From the Center

Reflections from W&M's Writing Resources Center

Category: writing advice (page 1 of 2)

Finding Your Voice

VoiceLet’s be real with ourselves for a second–we tend to get in our own way. We overthink and doubt our own abilities. This is especially true when it comes to writing. For years, I would sit in front of my computer and either stare mindlessly at the screen in front of me or write a paragraph and realize I didn’t like it and start over. Writing was a stressful process, simply because I was getting in my own way.

The question is, why was it so hard for me to just write?

As I’ve grown as a writer, I’ve realized the key to getting out of my own way is finding my voice. Often, a common link of frustration among consultees in the Writing Resources Center is lack of confidence in their writing abilities. I firmly believe that everyone has the potential to become a great writer if they take the time to find their own voice. You may be thinking, “Why should I find my own voice if people have already said something better than I ever could have?” I assure you that finding your own voice will lead to better writing. Of course, this is a process that won’t happen overnight, but it’s never too late to start! Here are my top 5 tips to begin finding your own unique voice:

  1. Describe yourself using 3 adjectives. Using different adjectives will help you get a sense of your personality. Your voice as a writer is a part of who you are and your personality is also a part of who you are! Combing the two may help you find a style of writing you like the most.
  2. Make a list of what you like to read, such as books, magazines, blogs, comic books, etc. Can you find any similarities between them? How about any differences? What genres are you drawn to? Is there a particular writing style? We often admire who we want to be, so what is it about these readings that intrigues you?
  3. List your cultural/artistic influences. I am a singer, and people often ask me who my musical influences are because they affect the nuances in my singing. This can be true for writing as well. Are there any figures in pop culture that inspire you, such as journalists, actors, slam poets, etc? How can these influences inspire your writing?
  4. Write in another environment. I can’t always work in the library and need to find inspiration in other places. My favorite place to write is Lake Matoaka because the surroundings are calming, and I can breathe in fresh air for a clear mind. Try walking around campus to find new spots to write! Even take advantage of the beauty in Colonial Williamsburg and find a nice quiet place to think outside of campus.
  5. JUST WRITE! The best way to find your voice is to simply sit down and write. Write what’s most comfortable to you without any editing and see what you can come up with! This is a great way to see your voice come to life on paper. Also, look at what you’ve written before. You may discover that your unique voice is already emerging in your work.

These are a few ways to begin finding your voice. It may not be as easy as I made it sound, but the journey is certainly worth it.

Image: https://seanwes.com/podcast/116-how-to-find-your-own-unique-voice-and-style/

The Anxiety of Beginnings

fountain-pen-on-paperTrips to Wawa and hanging out on the Terrace define my experience here at William and Mary, but so does the struggle to begin writing papers. Here a few strategies from my arsenal that make getting started on paper-writing just a little simpler.

When getting started, make a checklist. 

And not a checklist that says “write paper.” That can only be checked off, well, in that distant time when the paper is finally done.

Instead, I have a checklist that is much more focused on each step of writing. My average paper-writing checklist looks something like this:

  • brainstorming
  • refine brainstorming by sequencing ideas
  • flesh out thesis
  • figure out topic sentences
  • go outside and find a dog to pet**
  • write intro and conclusion
  • develop body paragraph structure
  • plan structure of body paragraphs based on topic sentences
  • ⅓ paragraphs done
  • ⅔ paragraphs
  • binge watch Parks and Rec**
  • channel my inner Ann Perkins and do something nice for another person**
  • all body paragraphs done
  • adjust intro and conclusion accordingly

(**Optional-ish)

When I check off a box on the checklist, I am motivated to stay productive because I know that I have at least begun the writing process. This system might not work for everyone, but the age-old tip of breaking large tasks into small, bite-sized steps is pretty golden advice.

When brainstorming, don’t dismiss your own ideas.

One trap that I fall into when brainstorming is dismissing ideas as “too dumb” to be included in the paper. Simple ideas form the basis of more complex ideas; when dismissing ideas, you narrow the scope of ideas that have the potential to form the foundation of your paper. It’s one thing to remove ideas from your paper once you’re finished outlining – that likely means that the idea may not be relevant to your thesis. At the brainstorming stage, however, all ideas are game. Once all ideas are on paper in the form of questionably legible half-sentences in a notebook (my way of brainstorming, though that might not be the best format for everyone), you’ll discover trends in your ideas. These trends and patterns in your ideas will form the basis of your thesis.

It’s super important to begin the first stage of writing with self-validation in order to stay motivated. Don’t doubt the strength of your ideas when brainstorming!

When done with your writing, take time to appreciate what you’ve created.

Part of what makes writing so daunting is not taking the time to look back and appreciate what you have created. Seeing what you’ve written is a reminder that you seriously did transform some ideas in your head into a real paper. The real world calls for people to take concepts and turn them into something tangible through the writing process. It is an incredibly powerful gift to have the chance to take your ideas and systematically validate them. While writing papers can be challenging, they are part of what makes our liberal arts education so valuable.

The Abbey Road Medley and Writing

Transitions and conclusions vex me, and I think many writers feel similarly. I know it matters that I carry my reader along with me from paragraph to paragraph, but I also don’t want to drag them. I’m looking for something between a sentence that begins with “Now I will transition…” and nothing at all.

Not that it’s so terrible to be direct, at least the first time. However, variety is the key if you really want to impress with style, and I think we can take the medley on the B-side of Abbey Road as an example of a variety of transitions. The Abbey Road Medley is a series of eight songs that transition easily from one to the next, but in different, creative ways. The first transition, from “You Never Give Me Your Money” to “Sun King” is possibly the most subtle. The song itself actually ends, in terms of the chords, rhythm and melody. All the voices and instruments fade away, until the listener is left with the sound of a strange little cricket.

The cricket is a small detail, something irrelevant to the music. However, the cricket’s chirp continues across the break between the tracks, and just like that the group makes the transition. The Beatles can continue with “Sun King,” one of Lennon’s trippy, relaxed songs in the tradition of “Dear Prudence,” knowing that their listener is still with them. Being insinuated comfortably into this song makes a considerable difference. “Sun King” itself is droning and otherworldly, and written in nonsense Portuguese. This leaves us with the question of how to transition out.

The answer the Beatles gave was letting the last chord, the resolution, of “Sun King” run into the next song, “Mean Mr Mustard,” basically moving the break slightly into “Sun King.” Although “Mean Mr Mustard” now begins with a chord that is very misleading, that’s mostly a problem if you’re analyzing “Mean Mr Mustard” as a discrete song or listening to the song in reverse. As much as I like this track, I don’t know of anyone who listens to it that way. Interestingly, the ending is the exact opposite. “Mean Mr Mustard” simply ends.

“Polythene Pam” begins abruptly. The listener knows another track must be coming because “Mean Mr Mustard” has concluded, so the next track, giving you no downtime whatsoever, gets right down to business with a hard and fast chord progression that comes back with the chorus. If every transition was this abrupt, the listener would be disoriented, but it’s refreshing as one form of transition among others.

Abbey Road

Much like sentence structure, I find the key to good transitions is variety. I’ve tried to use the medley from Abbey Road to demonstrate a few different ways to transition between paragraphs, and if you listen to the medley, you may be inspired by a few more I couldn’t articulate here. Hopefully you’ll even find some inspiration regarding conclusions.

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