice-cream! Try different wellbeing practices; there is no one-size fits all. Some people find colouring or doodling can help; others might find essential oils can help them keep in the zone. Also, wellbeing isn’t just about what you do, it’s also a state of mind. Accept that writing can be a gradual process. Be compassionate with yourself, don’t give yourself a hard time and do give yourself permission to have time off.
If necessary, feel free to seek support from your Student Support Team if you find you are struggling with your mental health and wellbeing.
3. Experience nature
There is lots of evidence that experiencing nature is good for mental wellbeing, creativity and writing. If you have access to a park or woodland, you might find it helps to have a walk or a run before you start writing. If you don’t, studies have shown that even looking at pictures of trees or nature, or watching short online videos of beautiful natural environments can help.
Watching animal videos can also help (as long as it’s productive and not a procrastination exercise!) For example, a study from the University of Leeds and Tourism Western Australia, found that watching videos of quokkas, the so-called ‘happiest animal on earth’, had a substantial positive lowering effect on stress levels and blood pressure.
4. Don’t panic
Sometimes when the writing doesn’t seem to be going well and a deadline is looming, students tend to panic. If you feel panicked, there are things you can do to calm yourself down.
Breathing exercises are a good place to start. There are many of these, and a lot of them have calming interactives online to help you. Below is an example of box breathing but do experiment with different techniques to find the one that works for you.
Once your breathing is calm, try to keep your thoughts calm. Visualisation techniques can help with this. For example, you can imagine your thoughts as a tangle of wool, which you then systematically straighten out, or maybe as a flyaway set of paper aeroplanes that you bring back down to earth. Or any other image that works for you. Once these feelings are reasonably under control, you might be able to channel them into a productive energy or adrenalin that can help you. However, if you find the panic is not abating, have a break. This is when it’s time to seek help, to speak to friends, family, tutor or a university support team.
Setting yourself up to write
Purposeful procrastination can be a powerful writing ally! Find something else that you really don’t want to do (clean the oven?) and make writing your only alternative.
“The thing I hate doing most in the world is ironing! I will always find something else to do rather than the ironing, even if it’s essay writing. One time, I was writing an essay and it seemed like an insuperable obstacle. It seemed like it was sitting there staring at me. The only thing that got me to finish that essay was finding something that I hated more – the ironing.” Cath Brown
6. Make a plan and set reasonable goals
Full writing tasks can feel daunting, even insurmountable. However, if you break the task up into manageable chunks that can be completed in a short study period, it becomes less intimidating and more do-able, and ideally more enjoyable. You might like to set yourself goals of completing a certain number of words or paragraphs or having a draft of a particular section or sub-section.
You could also consider goals around a period of time spent writing such as the Pomodoro technique where you study for a set period of 25 minutes followed by a break of 5 or 10 minutes. It’s important that the goals are achievable and are contributing to the final finished piece of writing. You can also find study worksheets online that can help you make a writing plan.
7. Have a reward system
When you’re planning your goals, make sure you set yourself a reward system for each goal you achieve. Rewards might be physical things, like food, drink or purchases. They may also be experiences, like trips out, games, watching a favourite TV show, or time on social media as a reward. For some people housework might be a treat!
“I like to reward myself with chocolate every time I have completed a set piece of writing, sometimes even two squares per page. I heard that dark chocolate is good for you!” Ruth Tudor
8. Sleep on it
If you’re stuck on a part of your writing, it can feel like nothing you try is working. This can be very frustrating if you’ve allocated a particular time for writing and you end up spending it stuck on something. This is when it’s time to leave it and move on, and then sleep on it. Many times, a problem or something you’re stuck on can sort itself out in your head while you’re sleeping, and you can wake up with new insight or clarity. In these times, it can be very useful to have a notebook and pen beside your bed!
“Sometimes if you’re feeling really tired, even having a short nap can boost your energy, make you feel refreshed and ready to start again.” Agnes Kukulska-Hulme
9. Get something on the page
The white page can be a terrifying space to work with. It’s important to break it! Start writing anything just to get something on the page; you don’t need to start at the beginning, just any thoughts you have are fine, even if they’re short notes.
It can help to start with parts that seem easier or more manageable. Start by drafting – even scribbles are fine - and set yourself editing goals. You might like to leave little notes for yourself within the writing and have a code for things you want to come back to. Don’t feel like every sentence you write has to be perfect – it’s more important to be creative and insightful at this stage and use the editing process to hone and refine your message.
10. Try starting on paper instead of the screen
Sometimes creativity comes better on paper instead of on screen. You might find it helps to start with handwritten notes, diagrams or mind maps; even doodles can be effective in the right circumstances!
Some people find that any scraps of paper are fine for paper-based planning, while others take pleasure in using a beautiful notebook or a practical A4 paper block. Some people may write an entire draft on paper before later transcribing it.
11. Take advantage of digital tools and technologies
There are a lot of tools and technologies available to help you with your writing; many of these are freely available on your phone’s app store or the internet. In the planning stage, digital mind mapping tools or note taking tools can be helpful. For the writing itself, dictation and auto-transcription tools can help you speak your writing instead of writing or typing it or can enable you to take voice notes for yourself. Similarly, tools can convert hand-written notes or drafts to digital text, saving you a lot of time. Digital tools, such as the Forest app or Pomodoro timers, can also support you to keep focused while writing.
If you have dyslexia, or other specific learning difficulties or disabilities, there is funding available to help you identify and pay for useful tools to help your writing; speak to your student support team for more information.
12. Celebrate your achievements and the end result
A good piece of academic writing is a finished piece of academic writing! Once you’ve finished writing and editing, it’s important to try to take pride in what you’ve achieved and completed. Adopt a growth mindset; recognise that it will not be perfect, and that every imperfection is a valuable learning opportunity. Try to see the benefit of identifying and reflecting on these, and don’t be afraid to ask questions or seek further support from university staff. This will go some way to developing your writing skills and confidence in the future.