Author Archive | Elena H.

3 Steps to Overcoming Writer’s Block

Image by Barlas Sahinoglu, Flickr

Image by Barlas Sahinoglu, Flickr

Here you are, sitting at your desk with time to finally start (and finish) your writing assignment. A fresh cup of your favourite tea or coffee is steaming next to your desktop, standing as a source of refuel for when your energy fades and dips down to dangerously low levels later on. A notebook filled with your outline and ideas (peppered throughout with the occasional artsy doodle) lays open to your left. A fresh, blank page is stretched across the screen, the blinking cursor at the top flashing steadily at a hypnotizing tempo.

And you swear it’s mocking you because you’ve unfortunately contracted the most horrific and prevalent syndrome known to all mankind – the dreaded writer’s block.

Common symptoms include (but are not limited to): temporary paralysis of the fingers whenever in contact with keyboards, blank expressions of glazed eyes staring into digital screens, and/or strong urges to rip out hair and throw said computer device out the window.

But fear not, this enemy can be vanquished! Whether it’s an academic project or personal hobby piece, these following tricks should help in pushing through that seemingly indestructible wall that stands between you and your finished product.

1) Divide and conquer. Approximately an hour a day split over the course of a week, or even an hour or two a week (depending on how big the project is and how in-advance you’ve planned it out) is much more doable than trying to power through from start to finish in the course of one day. By portioning the work load into smaller sections and spreading it out, it alleviates the high-pressure of rushing to write quickly and effectively (which in turn can likely incentivize an onset of writer’s block instead).

2) Time-out. Sometimes the best way to regain and recharge your writing-mojo is to take a break and walk away for a bit. No matter how hard you stare, the document glaring back at you will not magically write itself. Get up, do a little stretch or wiggle to loosen up the tenseness and frustration that has seeped into your bones, and go do something else for a couple of minutes. The more unrelated to writing, the better. But make sure to set a time limit (or else you may find yourself lost in a vortex of continuous YouTube videos that started with celebrity talk show interviews and have now somehow ended up in “Beat-boxing Goats: Greatest Hits 2015”). Step away – but make sure to come back.

3) Your notebook is your secret weapon. That notebook you have sitting beside you? Use it, it will help. If you’re an organized individual, then you’ve already created an outline for your project. If not, then take a few minutes to quickly pin down some ideas and important concepts that you can use as reference and checkpoints. You can do this electronically on your phone or computer, but by hand with a good old fashioned pen and paper could produce even better results as it arguably provides a more organic and fundamental medium as a creative outlet. Don’t underestimate the power of notes, it serves as the proverbial compass that could likely guide you back to the shore of productivity from your lost position amidst what seems to be the endless sea of writer’s block.

It can (and often does) happen at the most inconvenient of times. But despite how fatal and insurmountable it may initially seem, you can overcome writer’s block as long as you keep focused and maintain that drive in completing your project. Though it may be a bit of a struggle in first conquering this familiar foe, keep in mind that you’ll likely come out on the other end with an unstoppable energy and momentum that will easily carry you throughout the rest of your writing process. After that, feel free to return to your beat-boxing goat videos (no judgement).


Out-of-the-Box Tips for Editing An Essay

Image by Joanna Penn, Flickr

Image by Joanna Penn, Flickr

Five letters, two syllables, the bane of every post-secondary students’ existence – what am I? That’s right, I’m The Essay.

It may come as a shock, but no one likes writing essays. No one, not even English majors. And if they say they do, they are either a) lying straight through their teeth, b) being held at gunpoint and forced to say such ludicrous things, or c) likely not 100% human and you should be wary.

If you need tips on how to write an essay without feeling like you’re losing a part of your soul in the process, make sure to check out our other article here. If you’ve managed to finish that essay and are now dancing your way to the printer thinking that you’re done, STOP, because you are about to skip a very crucial final step towards completing your essay: the editing process.

Check out these following tips on editing if you want to turn that Okay-Essay into a solid Killer one:

Finish ahead of the deadline. For you self-proclaimed procrastinators reading this, I will wait for you to stop laughing. Complete the essay without pulling an all-nighter? Crazy talk. But finishing an essay way before the due date will not only save you some precious hours of sleep that your body will thank you for later on, but it will also give you the ample time you need to reflect and review your essay properly.

