The Secret Handbook 4 Teens

Hate Writing Essays? Here’s a Tool 2 Make it Hurt Less

For some, hearing a teacher say, “For homework you need to write an essay…” causes immediate anxiety, angst, fear and dread. As a former dissertation coach who helped students write the dreaded dissertation keeping them from their PhDs, I promise you that the advice I gave to them is the same advice I will give to you. I also promise that this advice will be just as relevant now as it will be in college, grad school or anywhere else you’re asked to write something.

Ready for the advice? Ok, here it is:

Learn to outline. 

Don’t start without an outline. 

Always make an outline. 

Did I mention the outline? 

Sure everyone tells you that you should outline a paper before you try to start writing but so few people actually do this. Here’s the thing about an outline. With only a little bit of effort and using the bare minimum of words, you can create yourself a map and guide to where you need to go. Outlining helps you to get your thoughts on track and, because you haven’t invested minutes and hours crafting the perfect sentence you may never use, you have the freedom to sketch, think, brainstorm, cut, paste and scribble. An outline is pure freedom. It’s just thinking on paper. But, eventually something starts to creep out of all the mess and before you know it, an actual map starts to emerge. This map is key because this map becomes your “To Do” list for writing the rest of the essay.

Here’s what to do:

  • Sit down and just write freely. Don’t worry about format, spelling or anything else. Just write out your thoughts (even if those thoughts are “I don’t know what to write. I hate writing essays. I hate my teacher for making me write essays.” Get it all out and eventually you will start to write about your actual topic.
  •  Once you are done free writing, look back at what you’ve put together. Are there any good ideas in there? Anything to keep that you could use? If so, great. If not, go ahead and write freely again. Repeat this process until  you actually start to see a theme starting to emerge with some coherent thoughts.
  • Now start to take those chunks of writing and put them into a more specific outline (this is your map) for your intro, middle sections and conclusion. Don’t try to start writing from this just yet. You still have more work to do. Once you have those sections starting to take place go ahead and continue to flesh them out even more so your outline because fatter and longer and more organized.
  • Eventually you will know when it’s time to start writing but don’t try to jump into this process too soon because you will just become frustrated and quickly lose your way. Ideally, your outline will become your “To Do” list because you can break it down into tasks (and I mean very specific tasks) like 1) Write sentence for introduction. 2) Write second sentence and include quote. 3) Read section of book again to help with transition into main thought. All these little tasks on your “To Do” are super important for making progress once you have your outline but that’s another post!

The next time you’re asked to write an essay or paper, do me a favor and please please please think about using an outline. It might seem like more work to begin with but it’s a really simple but powerful tool for getting your thoughts together and giving yourself some structure to move forward with ease. I promise!

Now you tell me, what other essay writing tactics work for you? Do you use outlines? How else do your approach your writing assignments?

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