This semester, I took my first
fiction workshop in Princeton’s Creative Writing Program. I had taken two
poetry courses in previous semesters and wanted to try something new. (Pro-tip:
if you haven’t yet taken a CWR course, definitely consider applying for one
Creative writing is, in many ways,
a break from academic writing. It does not center on data, analysis, or
argumentation. Instead, workshops focus on developing compelling images,
characters, stories. Creative writing also has access to a wider variety of
forms than academic writing, which tends to adhere to a narrow set of
relatively conservative styles.
However, some of my workshop instructor’s writing advice has translated well to my academic writing. After all, writing is writing, and many of the same challenges confront both creative and academic writers. Below I’ve collected five of her best pieces of writing advice:
For this year’s Winter Seasonal Series, entitled Research Resources: Unsung Heroes, each correspondent has selected a faculty member, staff member, or peer working for a research resource on campus to interview. We hope that these interviews will provide insight into the variety of resources available on campus and supply the unique perspective of the people behind these resources. Here, Soo shares her interview.
As part of the Winter Seasonal Series, I interviewed Johanne Kjaersgaard ’22, an international student from Aarhus, Denmark. A prospective Politics major, she currently works as a Fellow at the Writing Center, one of the most widely-used academic support services on campus. Writing Center Fellows take on a variety of tasks, from guiding students in formulating and structuring papers to also offering advice to juniors and seniors in developing their senior theses and navigating their independent research projects.
It can be difficult to find the perfect place to write. When I leave my afternoon classes, I often find myself standing on the sidewalk, unsure of where to go next. There are so many study spaces on this campus, but some days nothing feels right. (For some ideas, check out Nanako’s post about finding the perfect space for you)
The space where I work matters. And frustratingly, what I
need in a study space is in constant flux, depending both on my mood and the
type of work I need to get done: energetic spaces for sleepy mornings, quiet
spaces for more focused work, and so on. Over my few years at Princeton, I’ve learned
how different study spaces affect me: campus cafes are energizing, but
distracting; Firestone carrels are productive, but isolating; and my dorm room puts
me to sleep within fifteen minutes—no matter the time of day.
With larger projects like a thesis or final paper, though,
it can be even harder to find the right space to write. In my experience,
larger projects require more focus and endurance, making it hard to be
productive in a loud, busy space. On the other hand, the prospect of extended hours
in library isolation is almost always unappealing to me.
One of the challenges of college is assimilating large amounts of information from a variety of sources: lectures, course readings, independent work research, precept discussions, extracurricular programming—the list goes on and on. Compounding the challenge is the fact that what’s ultimately demanded of students is not mere recall, which can be accomplished through memorization. Rather, we’re charged with synthesizing disparate materials, pulling things together, making connections across genres of information. In this post, I reflect on some of the ways I try to do this. Continue reading Tips for Synthesizing Information
A professor recently offered this advice in class: if writing a paper isn’t going well—if you’re feeling the notorious “writer’s block,” for instance—then try writing a letter instead. In his view, this needn’t be a real letter to an actual person. The main point is to try to explain what you hope to achieve in a different way to a different audience.
Though I’d never tried letter writing of this sort before, I immediately appreciated my professor’s advice because of how it connects to a practice I’ve implemented in my own life for quite a while. That strategy is to “talk it out”—to take a break from a task that’s frustrating me and talk through the problem with a friend. This is the first reason that I think talking about research is helpful for each of us: it helps us clarify our aims and work through challenges. Continue reading Why You Should Talk to Your Friends About Your Research
It’s always recommended to balance your course workload appropriately with a good number of paper classes and problem set (p-set) classes. While it’s definitely not ideal, sometimes you just end up taking multiple classes with a demanding reading and writing workload–which means you can also end up with four or five final papers. Some students may actually prefer having only papers and no exams, and vice versa. Exams are a one-and-done deal, whereas final papers allow an indefinite amount of time and access to endless resources–but this can be stressful in its own way. Sometimes, you never know when you’re truly done with a paper, and it can be difficult to allocate time effectively when you’re juggling multiple written assignments.
