Ready, Set, Go! When Starting is the Hardest Part by Ashly Riches

posted Nov 27, 2017, 1:02 PM by Writing Center

 This semester, my classmates and I have been assigned a 12-page paper on anything to do with Jane Austen. With an open-ended prompt and a relatively long paper, it can be difficult to even decide what to write about. My conversations with classmates that even have a topic go a little like this:

                                “How’s your paper coming along?”

                                “Well, I pretty much know what I want to write about, but I just don’t know  where to start. What about you?”

                                “I have my sources and everything, but I haven’t started writing either.”

Regardless of topic or length, sometimes beginning can be the hardest part. When the time is ticking by, and you’re staring at a blank white page, review these tips:

Know your sources!

For almost every type of academic essay, you are going to need outside sources, whether they come from your anthology textbook, the library, or the internet. Become as familiar with these sources as possible.

If you have many sources, and run the risk of confusing them, develop a system of categorizing. For example, if you are writing about Jane Austen’s use of gaze and portraiture, use a pink sticky note for every good quote about gaze, and a green sticky note for every good quote about portraiture. When you begin writing, you’ll have your information color-coded and will not need to skim your sources all over again!

Begin with the facts!

If you aren’t quite sure exactly what your claims are going to be, or if you haven’t decided your position yet, begin with the information you do have. Sometimes typing out and citing your quotes can be a laborious process, especially if you have many sources. Try to frame your paper with the solid information you have from your sources, and then continue writing from there.

Rough drafts are your friends!

Remember that nothing can be accomplished in one sitting. Don’t be afraid to just start writing – in the middle, at the end, wherever! This content may not be included in the final draft, but pouring your thoughts out onto the page can be a good impetus for writing. Remember to restructure and revise once you’ve gotten everything out!

Create an Outline!

Outlines can help us to develop our ideas and our main points. This strategy takes a lot of the pressure off, since it does not need to sound good or be well-written; the only purpose of the outline is to establish the structure of your paper. Once this is done, you can begin to flesh out the ideas and will be well on your way to a completed paper!


This tip requires zero distractions – brainstorming is not effective if you’re doing it while scrolling through Tumblr. Really focus on your topic, generate ideas, and don’t be afraid to throw out most of them until you get to your idea. If you work well with Socratic dialogue, come to the Writing Center, we love brainstorming!


Most importantly, learn your own writing habits! Each of us have our own trick for starting a paper effectively, but hopefully one or all of these five will help you begin!