Have you ever finished a paper and felt like you just can’t look at it any more because you’ve been staring at it for so long? Using a text editor or generator is one exciting way to get a fresh look at a paper. There are an endless number of free online programs that can help you reassess a piece that you’ve written, whether it’s a blog post, a poem, a short story, or a research paper. Two types of programs that you can run a text through, whether in its entirety or in part, are:
- Word cloud generators
- Up-goer five text editors
Each of these programs can give new perspectives on a piece of writing that may seem stagnant.
Word Cloud Generators
There are a variety of free word cloud generators available on the Internet. Some of these include Jason Davies Word Cloud Generator, Wordle, WordItOut, and Tagul. Below is an example of a world cloud created by running the text from our tutor bios through the Tagul generator. The larger a word appears, the more it has been used in the entered text. As you can see from our word cloud, the tutors are a bunch of people who have majors and minors and who love to write and to spend their time on a variety of activities (apparently our preferred pet is a cat). Because of this feature, making word clouds can be a fun way to see which words appear most frequently in your text. Perhaps you will realize you have been subconsciously using a word more than you should. Maybe you will be able to see that your text has focused more on an idea than you originally thought you would (which means you should schedule an appointment at the Writing Center to adjust your thesis statement accordingly!). Either way, using a word cloud generator is a great way to get a new look at your writing.
Up-Goer Five Editors
There are also a number of text editors that are referred to as “Up-goer Five Editors.” After copying and pasting text into these kinds of editors, they will essentially highlight or underline any words that are NOT one of the thousand most commonly used words in the English language. This seemingly absurd concept was first made popular by a group of scientists who made a comic attempting to explain the Saturn V moon rocket using only the “ten hundred” most common words – hence the name “Up-goer Five.” In this way, it can be a very useful tool for highlighting jargon. While discipline-specific terminology is wonderful to use with targeted audiences, general papers or presentations are a different case. Works that are shared with a general audience should avoid these words – or actively define them so that audience members can understand the progression of ideas. It is important to remember, however, that a limit of only the thousand most common words is a little bit overkill, so please proceed with caution (all the underlined words in the sentence were highlighted by Up-Goer Five text editor)!
— Jason Swartz, writing tutor
Here at the Writing Center, we don’t just encourage you to bring us academic writing; we also ALWAYS encourage you to bring creative writing! While creative writing is all fun and dandy, sometimes it’s difficult to know where to start, especially if you want your work to be seen by others.
Fear not, young grasshoppers! I have compiled a list of different creative writing outlets and opportunities that may interest you if you have a passion for (or just want to take a whack at) writing.
Image courtesy of amerinator.blogspot.com
This is a great place to start if you have a certain topic of interest. You can probably find a blog about anything if you search hard enough (like this one about dogs wearing hats). There are a ton of websites you can use to start a blog, but WordPress and Tumblr are among the most popular.
Image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org.
WordPress is fairly easy to use. You simply go to the website and click “Create Blog.” Then, you will be asked to choose a template for your content. If you want more photos in your blog, you’ll want to pick a template that allows you to create albums. If you want to have a more writing-based blog, there are templates that highlight that as well. When I studied abroad in Budapest in Fall 2014, I kept a blog about my travels and random thoughts. Here’s the link if you’d like to check it out as an example.
Tumblr is a bit different from WordPress. Users can post seven different types of content: text, photo, quote, link, chat, audio, and video. In addition, users can follow each other to see other content, which is able to be “liked” or “reblogged” (which is Tumblr’s version of a retweet). Users are also able to title their blog and create a theme, much like WordPress. It can even link to Facebook and Twitter so friends on those social networks can see their Tumblr posts. Those are the basics, so here’s a more in-depth how-to for Tumblr.
Image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org.
The cool thing about blogging is that sometimes you can actually make money from it! That’s right, people have made careers out of posting their content on the internet. That’s so 21st century, right? If you’re interested in that path, here’s a website that consists of blogs about freelance blogging (blog-ception oooOOOooo).
