3 Writing Tips to Help You Get Started!

Over the next few months you will notice Books & Coffee making a gradual transformation in
content and design. My plan is to provide us with more writing tips and tools,
conversations with professional writers and motivational content to keep us
inspired to write!

Now we have to write.

Like every student who drifts into the writing center uncertain about the
outcome, at times I too have wondered “what am I doing here?” But,
I’m here to write. While providing you with writing help I’ll also practice my
own writing process, because I really do believe that if we stick with it,
eventually a tiny window will open and the light will shine in.

Let’s step into that light together!

Writing Tip #1:

To develop as a writer, you first need to develop as a planner. There is nothing more frustrating than sitting down to do a writing task and having no idea how to begin. So, here’s a tip–don’t start at the beginning!

Who says the essay, letter or story has to be written from the beginning? Ultimately, the finished product will be in the right order, but when you start, it doesn’t have to be! In fact, it probably won’t be because you won’t figure out what you mean until the end. So, just start!

Writing Tip #2

Don’t start by writing, start by thinking! What is the purpose of this document? What are you trying to accomplish and for whom? Who is the primary individual or group that you want to read this? What will they need or expect from you? What do you need to do in order to get or keep their interest or attention? All writing is for a purpose and all writing is for an audience. These two things will determine everything else!

Writing Tip #3

Draw a map! I know what you’re thinking. What does a map have to do with this writing assignment that I have to finish? Well, a map will help you figure out where you’re going. They say a picture is worth 1,000 words, so drawing a map ought to help you meet or surpass your word count! Mapping is a common technique for getting your ideas on the page, then helping you to follow the logical path to details and support.


Below is an illustration of the mapping technique. Your challenge is to take out a paper and pen, or (even better) a dry erase board and marker and think of one word that captures your topic, purpose or the main point you want to make.

Draw a circle around that word then think of every word that you can come up with that relates to it. Draw circles around those words and draw lines between each to show relationships.

When you come to a word that captures an important concept, turn that word into a question. Put a circle around that question then draw lines out from that circle and write as many possible answers to that question as you can. Draw lines out from each question to any additional points that you can think of until you run out of ideas.

Voila! You’ve just created a writing plan–or writing vision board! You should now have some idea about the direction your writing should take, what you need to elaborate on, and what you can leave out.

I’d say we’re off to a good start!

Happy Writing!

Why Writing is About More than Words

You might think that because I know what you should do to improve your writing skills and reach your goals, I must be already improving my own skills and reaching my own goals, right? Wrong.  The reality is, developing writers aren’t the only ones who struggle. All of us have to make a daily decision–are we going to push through what’s hard, or break out before the breakthrough because we have to go to work, or go to class, or just…go? Writing is a process that involves the writer and the writing. What I have come to discover, after nearly two decades of working with developing writers, is that my work as a writer runs parallel to theirs. There are days when I don’t want to do it either. There are times when I’d rather rush the process to just get it over with, and there are moments when I, too, slink into my chair in defeat, resolved that “I’m no good at this.” But “writing is a process” that is not linear nor entirely linguistic. In fact, the writing process has as much to do with the writer as it does the words. Part of the process is perfecting the craft. The other part is perfecting the person, which means the process is ongoing. We begin with one thing in mind and discover as we write that there’s something else we should be doing. We think the writing moment is an external exercise, then discover things about our inner self we hadn’t known before. Critical thinking is an integral part of writing, which inevitably leads to deeper knowledge and understanding—of ourselves and the world around us. So, my work with developing writers has led me to a more focused purpose: to move us from conception to production and from frustration to freedom! I expect that through this process all of us will discover something about ourselves even as we hone our craft.  Stay tuned–more on this next week.) Happy Writing!

Are You Ready for a Change?

I have the privilege of working with different types of writers every day. Some saunter in bewildered by a mandate from their professor. Others stroll by because somebody said we could help them. Then there are those who rush in, breathless and impatient, thrusting their paper at us because it’s due in an hour; others slink in with a penitent confession: “I’m not good at writing.”

What they all have in common is a sense of helplessness. They are either frustrated by what seems like a senseless detour on their path to the professor’s dropbox, or have long ago thrown up their hands at this mysterious thing called writing. They are bound by obligation, but kick against the goads out of mistrust and misunderstanding; they doubt their own skills and our ability to help them. They come to us hoping for a quick fix and, glancing at their watches, become restless as we walk them through the process. Some quit before the breakthrough because they have to go to class, have to go to work or just have to go…but for those who stick around, for those who loosen their grip on assumptions, and slowly let go of defenses, there is always a breakthrough–a moment when a tiny window opens and the light begins to shine in.

Writers who come to our writing center know that writing is hard, but what they learn is that if they push through the hard, they can reach what’s good on the other side. Don’t misunderstand–these are small victories. Cynics might call them inconsequential, but I say that little moments feed into larger ones and those who are brave enough to return will push through a little more.

So, if you’re ready for something to change, my advice to you is: keep pushing!

Happy Writing!