What My Literature Degree Taught Me About Writing Habits

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When I started my English and Literature degree in college, I didn’t expect to get that much out from it other than learning how to write a decent essay. But with the workload that I acquired, learning how to write persuasive essays was not the only skill I took with me as a blogger.

Here are some of the lessons I learned during my years as a literature student that will also help you build your writing habits as a new writer.

Making a daily writing structure is key.

I would have never gotten anywhere if it were not for the systems I put in place to get my work done. Every week with a literature major, the workload mostly consisted of three to four essays with six high-quality discussion posts and classmates’ responses. That was on top of in-depth research and planning needed for the literature research papers I had to work on throughout the weeks. But I had to get the work done without overwhelming myself when I looked at my to-do list. That meant that I had to develop a system that would prioritize my writing and not get overwhelmed with all of the white blank pages that I had to open every day. My approach usually looked like this:

  • 6:00 am: Wake up and begin my morning routine
  • 9:00–12:00 pm: Write and research (I usually did the Pomodoro method of 90-minute work with 15-minute breaks)
  • 12:00 pm: Lunch/Long break
  • 1:30 pm — 7:00 pm: Back to work
  • 7:00 pm — Bedtime: Family time, plan for tomorrow, and night routine (Sometimes I switched the last two around if I felt like writing at night)

This writing system was something that I quickly brought with me as a blogger when I graduated, and already having that routine was a lifesaver when I went straight into blogging after I graduated.

The takeaway is that it truly doesn’t matter if your system looks like mine or someone else at first. Find a writing system that works for you. It will take some time to get into the flow of your system, and with bad days, it’s okay if you slip a bit. But having a system will significantly increase your productivity in the long run. I truly owe my many academic achievements to having a writing system, and I know that you can be successful as a new writer with one too.

Sometimes you have to force yourself into a workflow.

If I could point to the most challenging aspect of my degree, it would be the times where I knew I had to write an essay draft but was completely blank when I sat down in front of my computer to write.

For me, writer’s block exists to an extent. But I don’t believe that it’s something that happens out of thin air. Instead, it happens during times of stress, anxiety, and fear. Either from what to write or from something that is happening outside of your writing life. We all have things that we go through mentally, which usually prevents us from getting on the keyboard and typing like light speed. This situation usually happened to me a lot during my degree.

But instead of pushing away from my computer for a while, I knew I had professors ready to put “zero” on my papers if I didn’t submit it. So you know what? I had to suck it up and force myself into my work. If I didn’t like what I was writing afterward, I would revise after a day or so. As a freelance writer, there will be many times where you have no idea where to start, and that page may be empty for a while.

What you have to do is take a deep breath, put on something that helps you focus, and force yourself to write. Eventually, you’ll get out of your block, and the words will begin to flow out again. If you don’t like what you wrote, revise it. But know that just like my professors, clients are also waiting to write “fail” on your review if you don’t do what you have to on time. Writer’s block is not fun, but knowing what you have on the line will fix it every time.

There is no such thing as too many revisions.

During those college years, I admit I was not too fond of the editing and revision process. It was time-consuming and meticulous. I just wanted to write and get my grade. I quickly learned that I couldn’t get anywhere if I didn’t take the time to revise.

So I edited once, skimming over the sentences and mainly looking out for more significant typos and grammatical mistakes. But soon, I realized I still wasn’t submitting my best work. Even after my paper was free of typos and other errors, there were so many things that I could have added to my analysis. From then on, I learned that the most important aspect of the writing process (other than the actual writing) is the revision process. No matter how many times you revise, there is always something that you could add or take away if you wanted to.

When you write, you are pulling words and ideas from your mind to the paper, and when you revise, those ideas can change or build new ones even after just a day or two. So it’s always vital to modify every chance you get. Don’t just skim either. Instead, read your articles word for word. Read it backward if you have to but make sure that you are confident that what you put out to the world is professional in quality while representing you.

Don’t settle on your first or even second choice of words. Of course, make sure that you don’t get too caught up in the revision process to the point where you procrastinate publishing it. That is a whole other story for another day. But remember that your writing is your brand and your career; make it the best it can be.

Research provides you with more meaningful commentary.

Before I started my degree, I didn’t realize just how much of it went into research. I came into it believing that I was going to have a great time sitting back in my chair by my window or laying in bed, reading a novel and then writing down some thoughts about the relationship between the weather and the bedsheets.

But then, I found myself spending most of my time looking up the history of a particular country, their socio-political situation, and how their cultural norms shaped the author’s story. Even though I initially thought that I was unnecessarily doing something I didn’t need to, I immediately saw its benefits on my overall writing.

I started to add more meaningful insights throughout my papers that lead to deeper discussions and significant takeaways. It’s one thing to write about a topic for your blog or your client’s, but when you implement research about that specific topic, there are so many lessons that you could provide in your writing.

When drafting your articles, make sure that you are taking full advantage of the internet. Google Scholar is a great way to gain some scientific information. Another great resource is Google Books. The books are usually not free, but the previews they give are generally enough for you to take something back to your article. Just remember to cite the author. You can see how I implemented Google Books in my article, How to Stop Fear from Getting Between You and Your Writing Career

Although the lessons that I listed aren’t any new revolution for us writers, the years of making it a part of my writing habits showed just how vital they are.

Make sure that you look back to what you learned academically or professionally in the past so that you can improve your writing as well. And hopefully, the lessons I learned can help you as you begin your writing career.

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