Monthly Archives: July 2013

20 Laziest (But Effective) College Life Hacks

Study may sometimes try to get you down and leave no time for anything else! So what should you do? Here are some tips to hack your college life and enjoy it to the max.

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1. Get Stuff Done! You know the drill – you sit down to seriously work – for real this time! – on that paper that’s due on Tuesday. Three hours later you’ve gone through another four levels on a FaceBook game, commented on a status update from your ex, watched a video of a pug jumping up a set of stairs and gotten into a bit of a flame war with someone on a message board. Self Control and Cold Turkey are here to help. These web based programs let you enter a list of websites or programs that are off limits for a certain amount of time. Just load in the website addresses and program names, set the timer and Bingo! You won’t be able to access any of them – or turn off the blacklist – until the timer is up.

2. Lending out a Book, lecture notes, MP3 player or anything else you actually want to get back one day? Snap a picture of your friend with the item about to be borrowed. Set a timer on your phone for when it’s supposed to be returned.

3. Are the charging wires for you MP3 player, phone, tablet, e-reader and laptop turning your desk into the land of spaghetti? Grab a box of medium or large binder clips, attach them to the edge of a shared table or desk and thread each charger end through the wire handle. They’ll keep the ends sticking up and ready to use and keep them from slipping back into the tangle of cords.

4. Setting your alarm for an especially early class? Change the alarm to a song you can’t stand, set the volume to max and then toss it across the room before you go to sleep.

5. Need a cold beer or soda, like, NOW? Make the most of your study break with a cold drink. Wrap a wet paper towel around your drink can or bottle and pop it into the freezer for 15 minutes. You’ll get an ice cold drink without having to wait.

6. Your parents just told you they’re coming over and the whole place smells like dirty feet? Tape a few dryer sheets over your air conditioner or air vents and turn them on. The place will small amazing in no time.

7. Don’t throw out that Post-It note quite yet! Pop motivational or flash card post-its all over. Once the test has passed, run the sticky side between the rows of keys on your keyboard to get out dist fluff and whatever else gets stuck in there. You’ll have used them to help prepare for your exams and you get a clean keyboard too!

8. Tired of marketing emails clogging up your Inbox? Filter by the word ‘unsubscribe’ and you’ll catch them all. Just move them to your Trash or set your filter to do it automatically.

9. Getting ready to haul your textbooks, DVDs, games or other books down to sell them to a student or secondhand store? Use a rolling suitcase instead of cumbersome boxes. They’ll be easier to transport and you won’t have to worry about the box falling apart.

10. When you need to copy a direct quote from the internet into your paper, use Ctrl+Shift+V to paste it into your document. You’ll copy the text but all the internet page formatting will be stripped away.

11. Get some quick sources for your paper by grabbing a definitive book on the subject. Flip to the back and go through the book’s bibliography – instant source list.

12. Make the most of Office Hours. Hitting up professors during Office Hours can help you get a better understanding of the material and it also makes you more memorable to the instructor. You’ll stop being thought of as a student number and start being remembered as that clever kid with all the questions.

13. You won’t need to buy textbooks for every class. Not every professor insists you buy the recommended textbook. Check with former students or email the professor directly before the class is set to begin and ask if the textbook is mandatory.

14. Check out international versions for textbooks. Often, textbooks printed as International Versions have the same content, just on lower quality paper. The price is typically less than half of what you’ll pay at the student store but you will have to order them online and allow a longer delivery time.

15. Grab your gum. Chewing gum – particularly minty gum – has been shown to boost focus and concentration.

16. Go old school when it comes to notes. Writing notes and brainstorming by hand helps you to retain information better than typing on a computer. Go back to pen and paper to outline a paper, make notes about a chapter or brainstorm for thesis ideas.

17. While you’re at it, take notes for someone else. Taking notes that someone else will need to understand will force you to take better notes in general. Being able to explain a concept to someone else will force your brain to process the information more thoroughly.

18. Need to get practice exams for a class? Enter “site:edu [subject] exam” into a search engine to get old exams to practice on for classes you find especially difficult.

19. Underpromise and overdeliver. When you’re planning out how to tackle studying, get your part of a group project done or finish a paper, give yourself plenty of time and set small, realistic goals. Give yourself more time than you need and you won’t end up with deadline jitters.

20. Get rid of your phone! When it’s time to buckle down and study out your phone on silent and leave it in another room. Text messages, phone calls, status alerts and breaking news can all wait for an hour.

