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Walden University Writing Center

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Outlining Your Outline as a Way to Help You Write Every Day

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Writing and Time Series | Walden Writing Center Blog

Have you ever made or eaten potica (pronounced paw-tee-tsza)? It’s a flaky, buttery, Slovenian sweetbread (a favorite in my family) that requires a lot of attention and preparation to make from scratch. The process involves allowing the yeast mixture to dissolve in milk (8 minutes), kneading the dough once you mix the wet and dry ingredients together (4 minutes), allowing the dough to rise two separate times (1 hour and 30 minutes), and then finally baking the bread (1 hour). But I’ll tell you what, all that hard work plus waiting time is worth it once you bite into that first slice of homemade goodness!

The point of making your mouth water with thoughts of delicious sweetbread is to draw a couple of connections to this idea of work plus downtime and the writing process. While the concept of writing as a process might be familiar, the realities of life can often interrupt this process. However, with a concrete plan and the notion that downtime is a productive part of the writing process, you might consider outlining your outline as a way to write every day.


Potica (modified) by Michael R. Perry (CC BY 2.0)

Outlining your outline

Outlining an outline is a time management strategy I developed in college and have used for every academic paper I have written since. (It's also a tip Sarah mentioned in her post last week.) The concept is relatively simple: Once you have reached the point in the writing process where you must create an outline for your paper, use due dates and time limits within the outline to specify how long each section will (or should) take you to complete. For example, in the introduction of this blog post, I outlined how long it would take to complete each major stage of the potica-making process. Applying the same concept to the writing process will make you accountable for setting aside a specific amount of time to work on each section of your paper.

Clearly, you cannot always expect that you will complete every section in the amount of time you allot yourself, which is why you should also add due dates to your outline of an outline. Due dates are another way to hold yourself accountable for completing each section of your paper, but remember that the point of outlining an outline is to write a little bit every day. Thus, the goal is to complete the various parts of your paper within specified time frames during each day, as opposed to waiting until your given due date and writing large, unmanageable sections in one sitting.

The importance of downtime

But don’t forget your downtime! This part is equally as important as the act of writing itself. If you were to omit the waiting time when making potica, your sweetbread would likely turn to mush. The same is likely to happen on some level if you do not include downtime in your outline of your outline. Writing a little bit of a big project every day allows you time to think and reflect on the direction of your work. Think about each section of your paper after you write it. Think about the content you focused on. Think about the accuracy of your argument. Think about how each of your paragraphs leads back to your central argument. Allowing yourself some downtime to think and reflect will help you better visualize where you are in the writing process and where you want to go with your ideas.


Just as waiting for the dough to rise is necessary for baking potica, downtime is an important part of the writing process. | Walden University Writing Center Blog
Just as waiting for the dough to rise is necessary for baking potica, downtime is an important part of the writing process.
Potica by Jenny Cestnik (CC BY-ND 2.0 

Outlining your paper outline can help you practice writing every day as a way to manage your time and develop as a writer. Outlining your outline can also help you better understand your writing process, how long it takes you to complete different stages, and how you visualize your own work. Finding the time to write will forever be a challenge, but holding yourself accountable and engaging in reflection can help you manage your time effectively. And, you can always reward yourself for all of your hard work with some potica!


Thinking about the process of baking potica can help you think about the writing strategy of outlining your outline | Walden University Writing Center Blog
Potica by emma.kate (CC BY-ND 2.0)
This month, we're talking about topics related to writing and time. Need to catch up on what you missed? Check out our latest WriteCast episode for Beth and Brian's discussion of favorite (and free!) apps you can use to save you time when you write, Beth's reflection on what she learned from writing her master's thesis, and Sarah's 5 tips for writing when you have no time.  

As always, we welcome you to share your experiences, questions, suggestions, and thoughts below in the comments!  

author

Ellen Zamarripa
 is a writing instructor at the Walden Writing Center. She enjoys helping students from around the world develop their writing skills and reach their educational goals. 