*Side note: check out this blog run by a McDaniel alum. She gets paid to make fun crafts or recipes with different products. How awesome is that?
In case you didn’t know, McDaniel has its own literary/art magazine called Contrast! Students are able to submit their creative works for publication, whether they are short stories, poems, photos, or other works of art. A committee reviews the submissions and votes on which ones should be published. If you are interested in more information, you can come to the Writing Center or contact Shannon McClellan (slm007) or Emma Richard (eir001).
Trouble getting started?
One of the most difficult stages in the writing process, regardless of the style, is getting started. Where do you find that inspiration to write the next great haiku? AdviceToWriters provides daily quotes to get your creative juices flowing. The site even has a post called The Best Writing Advice that compiles quotes from writers about advice given to them over the course of their careers.
If you’re interested in other creative outlets or writing opportunities, check out this list of 100 Best Websites for Writers.
Surprisingly, baking and writing have more to do with each other than you might think. As a late-night stress-expelling baker and a scribble-on-the-napkin English major writer, I’ve found that my two passions actually compliment each other very well as all of my oven-on-fire moments and deliciously successful dishes have taught me invaluable lessons about writing. Here are some writing tips I’ve discovered through baking:
Read the recipe, FIRST!
I can’t tell you how many times I thought I knew what I was doing and just skimmed over a recipe, only to open the oven to find that my cookies had merged into one giant cookie-sheet sized cookie or that my bread loaf never rose.
Just like in baking, we need to make sure that as writers we are reading our prompts very carefully to get a clear idea of what is expected of us. Reading a recipe or a prompt BEFORE you start will help you to identify any questions you may need to address before your paper blows up, like my oven.
Ingredients: Something to work with, even substitutions
Sometimes (because I neglected to read the recipe first), I’ve been in the middle of mixing ingredients just to realize that the recipe calls for milk, and I don’t have any. Great. Good thing I’ve learned that you can substitute water for milk, butter for margarine, lemon juice for cream of tartar, etc.
When you’re writing that paper, sometimes you’ll be in the middle and find that your thesis just doesn’t work with what you’re trying to do; or maybe your sources aren’t as relevant as you originally thought. That’s ok. You can make substitutions. Think of your drafts as opportunities to see what works best. Maybe you need to refine your thesis or swap out sources to better support your paper.
Not fully cooked? Back in the oven
My grandmother never used kitchen timers and would simply lick the tip of her pointer finger and tap the middle of the bottom of the 400° pan to check if the baking was done. She was, miraculously, never wrong. Unfortunately, I didn’t inherit this super power, and I am ALWAYS checking cookies or cakes or pastries with a knife, grumbling as I have to put them back in the oven for another 5 minutes or so.
Writing works much like baking in this respect. You’re going to go through drafts sometimes, especially with longer papers. It’s all a part of the process. Your timelines for papers will vary; you just need to be patient and conscious of your work. You should be rereading your work, proofreading, and visiting the Writing Center to keep making those improvements!
Everyone Bakes Differently
As I said, I like baking at night. It’s soothing and relaxing, and it makes my apartment smell yummy and cozy. I’m also a messy baker. I rarely use measuring tools (I’m a rely on faith type of baker), and I don’t care if flour gets everywhere. My mom can’t stand my process; she bakes much more neatly than I do, leveling off all the measuring cups and wiping up bursts of flour as they fall on the counter.
As a writer, I approach writing differently than other people too. That’s natural! Just as I need to recognize the advantages and disadvantages of how I bake, I also need to learn about what will help me be a better writer. Paying attention to your writing style needs helps you to identify weaknesses, practice strengths, and write in the best types of environments for you. So, go forth and obsessively organize your writing desk for optimal writing success or scatter notes and books around you on the floor in a mess!
Baking for a crowd
I promise, I’m actually a really good baker even though my stories have indicated otherwise. Sometimes I’m baking for me, but most of the time I bake to make yummy gifts for people or because a friend requested a certain baked good. When I’m baking for other people, I try my best to keep their tastes in mind and consider what is really going to make them excited about what I bake for them.
