Getting Started: Student Writers
One of the things that you might have trouble with is if a teacher gives you an assignment to write about anything you want to write about. Sometimes it will be really hard for you to focus in on what your topic is going to be. Before grabbing on to a topic and holding onto it and deciding you're not going to write about anything else I would encourage you to come into the library and do a little bit of research first. What you'll often find is that the topic that you thought you wanted to write about, you can't find any information on, so rather than struggling and trying to keep finding things that really don't exist, you'll find other things while you're doing your research that could be just as interesting if not more interesting, and then you can switch your paper topic and write about that.
So I think there's always the possibility of creating things to write about if you realize that ideas are all around you, number one, and that number two, you as a thinking active, breathing, living, hurting, laughing human being have a 1000 things that swirl around your mind daily and that can be projected onto Sociology 101, that can be tossed into the mix of Women's Studies 9, that can become part of the grist of the mill of Anthropology 7. That's the trick.
So the trick, and it's not easy to do, is say, there is some aspect, there is some angle of this subject that I can connect to. It may not be obvious right away but if you start from that belief, and say now what in my life in my previous experience sheds any light at all on this task that I don't know anything about. I think that's the beginning of finding your way into the subject.
One of the tools you can use when you read, there's many names to it, but, some people call it a T journal because there's a T and two sides to it, some people call it a double entry notebook, some people call it a dialectical journal. But the basic purpose of it is to distinguish between your thoughts and the thoughts of the writer you're writing. What you do is you take your ordinary notes on the left hand side, in that column, you're writing down important quotes, the kinds of things you might underline even, and on the other side, you're writing down what you think about those quotes, or your reaction to 'em. And it's a very helpful practice because when you then go to write your paper, you not only know what was said, but you know what you might say about what was said. Which is the claim you're making about the evidence.
Students will say to me, 'I have nothing to say.' And I will say to them, number one, I don't believe that. But if you believe it, then I can only convince you that you do have things to say. If you, if I insist that you continue to write. And so I will say to them, we're gonna write for two minutes. Or three minutes. And the only requirement is that you cannot raise the pen or pencil from the piece of paper. You still have to, you have to continue writing.
My approach, probably, has changed over the years. I used to teach outlining as the way to do, and it now I would train new teachers to present a variety of methods for planning. Some people may outline. As a writer, most of the time I have to outline. But I know other people who don't need to do it that way, who can do the clustering, who can do lists. So I think we need to introduce to students the variety and ask students to think about what one or two ways that may be that different kinds of writing that they take that they use a different method. What works best for them.