Fighting the Blank Page: Kamikaze Writing Mode

We all know it. We all hate it. That darn blinking cursor won’t move on its own. And when we find ourselves in the position where we desperately need it to move, it won’t.

Writing under pressure is one of the bloodiest, most soul-eviscerating activities. Really, it is quite messy.

It also happens to be a situation few writers can avoid. Some (sadist) say we should actually embrace such tension-filled occurrences. After all, we are tested during moments of pressure. How we respond to the pressure is a choice. And it is the choices we make that become the foundation of our character.

Author James Bilkey said, “You never will be the person you can be if pressure, tension and discipline are out of your life.” You may come out of the situation with some bumps and bruises, but you’ll still be standing.

So, if it is the choices we make that define our character, how will you choose to handle your next pressure filled writing project?

First, Proof That It Can Be Done

It may feel like you are the only person in the world who has been forced into such a precarious position. It may feel totally unfair, unjust and downright mean for someone to ask you to church out exceptional content under such circumstances.

Guess what. You aren’t alone. You are not the first person to write under pressure. Nor will this be the last time you are asked to do so.

Perhaps all you need is a little encouragement – proof that it can be done. Not only can it be done, it can be done well.

  • Agatha Christie wrote her first detective novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, in two weeks.
  • Ed McBain spent about a month on each of his earliest novels.
  • Erle Stanley Gardner wrote for more than a half century and produced more than1,000 books. In fact, he churned out four novels, eighteen novelettes, two short stores and five articles in 1939 alone.
  • John Creasey wrote more than 500 novels in 47 years. In a single year (1939), he published 38 novels.
  • Georges Simenon wrote 10 novels in 11 months. His goal was to write a novel in 11 days. In total, he wrote 220 novels
  •  John Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath in five months.
  • Herman Melville wrote Moby-Dick in six months.
  • Noel Coward wrote Blithe Spirit in six days.
  • Robert Louis Stevenson wrote Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in three days.

Now that you know it can be done, let’s take a look at how you can make it happen too.

How You Ended Up in This Situation

There are various reasons why people find themselves in a stressful writing situation. We are going to take a look at the top three reasons why a writer might feel pressure to compose: the need to earn money, bouncing back after a major life event, or facing a very tight deadline.

Writing Under Pressure Scenario #1: Writing to Earn Money

Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky was a Rusian novelist, short story writer and essayist. He was also a gambler.

Dostoyevsky wrote Crime and Punishment in an attempt to pay off his debts. Unfortunately, the staggering amount he earned wasn’t enough. He had to ask his new wife to sell some of her possessions to cover the rest.

After placating his debtors, Dostoyevsky fell right back into old habits. Just three weeks after venturing out on their honeymoon, he had to wrap things up early. Dostoyevsky had gambled away all the couple’s money. Returning to his typewriter, the poor, broke writer churned out the first 100 pages of The Idiot in just 23 days.

Many people use their pen as a money maker; writing is not a new career venture. However, some writers need to earn more than just the average pay check. They need extra money and they need it now.

This is a very harrowing situation to find yourself in. The pressure is intense and the need to produce results can sometimes be a life or death situation. At times like this, drastic measures need to be taken.

If you don’t have any time available for frivolous things like writer’s block or procrastination, try this intense writing app. Write or Die encourages writing by punishing your attempts to be idle.

Based on the idea that a tangible consequence is more effective than an intangible reward, Write or Die offers negative reinforcement. Studies show this method strengthens a behavior because a negative condition is undesirable.

What kind of punishment is dreaded by a writer under a strict deadline? The Kamikaze mode of the Writer or Die app has the answer – keep writing or your work will unwork itself. After just a few seconds without activity, the app will begin to delete words. These consequences will persist until your preset conditions have been met (time is up or you’ve reached your desired word count).

Not everyone falls into the category of stressed, broke writer. Sometimes, there are other reasons why we feel stressed.

Writing Under Pressure Scenario #2: Bouncing Back

Often times, it is difficult enough to force yourself to write when things in life are going well. Even if you feel emotionally happy and ready to work, the muse just won’t come.

When you are in the midst of a stressful or upsetting life event, it seems downright impossible to put pen to paper. After all, how are you supposed to think about a blog posting when a loved one has just died? Is it possible to write a witty newspaper column after learning you have cancer?

So what can you do?

1. Don’t feel guilty.
As long as you aren’t neglecting the person or thing that needs attention at that moment, you have every right to attend to your own needs. You don’t need to feel selfish because you are getting your work done in the midst of chaos.

In fact, it is almost necessary for you to return to work. If writing is what makes you feel like your old self, you might need to write in order to regain a sense of normalcy.

2. Schedule time to think.
This new life event is probably dominating your thoughts. You dwell on the situation all day and perhaps all night. As a result, you haven’t given any thought to what you are supposed to be writing.

Make an intentional effort to sit and think about your writing task. Try to block everything else out of your mind. Don’t succumb to mindless activities like watching TV or Facebook stalking. Instead, use that time to think about how this recent event could enhance your writing.

3. Remember why you write.
This major life event has probably taken over your life. You may think it ridiculous to add even more to your to-do list; you have enough on your plate without the task of writing.

However, if writing is your heart’s passion, it won’t add to the stress – it will take the stress away. You’ll probably feel relieved to be engaging in a very natural impulse.

Maybe you don’t have excess stress or sadness in your life. Maybe you are just facing the pressure of a run-of-the-mill deadline.

Writing Under Pressure Scenario #3: Facing a Very Tight Deadline

Deadlines are a fact of life. As a writer, you can’t escape them and by now, you have probably grown accustom to them. However, some deadlines are tighter than normal.

When you find yourself facing an extreme deadline, consider the following tips.

1. Do your chores first.
It happens without fail; the moment a deadline rears its ugly face, you feel the overwhelming need to procrastinate. Whether you have an uncontrollable urge to clean your home from top to bottom or you absolutely have to take the dog for a walk, we all have procrastination triggers – random things we do instead of writing.

Be aware of these triggers and complete those tasks before you sit down to write. Think of it as procrastinating in advance. Once you sit down to compose, you’re mind will be clear and you won’t have an excuse to stop.

2. Know where you can and can’t work.
Ray Bradbury once said he used to write on his typewriter in the living room. The radio would be on and his mother, father and brother would all be talking at the same time.

Not everyone has the mental focus to compose under such conditions. More often than not, we need a quite, distraction free environment. Of course, it is impossible to find the perfect spot to write. And according to E.B White, “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”

However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to find a quite place to write. If you are truly under the gun, you might consider checking yourself into a hotel for the weekend. On Friday night, take your favorite snacks to sustain you and work until check out Sunday afternoon.

By removing yourself from your regular environment, you greatly reduce the chance for distractions.

3. Define your task.
Don’t blindly jump into a writing project. Take the time to think about your topic and the purpose for writing.

4. Do some chunking.
Chunking is the process of taking a large task and breaking it up into smaller, more manageable projects. When we are faced with a writing project, it often seems insurmountable. The pressure we feel leads us to engage in some self-sabotage in the form of procrastination.

However, if you have a list of smaller tasks, they seem more manageable. For example, you could chunk your writing project like his:

  • Research the idea
  • Contact and interview experts
  • Write a rough draft
  • Revise and polish draft
  • Submit final product

The more intimidating the project, the more you need to strategize your time. Calculate how much time is available to complete each step. Don’t forget to include a few breaks. This lets your mind breathe between tasks, making you fully focused on completing the next one.

Once you have established a timetable, stick to it. If you hit a trouble spot, skip it. When you come back to it later, you may find you can remove it entirely.

Don’t stop working until you have met your goal. Jack Kerouac said writers should place the desk near the bed with a good light. He suggested working midnight till dawn and getting a drink when you get tired.

Susan Sontag said, “Once something is really underway, I don’t want to do anything else. I don’t go out, much of the time I forget to eat, I sleep very little.”

5. Just get it down.
Get words on the page. Humorist James Thurber once said, “Don’t get it right, just get it written.”

If you spend time worrying about every little world, you will simply heighten your anxiety level. You’ll distract yourself from the overall purpose and hinder the larger goal – which is to finish on time!

6. Use unorthodox methods.
Ray Bradbury once said, “When I wanted to write Fahrenheit 451, I went up to UCLA and found a basement typing room where, if you inserted ten cents into the typewriter, you could buy thirty minutes of typing time.”

You’ll be hard pressed to find many typing rooms with typewriters. However, you can find plenty of people willing to charge exorbitant fees to use their services.

Find a coffee shop that charges for their WiFi. Go to a computer lab at the local university and pay by the hour to use their computers.

If you know you are throwing money out the window, you’ll be more tempted to make the unreasonable spending come to a screeching halt as soon as possible.

7. If all else fails, use stimulants.
There is one time a caffeine addiction comes in handy – and that is when you have to write under pressure. If a harmless addiction to a stimulant isn’t handy, reach for a common sugar high.

