Optimizing Writing Time: The Power of Planning

Spending more time planning than writing might be counterintuitive, but it can help reduce anxiety around writing.


By: Izzy Nichols (’20)
Second-Year Tutor

What is the first thing you do when faced with a blank page and a serious writing assignment? Often times, we jump right in and try to fill the page as fast as we can. There is nothing more anxiety producing than a blank page, staring back at you, with a deadline that seems to be approaching rapidly. So you just start typing. Anything. 

According to Courtland Bovee and John Thill in their book Business Communications Essentials (2015), writing should be tackled in a three step process: planning, writing, and completing. In the planning phase, you should focus on analyzing the situation, gathering relevant information, and getting organized overall (this is when you would develop a detailed outline). In the writing phase, the message is composed, and you carefully adapt the information to appeal to the audience. In the final stage, what the authors call the “complete” stage, this is where you revise, proofread, and produce the message.

What is surprising about this model is the recommended amount of time suggested to spend on each phase. The authors suggest that as a rule, writers should use roughly half of their time for planning, one-quarter of their time writing, and the remaining quarter for editing and completing the work. Using only a quarter of your time for writing seems counter-intuitive. We all just want to fill up the blank page as soon as possible. But as the authors argue, by devoting more time to planning, the writing process itself is faster, more efficient, and less stressful. 

As stated before, part of effective planning is creating a detailed outline. Therefore I would like to spend a little bit of time talking about how to create a “map” for your essay. According to The George Mason University Writing Center, outlines help to organize our ideas, visualize the structure of a paper, and develop the main points. Having an outline also makes it easier to see how each paragraph will connect back to the thesis and the main points of your argument. The first step is to write a clear thesis or purpose statement as a guide. Then, organize your outline in a way that best fits the requirements for the paper. Carefully read the assignment description, and make sure the structure of your outline addresses every requirement.  

The next step is to create a list with all the main points you want to make, and add any evidence and research that will help support those points. Just to try to organize your main ideas into a bulleted or numbered list. Under each point, indent and include the points you will discuss in each paragraph. You do not need to write full sentences in an outline, but make sure to include enough information to help you remember what you were going to say when you come back to the outline when writing your paper. The last stage is to carefully revise, edit, and make any changes to your outline that will help the paper flow better. It is important to not rush this stage. Remember, at least fifty percent of your time on task should be spent on planning. So don’t be intimidated by a blank page. Take a deep breath, commit to do the appropriate amount of planning, and know that it will help make the writing process more efficient and less stressful.

Writer’s Block: How Can We Fix It?

Writing can often be difficult, but when you finally find your rhythm again, it’s one of the greatest feelings.

By: Denver Williams (’20)
First-Year Tutor

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Writer’s block (/riderz blak/) noun: The condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.

We’ve all experienced it at one point in time. Whether you’re trying to complete an analysis essay on a book you’ve read in english class, a college essay, or a piece that you’re simply writing for fun. It happens to the best of us, and It’s frustrating. Not being able to think of the diction you would like to use, the way you would like your piece to be structured, or even a basic topic to write about can cause us to feel discouraged. I know I’ve been there before.

As tutors, I believe it’s necessary for us to discover different ways to cure writer’s block if we ever stumble upon it in the future.

The first step is to identify the reason for your for writer’s block. A common reason for most students is perfectionism. In high school, many students strive for the perfect score on an assignment. They believe that if they receive any score lower than the perfect score, then they have failed. Perfectionism may cause a student to try to create the perfect paragraph, or the perfect essay. But unfortunately, attempting to do so will lead to the student not being able to come up with single word, thus causing writer’s block.

Another common reason for writer’s block, is self-criticism. It’s our worst enemy. We compare our writing or public speaking skills to someone else’s and we draw the conclusion that they’re better than us. We hold these unrealistic expectations for ourselves, and this causes us to feel a high amount of pressure, which is never a good thing, especially when you’re trying to write. Psychologist Steven Pritzker PhD says that “what’s known as writer’s block is an “artificial construct that basically justifies a discipline problem. A commitment to a regular work schedule will help you overcome barriers like perfectionism, procrastination and unrealistic expectations.

Once you’ve identified your cause, you can now begin to search for ways to put an end to your writer’s block. A method that I always refer to, is asking my friends and family for ideas, and or help. When I was writing my speech for AP lang a few months ago, I entered a brief writer’s block phase, but then I started to utilize my resources. I asked my peers to read over my speech and to give their insight and ideas. Sometimes it not a bad thing to request feedback, especially when you’re struggling to figure out what you’re going to write next. But not everyone’s the same. Students may not always feel comfortable asking for help from other students, which is why you can always ask someone that you’re more comfortable with, ie. (a parent, a sibling, a teacher).

“What’s referred to as writer’s block is waiting for the third phase of creativity: inspiration,” says Oshin Vartanian, PhD, editor of the 2013 book “Neuroscience of Creativity.”

Finding inspiration is a great method for curing your writer’s block. When writing an essay for an english class, you can always ask your teacher if you can read a sample essay that someone has written in one of the past classes. (Teachers normally hold onto these), but if this fails, then don’t stop there! Use your own resources, refer to essays that you’ve written in the past, or even search for sample essays on the internet. There’s always inspiration out there, you just have to search in the right places.

At the end of the day, if none of these methods work for you, don’t give up. Writing can often be difficult, but when you finally find your rhythm again, it’s one of the greatest feelings.  If you feel like giving up, you must lift yourself back up, because in the long run, it’ll be worth it.