The First Word: “ProcrastiNation and College Writing”

2017’s first entry into LaGrange College’s First Word column of exemplary writing is Kirstie Neal’s “ProcrastiNation and College Writing.” It was nominated by Dr. Patti Marchesi.

Dr. Marchesi writes:

“Kirstie’s essay was written in response to a prompt asking students to consider both the importance of the writing process and the drawbacks of procrastination. In addition to the student’s own experiences and insights, the essay is noteworthy because of the clear way in which it is written, as well as the attention it gives to the different stages of writing.”

ProcrastiNation and College Writing

by Kirstie Neal

One thing that I have learned in my short time as a freshman is that high school came nowhere close to preparing me for what I’d have to face in my first month of college. Every writing class I have ever taken before drilled a standardized version of writing into my mind, and gave me a fifty-minute deadline to get through all the steps. As you can probably imagine, this process did not help when writing college papers. I have recently learnKirstieNeal.jpged that the writing process consists of five basic steps: generating, writing, strengthening, polishing and proofreading (Isreal, Stien, and Washington 38). Lack of writing ability, ultimately, comes not from lack of talent but from not spending enough time developing and using the writing process. It is procrastination that prevents us from fully practicing the necessary writing steps, and that causes us to produce unoriginal, uninspiring writing.

One of the hardest and most important parts of the writing process is brainstorming. Procrastination makes us to hurry through or even skip this step. Coming up with a good argument to write about is difficult, and it’s tempting to take the easy way out and write about something boring and unimaginative. The purpose of writing, however, is to grab readers’ attention and persuade them of something. It’s important to be original, to find a suitable writing voice, and to offer something beyond the information we can find through a google search. Essay writing is a tough sport, indeed: it takes long practice hours, fatigue, and no guaranteed wins.

The first step of the process — generating ideas — does not have to be boring. Here’s my advice: one of the best ways to generate ideas is to relate the arrangement to something that you like to do. For example, if you love using your computer, use it to research the topic and get ideas from there. Maybe you like listing things out; lists could also be an efficient way to provoke thought. Individuality in writing is key because you cannot tug at someone’s heart strings with a bland and boring paper. Have you ever listened to a speech or essay that moved you and provoked you to act on the subject, such as Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream? Those famous words certainly weren’t written during a three a.m. coffee-induced panic the day before.

Then there’s the dreaded thesis statement, another crucial step in the process. This is something that was never enforced in my high school. I knew what a thesis was, but my teachers never expected me to develop one as rigorously as I have had to do in college. A thesis statement is a single sentence that introduces your idea to the reader (Israel, Stien, and Washington 42). Writing a thesis can be difficult because you must make an arguable point without making an obvious statement. A well-developed thesis strengthens a paper because it provides a focus for all your paragraphs. This paper, for example, is about procrastination in the writing process, so it should come as no surprise that I’m about to say this:  Procrastination affects how well-composed your thesis statement is (or even if you have one). Procrastinators tend to wander off topic and forget the point they were trying to make. Professors who have to read all of these students’ essays really would probably prefer not to read unclear thesis statements, and would probably really prefer not to read the kind of stream of consciousness that happens when writers stray off topic and forget the purpose of the essay. Fellow students: Don’t torture your professors! Take the time to develop a thesis statement that effectively helps you stay on topic.

What I’ve realized is that most of us don’t think about the work it requires to craft a paper, and assume that it’s ok for our first attempt to be our final draft. According to Megan McArdle’s “Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators,” most people only ever see the final draft of a work, such as a book, and so never take into consideration how much work it took to write it. Most people also think that they must keep moving once they finish a step, whereas it’s perfectly fine to revisit a step several times. It can also be beneficial to jump from step to step. You don’t have to write your paper in order. Write your conclusion first and work backwards — whatever works for you. Don’t be afraid to try new things when writing. Also, reading your paper out loud after you’ve finished helps you catch mistakes that spell check might not notice. Remember, procrastination makes constructing papers in this manner difficult because there isn’t enough time to revisit and improve any of the work you’ve already done. Revise extensively, and perfect your work as you go: Revision takes endurance, but will ultimately become a useful habit in your academic life.

Because the purpose of writing is to convince someone of something, researching is an important part of the writing process. Logical facts and reasoning strengthen your argument, as do detailed examples. Not surprisingly, procrastination leaves no time for research or opportunity to incorporate it into your paper. It also often prevents you from carefully acknowledging the other side of the argument and conveying your understandings of positions you might not agree with. Yet research that acknowledges the counterargument shows that you can prove your argument while still being aware of other options. Researching can be difficult in today’s society because people can write whatever they want on the internet, and it can be tedious work to find out what’s factual and what’s opinion. More than ever before, you should make time to investigate the legitimacy of your sources.

If you write in a hurry, you risk plagiarism, an offense even worse than lack of originality.  Incorrectly paraphrasing is where people tend to get into trouble when they leave papers until the last minute. Just replacing a source’s original words with synonyms constitutes plagiarism, especially if the sentence structure is the same. Sentences with three or more words from the original can also be considered plagiarized. Last-minute writing can make copying (or half-copying) from the internet seem tempting, but ultimately plagiarism is unethical and can have dire consequences in your academic career. The only way to fully prevent it is 1) to understand it, and 2) to allow yourself ample time to work on paraphrasing in an acceptable way.

Ultimately, the key to writing is developing a system that works for you. Maybe you like to research all your information before you develop your thesis, and if that is what works for you, go for it. I’ve found that allowing myself plenty of time to finish and revisit makes the writing process much more enjoyable and less stressful. It’s true: writing can be fun if you engage with the process and find your groove. Once you’ve found it, practice it. The more you do it, the stronger those writing muscles will get.

Works Cited

McArdle, Megan. “Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators.” The Atlantic, 12 Feb. 2014,                                  procrastinators/283773/. Accessed September 2016.

Israel, Deborah, Wayne Stien, and PamWashington, editors. Fresh Takes: Explorations in                         Reading and Writing. New York: McGraw Hill, 2008.

Roberts, Paul. “How to Say Nothing in 500 Words.” Fresh Takes, edited by Deborah Israel,                    Wayne Stien, and Pam Washington, McGraw Hill, 2008, pp. 195-202.

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