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Writing Against the Clock: 5 Tips For Writing When You Have No Time

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Writing and Time Series | Walden Writing Center Blog

Before I had my son, I often felt like I was just a child pretending to be an adult. I would pay the mortgage, do my job, clean the house—but I never really felt like an authentic grown-up. However, becoming a mother has changed everything. Another human being depends on me completely. He needs me to feed him three square meals a day (plus snacks), ensure he is entertained, comfort him when he is hurting, and make him feel loved and supported each minute of his life. In addition to navigating the demands of caring for a child, I am still responsible for working 40+ hours a week, teaching writing courses, keeping the house clean (or at least presentable), and working to maintain some level of personal fitness. Now, when I can carve out 5 minutes to think, I frequently laugh at my former self for having reflected on something as ludicrous as what makes one an adult.

In my current life, the answer seems so simple—responsibility is what makes a grown-up. The pressure of ensuring you can wear all of your hats—parent, employee, breadwinner, student, spouse, maid, dog walker, exerciser—throughout your day without melting into a puddle of “I can’t” or “I’m just too tired” can be overwhelming.

I recount my own coming-into-adulthood story not to elicit sympathy from readers (although if you want to give me some, please feel free…), but to simply say I understand that being a grown-up is really hard. We have an already-full plate of responsibilities, so when we add working toward an advanced degree, scheduling the time to complete assignments or write capstone sections/chapters can feel impossible. As a result, most of us find ourselves writing against the clock, trying to get submissions in before final deadlines. After our eleventh hour submissions, we feel rushed, tired, and frustrated.

Writing Against the Clock: 5 Tips For Writing When You Have No Time | Walden University Writing Center Blog

To help combat the stress of busy schedules and last-minute writing, I’d like to offer you five important tips that have helped me keep writing when I have no time.

1. Determine your golden hour of productivity

Whether you consider yourself to be an early bird, a night owl, or more of a mid-day thinker, you know that there is a certain point of each day when you are most productive. (If you don’t know, it’s worth it to spend some time figuring it out.) As someone who has very little time, you want to capitalize on this productivity. However, as adults who have responsibilities outside of writing, often our most productive times are spent being parents, employees, etc. What I am suggesting is that you find the sweet spot, or what I call the “golden hour.” This golden hour requires you to balance your own productivity with current responsibilities. For example, if you work best in the morning, get up an hour earlier to complete assignments. If you are a mid-day thinker, take your lunch break to really focus on writing. By writing when you are most productive, you will get more out of a single hour of work.

2. Develop a routine and stick to it

Think about some activity that is nonnegotiable in your life, something that you have no choice but to do daily—like work or parenthood. Categorize your writing as this same must-do kind of activity. If I say that I am going to write every day from 5-6 a.m., I do it….no questions asked, no days off. The discipline of creating a routine and sticking to it will make completing assignments, and your life in general, so much easier. You won’t dread coming home from work to a looming 5-page paper because you’ve already done the writing in small increments over the course of five mornings during your work week.

3. Create a larger schedule and break work into manageable chunks

When I was writing my dissertation, I created a Table of Contents before I started writing. I knew I would be responsible for 5 chapters. I set an end goal of when I wanted to be done with my writing. After having a final due date, I worked backwards. I first planned when I needed to be done with each chapter, and then I determined how many pages I needed to write each day to get me there (Ellen will talk more about this strategy in her blog post next week—stayed tuned!). I made room for critical reading days, outlining, and drafting—as these are all elements of a successful writing process. By having a clear goal and by breaking that goal down into manageable chunks (e.g., read and take notes on two articles, outline paragraphs 4-9, write three pages), it made the process seem much more doable.

4. Use a reviewer to hold you accountable

For many of us who have failed to follow our own disciplined rules in the past (I think here of the yo-yo diets I tried and failed to adhere to throughout most of my 20s), counting on ourselves to keep a schedule might elicit some personal doubt. So, I always encourage writers to find a reviewer to hold them accountable. This person can be your spouse, your friend, a professional copyeditor, a writing center instructor, or a co-worker. The idea is that this person will regularly expect work from you, read that work, and discuss your ideas/progress with you. This person does not have to be a skilled writer or editor. Instead, he or she just needs to be a taskmaster, holding you accountable for the work you’ve promised you will complete.

5. Settle for good enough the first time around

I used to be obsessed with writing perfection. I would sit down to write, and I would stare at a blank computer screen for longer than I’d like to admit. Because I held myself to this impossibly high standard in the first draft I wrote, I often just chose not to write at all. The fear of not writing something clear, concise, and flawless made it hard for me to start writing. So, I decided that I would settle for good enough the first time around. I would do the work of critical reading and outlining, and then I would just write. Even as I write the first draft of this post, I continually remind myself that editing is an easier process than initially drafting, so getting words on the page is the most important first step.

