How to Actually Concentrate While Writing: 6 Tips from a Tutor

Focus! (on writing).

Let’s be honest, most of us tell ourselves we will definitely start writing at a certain time of the day, and by the time it comes, we find ourselves sitting in front of our computer, staring at a blank Word document (almost blank! It probably has our name on it and an earlier date so it looks like we started earlier than the night before it’s due). After a while, you find yourself writing, but soon enough you are checking Instagram, or texting, or doing anything remotely entertaining to distract you from your work. Sound familiar? So how do you remain focused once you’ve started? Here are some tips!


  • Find a good place to write. This may sound cheesy, but I can’t stress this enough. Find a place that’s conducive to writing for you. Some people get severely distracted in loud places, while some others can’t stand to sit in silence. Figure out what kind of person you are and find that place where you’ll be comfortable and feel like you can conquer anything.
  • Accept the fact that, yes, you could be doing something more fun, but this assignment needs to get done. Many times, merely knowing that we could be relaxing instead of doing work creates writer’s block, making it impossible to concentrate. Let go of the tension that those feelings are causing and accept the assignment as it is. You’re in college now, you will get through this assignment and many more, so accept it and get to writing!
  • Try not to think about how much you have left. I completely understand the feeling of dread you get when you look at how much you’ve written and it’s not even close to the page limit. Don’t get stuck! The more time you think about that, the less time you spend writing. Look at what you’ve written, give yourself a pat in the back for getting something done, and keep going!
  • Give yourself breaks. Let yourself get distracted for 5-10 minutes, but stick to a schedule. Write for a while, then give yourself a break. I know turning off your phone sounds like torture, and I know the urge to check all your social media grows by the minute, but if you stick to a schedule you are more likely to get stuff done. You can even use these shorts breaks as a reward. You go, you!
  • Get up! Ultimately, if your mind is wandering too much, go take a walk. Get some coffee or water, stretch your legs, and think about something else. By the time you come back to your computer, you are bound to feel recharged and have some fresh ideas.
  • Visit the Writing Center! Just saying, if you come see us, you’ll have little choice but to focus on your assignment—at least for that hour.

Sometimes writing is a struggle for all of us, and that’s okay. But learning how to concentrate on your writing will help you in the long run. It may not be easy at first, but I’m sure you’ll get there. Good luck!

Mirii Rep, Writing Center Tutor

What Being a Dork Can Teach Us About Writing

I’m going to put this out there now: I play Dungeons and Dragons. And I love it.



A lot of people dismiss this game as being the epicenter of nerdom. But not only is this game a ton of fun, in addition to being a great game for actors, writers, storytellers, fantasy-lovers, and generally creative people, it actually has a lot to offer in terms of life lessons. That’s right, D&D teaches us about life. And life includes knowing how to write.

I guess you knew that this would have to connect to the Writing Center somehow. But I can honestly say that playing D&D has taught me some important things about being a writer. Not just a fiction writer, either. D&D has taught me some great things about writing essays.


For those of you unfamiliar with the game, D&D (also referred to as DnD) is known as an RPG, or role-playing game. Its all about creating a role-play character that moves around the world, makes decisions, fights monsters, and (hopefully) triumphs in the end. For a brief tutorial, we refer to the British TV show, The IT Crowd:

All silliness aside, as Moss begins to explain, a large portion of the game is based on chance, which is where the infamous dice sets come into play. However, the ultimate success or failure of the characters is based primarily on making logical and well-thought-out decisions. And this is where writing comes in.

When fighting a monster in D&D, we could charge in blindly and attack with the first weapon we get our hands on. Similarly, when writing an essay, we could try to write it the night before it’s due, BSing our way through the topic and randomly inserting sources as we go. But is that going to give us the best sucess rate?

Sure, we might get lucky, and accidentally smash the monster to bits, or turn out a work of sheer brilliance. Or, in a more likely case, we might crash and burn. Or at least drive ourselves crazy in the process.

Just like when we strategize your next move in D&D, we need to think strategically about our approach to the paper.

Strategy- it rocks! Image from

Consider what tools you have at your disposal: how much time do we have to write it? What argument will be the most effective? What kind of sources can we and should we use to support our arguments? What guidelines has the professor set up to help us? Ultimately, going in with a game plan, or at least a general strategy, will leave you with a better final result.