Edit the content before the grammar. There is no point in breaking up that run-on sentence with a couple of commas and periods if the entire sentence itself doesn’t apply to what you’re writing about. Read the essay through first for coherency, consciously checking that all of the examples line up with the arguments, and the arguments with the overall thesis. It’s very common for your ideas to morph into something entirely different during the writing process, so take the time to make sure that everything you have written down is there for a reason.

Get a little creative with the copyediting. This is just a fancy term that basically means to edit for grammar and spelling. For this part of the editing process, there is the tried and true method of reading the essay all the way through from top to bottom. To make this method really effective, make sure to step away from your masterpiece for at least a few days or more. This ensures that you will have a fresh pair of eyes, and increases the likelihood of catching that deadly “there/their/they’re” typo (a tragic mistake that has never been committed before).

Other techniques you can try that are a little more fun are reading the essay backwards, and reading it out loud. Breaking all rules and conventions of literacy by reading from right to left is especially helpful for spell checking, as it will automatically lead your eyes to focus on each individual word. Oral dictation may sound weird, but it will aid in testing for coherency, as hearing the arguments that you’ve constructed aloud gives you a better chance of determining if it makes sense or not. Find your own voice annoying, or embarrassed to read out loud because you’re in a public place? No worries, just pop in your earphones and plug it into Google translate. Or if you’re a Mac user, this would be a good excuse to use the dictation app (and choose from a multitude of varying voices and enchanting accents, just to spice things up).

Have a friend or two take a gander. An unbiased perspective is perfect for verifying the awesomeness of your essay. This may require a few bribes of candy bars and deposits of some I-Owe-You’s for future withdrawal, but it makes a significant difference having your essays looked at by someone other than yourself. If they can find it understandable and give you positive feedback, then it increases the chances of you professor or TA feeling the same way. The more people you can sweet talk into reading your essay before submitting it, the better.

Though it can be excruciating (and I mean Dropping-That-Last-Bite-Of-Your-Favourite-Cookie-Into-Dog-Poop level of pain) to not submit what you’ve already got and have it ridden from your life forever, editing your essay is a vital last step that can make a huge difference when it comes to the marking process. It could very well be the definitive factor in moving your B essay up to an A.

So go forth, polish those essays off, and start the countdown leading towards the last essay you’ll ever have to write in your post-secondary career! We’ll be here waiting with the celebratory champagne.

Rude Awakening – Rediscovering Motivation

Image by Chris Florence, Flickr

Image by Chris Florence, Flickr

There is no greater incentive to studying for finals than knowing that you will be embarking on a week-long cruise trip with your family as soon as you’re done. That’s why the minute I handed in my last exam, I was more than ready, and looking forward to doing nothing but sleeping, eating, and lying around by the pool and beaches with a good book. What I wasn’t expecting though, was a much-needed kick in the pants.

Fast-forward to the last night of the trip: we were all getting ready to head down for our final dinner at sea. Having met at my parents’ cabin as agreed upon beforehand, we managed to bump into the caretaker of their room. For the week of your stay, one of the cruise staff is assigned to your specific cabin, so it’s common to see them at least one or twice a day. Being the talkative and social people that they are, my parents quickly became friends with the staff member that took care of their room (unfortunately, I don’t remember his name, so he will henceforth be dubbed “Bob”).

From brief daily conversations, my parents found out that Bob had family in Jamaica whom he regularly sent his earnings to. He also alluded to the hardships that came with working on a cruise ship, broaching on topics of equality and fairness (to avoid controversy and any potential lawsuits that my meager student funds could never dream of affording, I will omit the name of the cruise line). Suffice it to say, Bob wasn’t exactly happy with his current situation, and planned to transfer to another cruise company soon.

That night happened to be the first and only time I had the chance to meet Bob during the whole trip, and I am very glad that I didn’t pass up the opportunity. We exchanged introductions before he went on to ask if I was in university, to which I affirmed. Pulling a clean towel from his cart, he casually asked if I was doing well. Here I hesitated, reflecting back on the less than stellar grades I had accumulated that past term (which could have possibly been a result of daydreams of the Bahamas rather than memorizations of novel motifs and essay topics). I couldn’t help but give an embarrassed smile and said that I was trying.

What he said next will stay with me for the rest of my life.

He stopped what he was doing, looked me dead in the eye, and used the most serious, somber tone I could ever remember hearing.

Don’t try. Do.

Now I know what you’re probably thinking: that’s something you find written in fancy typography, printed over a filtered landscape photo and posted on some hipster Tumblr page (not that I spend my time browsing those…much). But it was more so the way that he had said those words that completely eliminated any semblance of silliness or trace of corniness.

Though I mean no offense to the caretaking profession, Bob probably didn’t grow up dreaming of doing what he does now for a living. Despite this though, he was making the best of his situation and was working hard to be able to provide for himself and his family, and to ultimately give them the chances that he perhaps didn’t have himself growing up.

From a more personal perspective, I come from first generation parents. I share a close relationship with my mom and dad, so I’ve heard the stories of their experiences as immigrants and their struggles to establish roots in a country that was completely new to them. As independent entrepreneurs, they literally built a business for themselves out of nothing, and continue to work at it for seven days a week with little to no holiday or vacation hours every year. As a product of such people, I know firsthand the meaning of work ethic and determination. Just like Bob, they had and still do put in such tremendous effort and hard work on a daily basis in order to provide my sister and I with the options we have today.

And there I was, consciously knowing that I was giving a mediocre performance in my classes and only applying half of the effort that I am capable of to my assignments and studies. My initial drive to achieve and succeed had dwindled from first year and was in danger of completely fizzling out by the end of my second. Despite what I said to Bob, I had stopped actually trying and had begun coasting. And even though I was aware of this change in myself, I couldn’t find the energy or reason to fix my slacker behaviour – until now.

With those powerful words from Bob, a reflection on my parents, and some tough love from my best friends (who had noticed my recent degenerating behaviour), I was suddenly reminded of how lucky I am to be in the position I am in. The life and career goals that I had set out for myself weren’t going to become reality by themselves. If I wanted them to happen, I needed to actively work hard and make use of the opportunities and chances available to me to bring them to fruition. I owe it to Bob, my parents, and myself to persist and retain that determination in succeeding in the future that I envision. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if my dreams and goals don’t happen in the exact way that I picture them. As long as I’m actively trying and giving the best of my abilities to the challenges that come my way, that’s all that matters.

After all, that’s the only thing that is really asked of us at the end of the day, isn’t it: to try, and to keep trying.

3 Things The Undergrad Should Keep In Mind

Image by Linda Tanner

Image by Linda Tanner, Flickr

So here you are; you’ve finally arrived! After grueling hours slaving over final secondary school exams and tediously completing complex supplementary forms, you have reached the light at the end of the dark tunnel.

Except, that one tunnel that you’ve been racing down has now branched off into other multiple roadways for you to choose from, and life just got a whole lot more complicated.

For some of you, following that road sign marked “Next Stop: Undergrad Years” was unquestionably the correct path you should have taken. It abides by the 12-step plan you and your parents have created for yourself since your diaper days, and any other possible direction you could have gone down would have been unthinkable.

For others, that same path appears far more intimidating, as you may not have yet concretely decided what it is that you want to do in life. You’re looking to post-secondary as an opportunity to experiment and have some adventures, taking it as a chance to escape the parentals and learn what independence entails.

If you’re entering college or university with a crystal clear plan on what it is that you want to do and exactly on how to achieve that, then awesome! You go and take the world by storm! And if your planner for the future is filled with white-outs, unintelligible scribbles, and an abundance of question marks, then that’s okay too. In fact, it’ll probably be an asset when you enter your undergraduate life.

However, regardless of whether you are stepping through those doors on the first day with laser-precision focus or a scatterbrained attitude, it is more than likely that everyone will experience an overwhelming sense of disorientation and personal displacement at one point or another. New classrooms, new classmates, new teaching methods; it’s easy to quickly feel lost and alone whilst sitting in a full lecture hall (especially if you decide on attending a large school away from home). This internal feeling of being lost can manifest itself over into your studies, inciting questions of uncertainty and conflicting emotions that revolve around your ultimate purpose in a post-secondary institute.

So if you find your mind pondering matters such as “What am I doing here?” and “Is this really what I want to do for the rest of my life?” – read over these following 3 tips that will hopefully help you feel less like you’re driving around blindfolded and more like you’ve just been momentarily reading the map upside down.