These tips are not magic. They are most likely already concepts you already know to be effective intuitively, but they are hard to implement. However, I encourage you to start small—set up a routine, break up assignments into manageable chunks—and work from there. Oh, and now that you are secure in your adulthood, don’t forget to reward yourself with a game of tag, infectious laughter, or homemade brownies. Acting like a kid every once in a while never hurt anybody.
This month, we're talking about topics related to writing and time. Need to catch up on what you missed? Check out our latest WriteCast episode for Beth and Brian's discussion of favorite (and free!) apps you can use to save you time when you write and Beth's reflection on what she learned from writing her master's thesis
As always, we welcome your questions, suggestions, and thoughts below in the comments section!  


author

Dr. Sarah Prince is a writing instructor and coordinator of embedded writing support and design. Sarah's favorite thing about working with Walden students is helping them develop the confidence, clarity, and unique critical voice it takes to become effective and articulate scholarly writers.


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Commit to Your Writing Even When You Don't Have Time: What My Thesis Experience Taught Me

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Writing and Time | Walden University Writing Center Blog

This month’s theme for the blog is writing and time (if you missed it, check out our latest WriteCast episode on apps and tools to help you make the most of your writing time). I know this because I’m staring at a blank Word document with a note from the blog’s editor, Anne, that the deadline for the blog post I agreed to write is approaching. She suggests I write something about writing my thesis*, which is a very practical and helpful suggestion, except that I’m not sure I have anything very useful to report about writing my thesis. It was over a year ago, and I’m allowed to keep the memory of that stressful time in a hazy fog, right?

Maybe what I’ll write about today is less about the immediate act of writing my thesis and more about reflecting on the overall experience after such a long time away from it. While I was writing my thesis, the immediate question of time—whether I had enough of it or was using it wisely—was a huge issue for me. I was working full time while writing my thesis, so what’s left of my hazy memory mostly consists of those instances I struggled to set aside time for writing. But now that those stressful moments are gone, I’m left looking back and reflecting on what the experience taught me.

What was important back then was not so much the quality of my writing each time I sat down to my computer. What I can now see at a distance is that all the little moments—the 5, 15, 30 minutes where I was able to actually write—mattered, but what mattered more was my continued perseverance at writing. While I may have worried that I wasn’t writing enough pages or writing those pages well enough, now I see that it was less the individual moments of writing and more my continued commitment to just write that was key for me. The important thing was that I continued to find those moments to write, no matter how short or productive they were.

I also now see that writing my thesis was not just about writing that thesis. Writing—any form of writing—is like training. Each time you write, you are practicing a muscle, training it in new and different ways, developing your writing skills. Writing my thesis helped me complete the requirement and graduate, sure. But writing my thesis also trained me for more writing. The lessons I learned while writing my thesis, like time management, revision techniques, the best way to revise for my (seemingly endless) wordiness, and how to use constructive criticism, are ones I continue to use when I write e-mails, articles, and even blog posts.

Practicing your writing muscle | Walden University Writing Center Blog


I’ve returned to these lessons over and over again in my current writing. I can trust that this training and these lessons will help me in the future as well. By trusting in my past writing experience, I know that as long as I simply write—persevere in the act itself rather than focusing on whether what I initially write is good enough—I can succeed in any writing project—even a blog post where I didn’t know what to write about.

*At the Writing Center, we often talk about the “thesis” in terms of the thesis statement (see our many resources on thesis statements: website materials, blog posts, a WriteCast episode, and a webinar). Here, however, “thesis” refers not to the thesis statement—a sentence that drives the argument for a paper—but to the capstone document often required for earning a master’s degree.



author

Beth Nastachowski is a writing instructor, the WriteCast podcast co-host, and the coordinator of webinar writing instructor for the Walden University Writing Center. She can’t write without coffee by her side, enjoys giving her cats catnip, and wishes everyone a fast and early spring!


