The year is 2016; the month is May. I have just turned in to my professor a ten-page paper discussing Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, a paper that will eventually be submitted and accepted by the Sigma Tau Delta Review. This paper utilized many sources, seven of which were cited. It also followed MLA guidelines and has been formatted precisely. Did I write this paper in one sitting, in order, with perfect grammar and formatting?
Of course not!
One of the major frustrations for homeschool students (and homeschool parents, tangentially) when writing is the felt need to make everything perfect all at once. A simple fact of writing, however, is that perfection is unattainable—at least on the very first try.
Even if the student accepts this fact, though, the assigned composition may loom large and menacing, still frustrating or even frightening the student to the point where any writing at all seems impossible. The student slams the notebook shut or turns away from the computer screen. They berate not only the composition for its difficulty but also himself or herself for their supposed inability to just write.
What’s the solution?
Focus on one thing at a time when writing.
Saying such a thing may seem simplistic or even obvious, but it’s a guideline that is often forgotten when one sits down to write. Focusing on the big picture is necessary when planning a composition, but if the student focuses a little too much on the size of that picture, they’ll likely feel intimidated or even stifled. Therefore, remembering to focus on one piece of the puzzle at a time takes away the student’s anxiety toward the composition as a whole and makes the entire writing process more accessible.
This solution may be simple, but it’s not always easy, so here are three specific steps to help the homeschool student zoom in when writing:
Create an outline for the composition.
This step is required for Essentials in Writing’s research papers, but it’s also a good tool for any and all compositions the student writes. Working from an outline ensures that the student knows exactly what they’re writing about, and it also enables them to focus more easily on one step at a time. Instead of worrying about writing everything at once, the student knows that they’ll eventually reach every step and can therefore devote their attention to the current step.
An outline also provides a place for students to jot down ideas that occur to them when writing. If the student is writing one paragraph but suddenly thinks of a good example for another, they can simply write that example on the outline and keep going without having to worry about remembering or losing their idea.
Use a personalized checklist when writing.
One of the aspects that makes Essentials in Writing so effective for homeschool students is the way in which every part of writing is divided into steps, and the checklists provided for each assignment are a good reflection of this. While the checklists in the textbook are generally intended to be used after the composition is complete, the student can create their own personalized checklist that includes areas they struggle with.
For example, if a student knows that they often write fragmented sentences or forget to indent paragraphs, these things could be included in their personal checklist. This way, the student doesn’t have to keep in mind their common mistakes while writing—instead, they can check for them later. Concrete visual aids like this are a great way for the student to rein in their mind and focus on just one thing at a time.
Remember that writing is not always linear.
No rule in writing exists that says the student must write the opening paragraph, then the body paragraphs, then the closing paragraph. If one paragraph is giving you trouble, move on to another section of the composition. Sitting at your desk blankly staring at a blank page does you no good, so leave that section be and try a different part of the paper.
In fact, leaving certain areas for last—like the thesis statement or even the entire opening paragraph—can be helpful because you have a better idea of what your composition is about. You can then write that paragraph or the thesis statement more accurately to better reflect the topic and content of the composition. I’ll even tell you right now that this blog post wasn’t written in order because some ideas occurred to me before others. Writing each sentence or paragraph in order is a good place to begin, but overall, the order in which you write them does not matter.
The Final Result
When I wrote that ten-page paper in college, I didn’t write it in one go, I didn’t write all the paragraphs in the order they would be read, and I didn’t expect perfection from the first draft. Instead of thinking about the finished product, I focused on the paragraph—even the sentence—I was currently writing.
Create outlines, utilize checklists, write as you feel inspired—but most of all, remember to focus on one thing at a time when you write. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was your paper.
Essentials in Writing