Non-Writing Factors: They Can have a Big Impact on One’s Writing!

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Punky LeDodge was excited about his latest writing assignment!  A freshman in college, his grades were thus far stellar, with A’s and B+’s in the four subjects he was taking.  Now, in his Freshman Composition class, he was tasked with writing an eight-paragraph essay on a problem of which he was aware in his field of study. Although Punky had not yet declared his major, he knew he wanted to be a meteorologist and felt good about an essay subject. On a spring break in Florida he wrote the essay on his phone at the beach, listened to the loud music that seemed to be coming from everywhere, and had a few margaritas while penning his essay. He felt quite relaxed. Back home he turned in his essay, happily waiting for a grade, and it came: D+!  Punky had never received such a low grade!  His professor explained she was equally dismayed, as the essay was scattered, full of typos, and had none of the required research. After a brief conversation Punky learned an important lesson, one that all writers should heed: the environment in which one writes can play a crucial part in the final outcome.

It is quite common for writers – college-level and in a professional setting – to write “on the fly,” i.e., to simply plop down where they are and turn out whatever writing is required. While the focus is on the words, often little thought is given to the environment surrounding the writer, and this can have a positive or negative effect. In the case of Punky, while he knew the subject and had a great idea of the direction his writing would take, he did not realize that writing his essay on his phone at the beach, with loud music and a few alcoholic drinks might play havoc on his ability to create a stellar writing assignment. Certainly, there are times when we have little choice but to write when the environment is not ideal: a crying baby nearby; in a room where others must also come and go; when we are ill, but have a deadline to meet; jotting down thoughts while waiting for a plane, train, or bus; and other “I just can’t change this” environments.

So, what to do?  Punky’s professor made a simple suggestion: take all the items that might equal the perfect writing environment, make them into a checklist. By having this available each time a writing project must be tackled it would be a good reminder of looking into – and correcting, if necessary – what can be controlled. Punky spent about an hour going over all the factors he felt would allow for full concentration in his writing, including following all directions. To be sure he didn’t miss any items he shared this with his professor, and she made a few additional suggestions.  Confident this checklist would prove helpful, Punky printed out a copy to be used each time a writing project was at hand. This is what Punky called “Steps to a Perfect Writing Environment:”

  • Be sure the room is as quiet as possible.  Noise can be a huge “interruptor” of focus, of concentration.  Being able to select a room that is quiet would be ideal, but if not available, select a time to write when the noise in the room will be at its lowest.
  • Write on a desk or table that is clean and clear. A messy desk or table can quickly translate into writing that is the same. But when we have a space around us that is clean and clear, it allows for a better focus and keeps us from looking at, reading, or playing with other items on the desk or table.
  • If listening to music, be sure it is music that will not distract from concentration. Music can help relax, and it can help to focus; when having music in the background, be sure it is not just because it is liked, but rather music that contributes to laser focus.
  • Have a non-alcoholic drink at the ready. We do not want any beverage – or other item – that can distort the mind, that can keep us drifting away from the work at hand. Water, coffee, soda, etc. are fine – and they can be a nice sip of relaxation now-and-then!
  • Upon occasion take an “environment break” to relax the mind. Our minds work best when not overloaded, so a short break – musing on a picture that is hanging, standing up and stretching, having a light snack – can give a nice bit of relaxation to the mind and body so a nice continuum of work can proceed.
  • Make a checklist of all directions so none are missed.  Missing just one direction of any assignment can be devastating, but having a checklist of all directions, then making sure each is followed, will assure nothing is left out.
  • Eliminate as many external distractions as possible. If others are nearby, let them know you are not to be disturbed … don’t answer phone calls (ideal: put the phone on airplane mode) … don’t check out websites (unless related to the assignment) … adjust the heat or cool so the room is comfortable.
  • Remember: your only job is to complete the assignment. Try to keep the mind focused on the project, nothing else. Think of this assignment as the only responsibility you have for the X amount of time you plan on working on it. Don’t take an extended break – it is more difficult to come back to that “perfect mind place” you had!

Punky used this list for his next assignment in the English Composition class, and it worked nicely. Not only did his grade bounce back to what he had come to expect, but he also knew that the assignment was much easier to produce because he followed the checklist as much as he could.  He was pleasantly surprised: just writing alone will never do the trick – the environment in which one writes can be a deal breaker or maker!

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