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WriteCast Episode 20: Favorite Apps to Save You Time When You Write

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Who couldn't use an extra hour (or two, or three...) in the day? Writing a paper--and scheduling time to get feedback and make revisions--can feel overwhelming. We know that Walden students, and students all over the world, are busy with school, work, families, friends, relationships, service, and other responsibilities and commitments. Some of you work multiple jobs. Some of you are caretakers for elderly parents or relatives. Some of you put in enormous amounts of effort bettering your communities. Some of you have time-intensive health needs. We appreciate that often, every minute of every day counts, which is why we're dedicating this month on the blog and podcast to the topic of writing and time. 

We'll kick things off with recommendations for apps you can use to help make your writing time more productive. On WriteCast this month, Beth talks with Brian, the Writing Center director, about some of his favorite apps. 


Episode 20 transcript

Apps and sites discussed in this episode: 
Google Docs / Google Drive
Timewarp
Instagrok
Evernote
OneLook Reverse Dictionary

We hope you find Beth and Brian's discussion helpful, and we'd also like to give a shout-out to the Academic Skills Center, which offers tips and resources on managing time and stress
Share your thoughts with us in the comments! Have you tried any of the featured apps? What did you think of them? What apps did we miss that your fellow students should know about? 

author

Anne Shiell
 is a writing instructor and the coordinator of social media resources at the Walden Writing Center. Anne also produces WriteCast, the Writing Center's podcast.


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Walden Doctoral Writing Workshops: Student Interview

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The Walden Center for Student Success (WCSS) launched its first Doctoral Writing Workshop series in November, 2014 through the Academic Skills Center to better support Walden students who are in the dissertation writing stage. There are four 6-week long workshops for both quarter and semester-based term starts that encompass the various stages of a student’s dissertation, including:


As coordinator for the WCSS faculty development, I reached out to students from the WCSS 8010 workshop to ask their opinion of the workshop. I learned a great deal about the content and the inner workings of the workshop from Ph.D. in Public Policy and Administration/Criminal Justice student Carmelita Dockery.

Carmelita DockeryCarmelita began her journey at Walden in June, 2010, already holding a B.A. in Criminal Justice from Edwards University in Austin, TX and an M.A. in Professional Counseling from Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL. When I caught up with Carmelita, she had just completed her first Doctoral Workshop 8010 – Revising and Editing the Proposal as of January 4, 2015, and she took the time out of her busy Walden career to answer a few of my questions.


Shawn: Did the workshop help you with your dissertation?

Carmelita: I was able to submit a portion of Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 to my instructor. She was very helpful in terms of guiding me towards scholarly writing, which is required for dissertation writing.

What was the most helpful aspect of the dissertation workshop?

The workshop helped me understand the importance of creating topic sentences, eliminating wordiness, being more concise, and eliminating anthropomorphism in my paragraphs. 

Were you familiar with Walden’s Writing Center previous to taking the workshop?

Yes, I am familiar with the Writing Center, but I have not utilized the Writing Center because I work unusual hours at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center. When I need assistance at midnight, I don’t think anyone is available; hence, my reason for taking the writing workshop.

How were the materials from Walden’s Writing Center helpful during your workshop? 

The reading material was helpful, as well as my faculty member’s suggestions. I am using the information I gleaned from the workshop to revise both my Chapter 1 and Chapter 2. 

Can you tell us about the feedback you received from your faculty member through your essay reviews and other interactions?

I received constructive criticism from my instructor on a regular basis. Each time I submitted two to three pages of Chapter 1 or 2, she responded within 24 hours. I appreciated her prompt response. My faculty member also provided me with suggestions on improving my writing for my proposal.   

Did you receive feedback from your peers?

Yes, I received feedback from my classmates. I was reluctant to allow anyone to read my proposal, but when I realized I was not alone in this situation, I shared and received feedback from my peers. I also provided feedback on my classmates’ writings. I enjoyed this workshop tremendously!

Is there anything else you would like to add about the workshop?

I think this workshop should be part of the required coursework at Walden. I completed 3 years of required coursework and thought I was writing well, or scholarly, but I was not writing well enough for the dissertation proposal. Perhaps if this class was included in my coursework, I would not be struggling with my writing issues.

Would you recommend these workshops to other Walden students?

Yes, I would highly recommend this workshop to every student in the PhD program. 



author

Shawn Picht
 is a writing instructor in the Writing Center and the coordinator of faculty development for the Academic Skills Center. In his free time he likes to jog, jump rope, read literature and philosophy, write about his travels, and play Rolling Stones and Dylan songs on a blue acoustic guitar.


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