What else does D&D teach us? It teaches us to think creatively, in order to get outside the box and find a different, more effective way to approach a challenging situation.

In D&D, players are faced with situations that, at first, might be mysterious and potentially dangerous, or even ones that that they feel wholly unprepared for. Essay assignments can put us in the same place; we are left feeling totally at a loss, with no clear direction to go in.

This is where we need to think creatively. In D&D, a seemingly useless object (like a bar of soap, or a hand mirror) might be just what the player needs to overcome the difficult situation; they need only step back and survey their resources to find it. Similarly, when we feel totally stuck on a paper, all we might need to do is take a step back and revisit what we have to work with. What options does the prompt give us? What new ideas and inspiration can we glean from our research sources? What kind of argument could we make that would be completely different from anything we might have already encountered (maybe even something we disagree with)? When we endeavor to consider new possibilities, we can help ourselves out of the most difficult situations.

Finally, D&D teaches us that we are not alone. When the players encounter a hoard of goblins that only want to mount the character’s head on a pike, the player knows that he or she has other players who will help them keep their heads on their shoulders (figuratively and literally!).

And that’s where I come in. Along with the other writing tutors, I am here to help you out of tight situations. We will help you with everything from brainstorming a plan of attack to cleaning up the smears of goblin blood after the battle. No matter where you are in your paper, no matter how hard that paper might seem, we’ve got your back. And with us there, you WILL succeed.

So next time someone invites you to join them for a rousing session of D&D, don’t just dismiss the invitation as a “dorks only” zone; the things you can learn might just get you an A.

–Sammi, peer tutor

The Invisible Gorilla; An Exercise in Attention

In the following video, there are three people dressed in white and three dressed in black. Count how many times the people in white pass the ball to one another.

You should have counted 15 passes. But that isn’t the important part.

The real question is: did you see the gorilla?

Some of you may respond with, “Well, of COURSE I saw the gorilla. How could I miss it?” However, according to the study conducted at Harvard University by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, a full half of the people who took part in the experiment were so focused on counting the passes that they completely missed the gorilla. That’s 50% for whom the gorilla was completely invisible. (Even more crazily, in this recently conducted study, 83% of radiologists missed a rather large gorilla hidden in x-ray images!) Thus, we have the name of the experiment, “The Invisible Gorilla.” (Check out their site for more information!)

“The Invisible Gorilla”

This says a lot about the human ability to focus on things to the exclusion of all else. This ability can be great, for example, when the person down the hall is blaring heavy metal while you’re trying to study for an exam. However, this intense focus can also pose a bit of a problem, say, when you become so focused on the fact that one friend has not texted you back that you don’t realize that your other friends are waiting on you to go out.

Or, when you’re so focused on fixing all the little flaws in your latest essay that you miss some of the really large issues.

Many of you know how the Writing Center here at McDaniel works: you bring us your paper, and we sit down with you and talk about whatever you need help with. However, we have always made it a priority to focus on the biggest areas and issues. Some of you may be familiar with our Writing Center’s adage,

“If the Titanic is sinking, you don’t rearrange the deck chairs.”

Basically, this means that you shouldn’t worry about the little stuff (grammar, spelling, etcetera) if your paper needs, say, a thesis, or organization and structure. Focus first on the big, and work your way to the little.

Editors sometimes go bananas. (source:

Sometimes, though, its hard to even see the big if you’re so focused on the little. Just like we miss the gorilla in counting the basketball passes, we might also miss the fact that our paper has no supporting evidence if we’re too distracted by trying to fix commas.

At the Writing Center, we want to help you track down those gorillas! That is why we always suggest reading your paper aloud; you’ll really pick up on places where the organization is awkward, or the sentences don’t make sense! Even if you can’t make it in for an appointment with us, you can still do your own gorilla tracking.

Of course, we do recommend making an appointment! As trained Gorilla Trackers, its our job to help you make your paper as strong as possible by weeding out both big and little issues. Even if you’re a strong writer, having another person involved can really help you catch some of those larger snags; that’s why even our own tutors make appointments with each other once in a while!

Don’t let those gorillas slip by ya. Book an appointment with a trained Gorilla Tracker today!

What have you got to lose? Come on in.

Sammi, peer tutor.