How To Engage With A Difficult Essay Topic
Hey there Writing Center family, it’s me (Annie!). We’re 19 days away from summer! Only 19 days. That is so crazy! I’m sure you’re excited to begin your summer vacation. I know I am! However, the thought of completing all those final projects, papers, and exams before the start of summer vacation is not as exciting. If your classes are anything like mine, you might be asked to write essays as some of your final assignments. While some essay topics can be fun to write, sometimes the topic of an essay is just difficult to write. This difficulty often streams from a lack of engagement with the topic. You may not feel engaged because you’re tired and overwhelmed by the end of the semester, you’re have a hard time knowing where to start on the paper, or you just want to sit out in the sun. I asked Chase Ezell, one of our Writing Center tutors, to offer some tips on writing essays for topics that writers are having a difficult time engaging with.
Chase Ezell, Writing Center tutor
Step One: Go for a Walk
This is, arguably, the most important step. I firmly believe that our best ideas tend to happen outside. After a long day of classes, writing about a topic which you find entirely uninteresting is the last thing you’ll want to do. So, it’s time to recharge your mental batteries. Getting some fresh air will help you clear your mind from the day’s distractions and become more focused on the present. When your mind is free from stress, it is easier to focus on the task at hand. Inspiration often comes when you least expect it. If I’m having trouble starting a paper,a short walk around campus helps me decompress and refocus on the assignment.
As you wander around your chosen trail, you will probably come up with a few ideas. Be sure to jot them down in your notes app, as you can easily review them when you sit down to write. If you’re not yet sold on walking, any form of physical activity will do. Stretching, yoga, and weight training are equally valuable in sparking creativity. That being said, try not to tire yourself out; working on your paper will require sufficient energy.
Note: Skip this step if you only have a few hours until your essay is due.
Step Two: Re-read the Instructions
Make sure you know exactly what the prompt is asking for, then break it down. If you can determine the essay’s main requirements, you can formulate a plan that will simplify the writing process. If you have a rubric alongside your prompt, even better. Having specific guidelines for each area of your assignment will help you figure out what to include in your work. Plus, it never hurts to double check once the essay is complete.
Deciphering the instructions can be fairly simple. Let’s say you’ve been asked to write a research essay explaining the history of the periodic table. If you are not into chemistry, this may not be very engaging. So, you’ll want to clearly define your objectives. Since the prompt is asking you to explain the periodic table’s history, you know you will need to explain its creation and any significant events afterward. Plus, you will need sources to show where you found the information. Once you’ve established your primary goals, you can break the essay into even smaller portions.
Re-read the instructions!
Step Three: Make an Outline
Outlines are a very effective method for organizing your essay. To use the example from step two, imagine you have your main topic written out. Now, you will want to break it down even further. You can start with your topic, then separate it into a few sections, then add a few points to each section. From there, you can include even more details to flesh out your ideas. To make it even easier, you can plug in any citations or quotes you plan on using.
Creating an outline is very similar to putting together a puzzle; you’re just figuring out where each piece goes. However, you’ll want to set up a good framework for your puzzle. You can do this by listing each main point with a Roman numeral (such as I,II,III,IV). Once you have those, you can list each sub point or detail with a letter or number. It is entirely up to you, but you do want to be sure each section is distinct.
Make an outline!
Step Four: Write the Essay
You’ve cleared your mind, organized your thoughts, and found a comfortable spot. Now, it is time to write the essay. Or, at least, time to start writing it. The actual writing portion of the essay can be challenging, especially if you are not interested in the topic. So, before you start writing, I recommend finding some aspect of the topic that engages you. If you have some level of interest, it will make it easier to get through the writing process.
When you sit down to write, you have a couple of tried and true strategies at your disposal. The first strategy involves more planning, which would make writing the essay much easier. In order to avoid burnout, you can set aside specific times to work on each section of your essay. If this strategy does not appeal to you, you can follow the alternative: writing the entire essay in one sitting. I call this the “brute force” method, and save it for essays that I want to finish quickly. However, it is not uncommon to have writer’s block or feel stuck when writing an essay.
Write the essay!
Step Five: Visit the Writing Center
After you’ve written a draft of your essay, you can stop by the Writing Center to receive feedback. Our tutors can discuss your writing with you and develop a revision plan for you. Once you have this revision plan, you will have a good idea of the steps you need to take to complete your writing. We also encourage you to come to the Writing Center before you’ve even written your essay. We can work with you to help you determine what you should write about, find an interesting aspect of your topic to write about, develop an outline of how to write your essay, and more. We’re available to help you at any point during the process of writing an essay for that topic that you just don’t find interesting. Schedule an appointment with us today.
Visit the Writing Center!