These caffeine-high and sugar-rush states of being are the cure for writers block. Plus, they are responsible for eradicating mundane, boring writing.

If you tend to lean more towards healthy mental stimulation, try exercising. The endorphins you receive after just a brisk walk will be magical.

Looking Towards the Future

If you really want to get good at writing under pressure, you’ll need to practice. After all, practice makes perfect. Learn to navigate the big stressors with ease and your next writing-under-pressure task will be a cake walk.

While you are practicing, be realistic about your capabilities. Don’t be negative with yourself. No matter how hard you try, you are bound to miss a deadline every once in awhile. Unexpected setbacks creep up and cause delays.

When this happens, it is important to stay positive. Don’t think of yourself as a failure. Ask yourself why you didn’t meet the deadline. See if you can pinpoint a way to prevent it from happening again. What can you do differently in the future?

Don’t let negative thoughts like, “Why did I even bother?” creep in. Instead, think, “At least I tried. I’ll do better next time.”

No matter why you find yourself in a stressful situation, head this advice. Susan Jeffers says: “Feel the fear and do it anyway.”

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Are You Still a Good Writer: How Not To Get Outdated

The great folk singer Bob Dylan once said: “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” You may not need a weatherman, but a good writer always knows which way the wind blows. Journalists, creative writers, copywriters, essayists, academics, researchers know how to write about contemporary issues in a succinct and engaging manner.

This isn’t as lofty as it may sound; you don’t need to be a Pulitzer Prize winner to be a strong writer. Similar to keeping physically fit, to keep “writing-fit,” you need to regularly practice and hone those writing skills and take on new challenges that allow you to explore writing in new, exciting ways.

Here are some simple tips that will help strengthen and keep your writing fresh and contemporary.

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Keep a blog

In the past decade, the Internet has blossomed to become one of the most accessible and useful resources for writers. Keeping a regular blog on a favorite topic—let’s say, a blog about cooking or a blog on running—is an easy way for you to write on a daily basis and to build up your writing and research skills. Nowadays, you don’t need to be a CSS or HTML expert to use attractive blog platforms (for example, try your hand at WordPress.com or Tumblr). You can have a sleek, sophisticated-looking blog in less than half an hour. As an added bonus, you may also receive regular feedback — and compliments —  from an audience-at-large.

Review blogs

Spend some time each week reading what others are saying about the craft, as well as the business of writing. Being a strong fiction writer versus being a skilled copywriter demands two different set skills, and popular niche websites like Copyblogger, The Write Practice, ProCopyTips and K.M. Weiland include everything from writing prompts to practical advice related to the workplace. Whether you’re a creative writer or copywriter, these blogs will give you a good sense of how good writing is being defined by a larger writing and reading public.

Show your work

You won’t be able to say much about your writing without someone telling you what they think about your work. Rather than just trusting your instinct or the opinions of friends or family, go out on a limb. Show your work to another writer, a mentor, a professor or a professional colleague whom you trust and respect.

Take a writing course. Create a writing group.

Even the best writers need to brush up their skills. If you’re a professional writer looking to build new skills or review a set of skills you already have (let’s say, you are a copywriter looking to create a more sophisticated copy ad portfolio), taking a class every once in a while never hurts. Check out the writing classes offered at your local college or community-writing center. Mediabistro, an extensive online resource for writing professionals, also provides a wide range of courses for novice and experienced writers alike. A class not only helps you strengthen your writing skills, but it also gives you a group of writers and an instructor who will give you critical feedback on your work.

Another option is to form a writing group with three to four other writers. Set a realistic schedule, whether this means meeting once a week or once a month. Almost every writer will tell you having a trusted community to share work with is critical in keeping them accountable and “in the loop.”

Know your social media

Although this might not seem instantly important or obvious, keeping abreast with social media as a writer is important for several reasons. Most major publishers and news sources have a Twitter and Facebook account. Increasingly, innovative and well-circulated writing is being done exclusively via the Web. Think Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings; the Huffington Post; the Daily Beast. If being a strong, contemporary writer means having a pulse on what engages the public today, it also means keeping updated with the way the world communicates. You don’t need to regularly tweet or post Facebook statuses, but keeping connected with social media can help you become a more savvy and knowledgeable writer.

Publish

Even experienced writers bite their fingernails when it comes to sending out work to their favorite journals or publishers. It’s never easy, but if writing is a labor of love, being published in a forum that you respect is one of the most gratifying experiences you can have as a writer. It not only says that you are a good writer, but it makes your work accessible to a wider audience of readers and in the process, gives you a healthy boost of confidence.