The blank page glares at her, daring her to type just one single word. The black blinking cursor flashes in time with her beating heart, mocking her inability to even begin writing her essay. Why is this so difficult? she wonders. Why can’t I put something, anything, down? The buzz of text messages on her iPhone reminds her that she could be out with her friends. The sooner she can just get this paper done, the sooner she can be browsing the sales rack at Nordstrom or grabbing a popcorn and Coke and taking a seat to watch the latest “Avengers” movie. Instead, she is here. Staring at a white screen. Unable to begin, unable to leave until she does.
Few assignments are more intimidating than essays and few moments are more aggravating than having an essay due that a student has no idea how to write. It can be an extremely frustrating experience, one that leaves even the most competent student feeling like a complete failure. And, simply getting by when it comes to writing, is not an option, not for any student that wants to excel in high school or college. Writing crops up in every class and in every field. Writing is one of the key means of communication in education and the professional world. As a former student and one who has received my Bachelor’s Degree in English, I have known this frustration. However, throughout my studies, the many writing classes I have taken, and the hundreds of writing assignments I have completed, I have learned the how to overcome this struggle and the necessity of pushing past the blank page.
As a tutor, one of the issues I see most of my students struggle with is simply beginning their paper, putting that first word or sentence down. A confusing phenomenon for parents, tutors, or anybody attempting to help the student overcome this difficulty. Why is it so hard to type even just one word? Just write. It’s just a word. Well, actually, it’s not. This one word symbolizes much more than just the object it names. It stands for the beginning of a whole assignment. It will be finished and turned in and graded. And, this grade for this essay effects the entire grade of the student’s class. Furthermore, this assignment is just one of the many assignments that need to be finished this semester. This semester and its grades will affect his or her GPA. That GPA will determine what college a student gets into. And on and on the thoughts go until the single word he or she will begin this paper with is representative of an entire academic career. It is not just a word; a word is easy. This word, though, this word is everything.
I have seen evidence of this anxiety in a student as young as eleven. To this panic I say, stop! Stop it right in its tracks by being present. Do not worry about your grade for this assignment or even completing the assignment. Just pause, take a breath, and write something down. It does not have to represent genius; it does not have to make sense; it does not even have to be relevant to your topic. It just has to be. This will help overcome the anxiety of receiving a poor grade and assist a student in overcoming his or her writer’s block, opening the flood gates to the creative process. And let’s not forget, as formulaic as we try to make writing (and there are several formulas we can use to help get us started), writing, at the end of the day is a creative process. Creativity requires presence. So be present. Then pause, breathe, write, repeat.
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Meet the author: Julia is an ELA instructor at Oxford Tutoring who has been working with students for over 10 years. She builds up her student’s confidence in the subjects they struggle with through encouragement and support. Striving to make her students ready to tackle even the most difficult concepts as they move up in their education, she motivates her students to take their education into their own hands and thrive.
© Oxford Tutoring 2015