Apathy and the Writing Assignment
Rhea Crone, consultant
Are you feeling tense or anxious about an upcoming paper? Inconveniently suffering from writer’s block halfway through your assignment? Having trouble getting started, in the first place? Chances are you’ve experienced some, if not all, of these. All writers inevitably do. There is an incredible amount of helpful advice articles and blog posts about these common dilemmas circulating in the internet ethers, and therefore no shortage of discussion regarding their remedies. There is another dilemma that a markedly fewer number of sources address, however, that is no less dire than the aforementioned frustrations.
That’s right—it is a truth universally known yet not always acknowledged that writers sometimes simply do not care about an assignment. This does not mean they are “bad” writers, of course. They instead suffer from a deeply felt lack of interest in the topic they are writing about. This blog post will be a brief, practical guide for writers just trying to get words on paper when they would rather watch paint dry, or scroll back past the same Tumblr post for the 99th time. It will not aim to inspire, or change hearts and minds about just how rewarding the writing process can be. Rather, it will offer a few tricks and tools to get writers to the last sentence on the last page of a paper they would just as soon fold into an airplane and toss through a window. Without further ado, let’s get through this.
1. Attempt all possible means and methods of making yourself interested.
No blog post detailing ways to get through an apathetic writing venture would be complete without first suggesting that everything within reason be done to make the paper topic interesting. Try listing at least three things that are remotely intriguing about the topic in question, and writing on your topic from a different perspective. The latter suggestion can be carried out by arguing for something if you find arguing against it particularly draining, and vice versa; moreover, if the assignment in question is a research paper, this suggestion can be taken up by incorporating an unexpected, yet valid and scholarly, source.
Lack of motivation is hopefully impermanent and can be cured by an impending deadline (or two). In these cases a writer might very well find themselves in a state of panicked writing and/or blind terror regarding the poor grade a hastily written paper might receive. Sometimes, however, even with looming deadlines, writers still have no desire to compose a paper, and therefore experience no anxiety or regret. With that said: writers who simply cannot muster an ounce of interest in the subject matter they are expected to write about, the rest of this list is for you.
2. Set small goals.
If completing an entire paper seems not only boring, but daunting, try breaking the paper into small sections, and set the goal of completing one of these small sections per day, or, on a slightly larger scale, per week. Completing papers incrementally can make the composition process seem much less taxing. Indeed, sitting down to write on a topic you have no interest in is a much less painful experience when you are armed with the knowledge that you will only be composing a few paragraphs or so.
3. Set up a reward system.
Reward systems vary drastically from one writer to the next due to differences in writing style, pace, and—perhaps obviously—what different people find rewarding. Whether you are rewarding yourself for drafting a thesis statement, or getting a particularly complicated paragraph down on paper, treat yourself. For longer papers, try to set up a slightly more strenuous system: for each full page you complete, promise yourself some form of reward. This reward can be simple or extravagant, and should take on whatever (legal) form that will make it an effective means of encouragement.
4. Give yourself permission to get it done.
It goes without saying that we all want to be the best writers we can, and produce the best work we can. Sometimes, however, we’re faced with an encroaching deadline for a paper that bores us to tears, and we have to take a somewhat drastic measure. Put bluntly, we have to give ourselves permission to simply get the paper done. When getting a paper done, it is crucial—as always—to ensure that all guidelines and parameters of the assignment have been met, and that the finished essay adheres to otherwise generally accepted conventions (e.g. each paragraph includes a topic sentence, all quoted material is contextualized within the paper’s argument, etc.). In other words, produce a paper that fulfills the criteria of the assignment, submit it, and be done with it. There will be other papers; there will be other topics. This is academia, after all.
Composing essays, no matter the length, is oftentimes no easy task. Even for the most experienced scholars among us, the effort that must be put into the writing process can seem downright herculean. In the midst of attempting to make a particularly droll topic interesting, setting goals, granting yourself rewards, and gearing yourself up to simply get the paper done, try to remember: you are certainly not the first writer to stare at a blinking cursor, unable to believe how little they care about the piece of writing that must be produced. For further resources on different aspects of apathy management, feel free to peruse the following sites:
For when you do not care but think you can still be motivated:
For when you do not care and are in need of commiseration (this author “know[s] personally how boring writing an essay can be . . .”):
For when you do not care and need to write quickly: