Writing is hard. Actually pushing the keys on the keyboard is easy, but getting your butt in the chair is hard. For most people writing is second only to public speaking on their list of things they’d rather not do.
The secret to writing is starting. If you start writing early enough and thus give yourself plenty of time to work through your writing process, you are way more likely to write something you can be proud of. However, despite imparting this wisdom on my students I can tell that they wait until the absolute last minute to write my papers.
Before we lament “students these days!”, let’s think about why students procrastinate on writing papers. For many, they are just simply too busy with a full class schedule, work/family obligations, and their campus clubs/activities. There is little we can do about this first issue.
Even students with ample free time procrastinate on writing papers and this I blame on fear. They are afraid that they will bomb the paper. They are afraid they won’t know what to do and they’ll have to stare into the abyss of the blank white Word document screen. Their fear tells them that anything they write will probably suck, so what’s the point? Yes, they are afraid and that’s why they wait until the last minute.
They wait until something they are more afraid of shows up. The big fear is that they have waited too long and now they are certain to fail this paper which certainly means they will fail the class or worse (!) fail out of school all together. Gripped with the big fear their former anxiety seems small and they sprint as fast as they can to complete the paper at hand. As my friend says, no one thinks of their sprained ankle while they’re running for their lives.
How To Get Your students to Start Writing Earlier?
Make them start right now. Hand out the directions to your class paper and then give them 10 minutes to free write their ideas or draft an outline.
Last week I gave my students directions for their first paper in my Social Change class. After handing out the directions, I asked them to draft a three bullet outline right on the back of their directions. Then I asked them to circle on the directions the aspect of the paper they felt they were least prepared to write about. This week in class the first 10 minutes of class my students will do a free writing activity for each of the main components of the paper. The paper isn’t due until 2/28, but after this week they will have drafted notes, outlines, and scraps of writing that can be used in their paper. No one will have to start with a blank page.
Lower the on-ramp to the writing process by having your students start before they can even think of procrastinating. If you believe me that the hardest part of writing is the starting, then have your students start the writing process immediately.