You also might write creatively for yourself, but a lot of the time we are writing papers for class. Keeping in mind what is going to appeal to the recipient of my baked goods also applies to writing essays because we want to be sure that while we are writing essays we are keeping the reader in mind. Come into the Writing Center to talk about reader-based prose v. writer-based prose, but basically you want to be sure you keep your audience in mind and think about what kinds of things they will need to understand your paper and what bits you want them to take away.
Those are my top 5 baking-to-writing lessons! Hooray! Just keep in mind that just as every master baker has her staff (where’s my cleanup crew?!), every good writer has his or her arsenal of support… THE WRITING CENTER! Here’s to scrumptious baking as we get closer to the holidays and amazingly well written papers as we near finals.
P.S. I’m even going to share one of my favorite recipes: Safe-to-Eat Cookie Dough!
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 c flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 c margarine
1/4 c sugar
1/3 c brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Pour & mix flour, salt and baking soda into small mixing bowl
In another mixing bowl, place margarine, white & brown sugars
Cream margarine and sugars together
Add and blend in vanilla
Slowly add flour mixture into the bowl until blended and crumbly
Refrigerate and share with everyone (or just yourself!)
-Shannon, peer tutor
Have you ever wanted to write about the experiences you’ve had when you’ve travelled? Maybe you went to Punta Cana this past summer, or England on your Jan Term. How can you let someone know what your experiences were really like? The answer to that question is: travel writing.
Travel writing is a genre of nonfiction writing in which “the narrator’s encounters with foreign places serve as the dominant subject.” This means you can write about exploration, adventure, or the great outdoors! But you can also write about not-so-glamorous experiences, like riding the broken-down metro or getting lost in the back alleys of Budapest. Anything that’s a “travel experience” is fair game. It’s also important to note that you don’t have to travel far to have a meaningful travel experience. You can travel write about your hometown: What is there to do? What aspects of the town do people first notice? What’s the attitude of the people like? Your backyard is someone’s travel spot!
Not your literal backyard, though.
Interested yet? Well, onto the first step: travel there! If you have yet to go to your destination-of-choice, be sure to bring a journal when you do. Jot down notes about things that strike you. What are your first impressions? What makes the place unique? What is an encounter that might be interesting or amusing to retell? If you have already been to your destination and are writing about it after-the-fact, try to mentally travel back to that place, and ask yourself the same questions: What features of the place stood out to you? What vibe did you get from the people? Did anything interesting happen to you while you were there? Describe it! As an aside, your writing doesn’t have to be an encapsulation of an entire place. You can travel write about things like a restaurant, park, or mall (while eventually putting it in the larger context of the place—but we’ll get to that!).
Next, organize your notes. For travel writing, you’ll usually want to have a mix of:
- your own present experiences in the place
- your past experiences relevant to the place
- experiences of other people in the place
- historical or broader context about the place
This “weaving” of different content allows you to give a fuller picture of the place to your readers. It keeps things interesting without relegating your writing to only a quirky story or an encyclopedia entry. Including people (whether it’s yourself or others) interacting with your place also prevents you from simply describing the physical features of a place, which gets boring fast.
If you need help with details and organization, check out some “travel” shows like Rick Steves Europe, House Hunters International, and Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. These shows profile places visually and orally. The writers find interesting features of a place, film and talk about them, and give background information. Take note of how they do it, and imagine you’re a director: how would you film your topic? You can’t include everything, so what do you include?
Finally: write! As with any writing: draft, revise, repeat—until you have an engaging and informative piece that illuminates some aspect of your place. Do this well enough, and you can even submit to magazines and get paid! At the very least, you will have a great written memory of a place and your experiences there.
-Sarah, peer tutor
So you have a really important research paper coming up for a class in your major. You’re trying to budget your time, but you have another paper for one of your “McDaniel Plan” classes due the same week. You begin to panic. What do you do? How can you get them both finished? And, how can you possibly do well on both of them?