Being a prospective English major, I tend to pile my coursework with a lot of reading and writing-heavy classes. Last spring, I took four humanities/social science classes and had four papers due for Dean’s Date. Needless to say, in the beginning I felt overwhelmed by the thought of having to write and polish several papers in what felt like not nearly enough time. As a general rule of thumb, I’ve learned that time management is especially crucial when having to complete multiple Dean’s Date assignments, and that planning ahead on your papers can make your life so much easier.
Aside from time management, here are some tips so that you can avoid feeling a sense of impending doom by the time Dean’s Date rolls around:
A long-term project like a thesis is a marathon, not a sprint. This has been a difficult adjustment for me. In almost every other research project I’ve done at Princeton, I’ve chosen the last-minute sprint model, rather than a more organized long-term approach. Sprinting hasn’t worked well in the past, but it won’t work at all for a thesis. There’s simply too much involved in a thesis to cram it into the few weeks before the deadline.
The marathon approach is new to me, so I looked up some tips for how to train for an actual marathon. I was surprised how many were relevant for a long-term project like a thesis or a final paper. I’ve collected my ten favorites here:
First-years, you’ve just survived everyone’s favorite time of year: your first Writing Seminar deadline. Over the course of the past few weeks, you’ve learned the difference between motive and thesis, discussed strategies for analyzing data, written a draft of your first essay, and finally, turned in your first piece of graded work: your R1!
The process of going from an ungraded draft to a graded revision may have seemed intimidating. In part, this is because most first-years have little to no experience with serious revision of essays. In high school, when standards were lower, I, like many others, got away with handing in first drafts most of the time. When I did make the time to revise, my “revision” consisted mainly of adding a few fancy words to my essay and tightening up my conclusion. So when I got to my Writing Seminar and was essentially told to rewrite my entire essay, I panicked.
Did I have to completely start over? Was all my D1 work wasted? As I had no experience with the revision process, I struggled to even begin the process of writing my R1. So if you felt the same way after handing in your R1, read on: I promise that your next two revisions will be made much easier (and dare I say, pleasant?) with the help of a few key strategies.
As I have written for the PCUR blog before, choosing a topic for an open-ended research project can be challenging. Even once you have narrowed your search and settled on an idea you would like to pursue, you may find that other scholars have already written about it. There is indeed a finite number of possible research subjects (even if it seems, as I suggested in my earlier post, that there is infinite possibility), and as undergraduates many of us have yet to find our research niche. This by no means should discourage you! Just because there is existing literature does not disqualify you from making your own contribution. Of course, we are told this in our first-year writing seminars, where we discuss the different “scholarly moves” one can make (“piggybacking” on another scholar’s work, “picking a fight” with a scholar, and many others, as helpfully delineated in this paper).
In this post, however, I do not merely want to rehash what these “moves” are, but rather suggest how one goes about making any intervention, especially in determining what kind of intervention one wants to make. The following are some methods I have found useful in my research:Continue reading Finding Your Space in the “Scholarly Conversation”
Last spring, my JP adviser passed on a piece of wisdom from his graduate adviser: for a research project, you should spend one third of your time reading, one third of your time writing, and one third of your time editing.
This was new to me. Historically, I’d spent 80% of my time reading, 19% of my time writing, and 1% (at best) of my time editing. I had always told myself that it didn’t make sense to start writing until I’d read everything and figured out what I wanted to say. Also, reading almost always felt easier and safer than writing. Instead of constructing my own ideas, I could sit back and receive other people’s finished products.
The problem was: I never ran out of things to read. Most of the time, I would only start writing once the deadline was in sight and I had no more time to waste. Rarely would I have enough time to edit my work.
For my thesis, though, I’m trying to follow my JP adviser’s system, spending equal amounts of time reading, writing, and editing. It took me until this week to realize that I need to treat these three elements as parts of a cycle, rather than macro chronological steps. In other words, I realized that I shouldn’t spend the first half of my fall semester just reading, the next few months writing, and the next few months editing. I need to be doing all three simultaneously. My reading, writing, and editing should be working in tandem with each other.