Have no fear. Nothing is impossible. Here are a few tips for balancing multiple papers at a time:
- Plan ahead. This is the best way to prevent yourself from having a panic attack and feeling overwhelmed. Look at your schedule as far in advance as possible (preferably at least a few weeks) and beginning blocking off time for each paper.
- Evaluate and prioritize. Chances are a twenty-page senior research thesis is going to take you more time—and count for a larger portion of your grade—than a three-page reflection. Look at each syllabus and determine how much time you think you’ll need to spend on each paper. Give yourself more time for longer papers or papers that count for large portions of your grade.
- But, don’t sacrifice one paper for another. If you’ve budgeted your time wisely, you won’t end up in this predicament. Make sure that you are giving each paper the attention that it deserves so that you can do your best work. Don’t spend so much time on one paper that you have to try to pull an all-nighter to do another.
- Take breaks in between working on papers. Don’t try to work on multiple writing assignments consecutively. Basically, don’t work on one paper for a lengthy period of time and then immediately try to work on the next. Your brain needs time to shift focus, and you don’t want to run out of steam.
- Stay focused. Make sure to separate the subject matter and requirements for each paper in your mind, so that you don’t get confused. This will be easy if you keep a post-it note with your thesis and list of requirements for each paper on your laptop or notebook.
- Don’t get overwhelmed. As soon as you begin to feel defeated, you will begin to sacrifice the quality of at least one of your papers. Stay calm, keep your focus, and give each paper your all.
- As always, come visit us at the Writing Center. We can help you with brainstorming, proofreading, and writing for any and all of your assignments.
-Rebekah, peer tutor
There is a special magic that comes along with documenting your everyday musings and experiences. However, journals are often stereotyped as adorable little notebooks filled with perfectly organized, dated, written entries that require a great deal of time and an even more immense sense of personal commitment to maintain. “Journals” are supposedly ravenous entities screaming, “feed me!” every time a new memory or observation encodes itself into your brain.
In some environments, keeping a consistent, daily record of your everyday thoughts and experiences may be extremely useful and worth your while, such in a study abroad or travel-based setting. But how can journaling ever be compatible with the stresses and demands of everyday campus life, you inquire?
In fact, I’ve often found that journaling can help you untangle that twisted knot of thoughts contributing to the writer’s block that’s impeding your current paper. But perhaps you don’t have the time, energy, or motivation to commit to a so-called “traditional” journal during college. After all, that 20-page research paper should probably claim precedence over freelance scribbles.
This may require broadening your horizons and dismantling that stereotype of the cute-little-notebook-companion. Perhaps you’re interested in engaging in creative self-expression during those scarce free moments, but don’t have the time to actually develop it into a dedicated hobby. What follows are a few quick tips and ideas to help inspire you to dabble in occasional, stress-free, fun self-reflection! :
1.) Your journal is there when you need it.
Oftentimes, it can be extremely difficult to find a spontaneous, creative moment. To reiterate, journaling does not have to require a huge commitment, especially as it pertains to college life.
2.) Abandon your rampant perfectionistic tendencies.
Focus on release. Think of grammar as a afterthought if you find yourself struggling with perfectionism. Refraining oneself from adhering to a specific format, structure, or style can be an incredibly liberating experience.
This goes back to defying the stereotype of the “traditional” journal. There are numerous ways to free your creative inhibitions, some of which don’t even have to be verbal. Treat your journal like a scrapbook if you feel this really whets your creative juices. I recently received a “junk journal” from Etsy and have been literally stuffing it with various ticket stubs, greeting cards, and other paper scraps to help me preserve particular memories.
Dream journals, whether handwritten or online, are also a fun, less time-consuming alternative to traditional journaling.
I’d also recommend these books by Keri Smith as extremely fun creativity starters:
Altogether, journals can be a fun and fantastic medium to express yourself in a multitude of ways. Don’t think of journaling as just another thing to heap on top of your already overstuffed to-do-list, but rather as a spontaneous opportunity to help you gain inspiration or insight whenever a spare moment might arise.
~Sarah F, peer tutor