1) Nothing is permanent. A lot of the time, we forget that we actually have a choice. If you’re no longer enjoying what you are learning or doing in your classes, then maybe try something different. Despite the contemporary age that we live in, change is still cringed at and shied away from. But when it comes to matters of your life and future, change is inevitable and will, more often than not, bring about bigger and better things. So whether you’re in first year or fourth, it’s never too late to switch majors or even schools if you really wanted to. Yes, it’ll be a bit of a hassle at first and you may even need to play a bit of catch-up, but in the end you’ll be a lot happier and successful in pursuing a field that you genuinely enjoy and have passion for, than in a career that feels like a chore and you only followed out of a sense of obligation. This is your life, and ultimately you are the one who gets to call the shots and make the final decisions that will determine if it will be an enjoyable one or not.

2) Shut out the negative. Being in college and university can lend you a newfound sense of anonymity and isolation that you may not have previously felt before. Away from familiar environments and people who have served as your support system for the majority of your life, motivation can be easily lost when you are fighting against exhaustion whilst finishing a ten-page paper on Nabokov at 3 am. Decreased self-esteem and the consistent presence of competition that hangs in the air throughout campuses can make it difficult to stay focused on what you want to achieve during your time as an undergrad. At times like these, try to keep in sight your long-term goals and continually remind yourself as to what it is that you are working towards accomplishing. Ignore the voices that are telling you that you can’t do it, especially the one coming from your own head (note: this is meant figuratively of course, If you actually hear disembodied voices, please consult a doctor as soon as possible). Pessimism and blows to your self-worth will only affect you if you let them. So whatever you are working towards, remember why it is that you want it, use that as fuel for your drive in all that you do, and don’t let anyone or anything stop you.

3) Take a step back. On paper, the years you spend in schooling appear extensively and tediously long. Yet months fly by in seconds when you’re in the moment, and the real world looms closer and closer as assignments, midterms and finals are completed in succession; one after the other. And let’s not forget the ever-present financial issues of student loans and tuition debts, which call for the simultaneous searches for jobs, internships and scholarships or bursaries. Juggling these along with trying to maintain a social and healthy lifestyle can seem damn near impossible, and has the high possibility of resulting in a full-scale meltdown of both the body and mind. To prevent the likelihood of this from occurring (particularly during exam periods), do this: breathe. Take a moment out of your busy schedule, even if just for a few minutes, and do something to de-stress and relax. Go on a leisurely stroll, bake, do yoga, read (something other than those assigned in class), curl up for a cat nap – take a breather to lower your anxiety levels and refocus. It’s important to have aspirations in life and to continually strive and remain driven towards attaining them, but it’s also vital to remember that you are not a robot or Beyoncé (no matter how desperately you wish it). So often we have the blinders up and face only what is ahead, and forget to celebrate the hurdles and mountains we have surpassed in order to get to where we are now. Be aware of the accomplishments you have achieved so far and give yourself the credit where credit is due, then redirect your newfound energy into your next project or goal.

Though it may seem like everyone around you knows exactly what they are doing and why they are there, chances are that each of them has felt the same sense of confusion and dislocation that you are experiencing now. The important thing to realize is that this feeling won’t last and you aren’t on this road alone. Remember this, and you’ll find that maybe there’s actually a detour around what you thought was a dead end.

Tips for Fellow Sleep-Lovers and Anti-Morning Folk

Image by Alan Cleaver, Flickr

Image by Alan Cleaver, Flickr

Sleep – whether you love it and can’t ever seem to get enough (like most people) or dislike it and see it as a waste of time that can be spent doing other activities (the very idea!), it is irrefutable that we need it in order to function well on a day to day basis.

As some of you will come to realize, or may even know already, once you enter university/college, sleep becomes the Golden Snitch of the Quidditch Game of Life. And unless you have some Potter lineage in your family tree, it will be a concept incredibly elusive and infuriatingly out of reach for most of your nights.

When, miracle of miracles, you are able to squeeze in a few precious hours of shuteye, waking up is understandably the very last thing you will want to do. Unfortunately, due to unavoidable commitments such as 9am classes and early job shifts, you are left with little to no choice in the matter.

So if you don’t majestically leap out of bed at the first glimpse of sunlight, here are some tips that will make dragging yourself out of dreamland a little less painful.

  • First things first: the alarm clock. The majority of us students use the alarm functions programmed into our cell phones, or you can kick it old school and buy one from your local Walmart. Set multiple alarms, and change the intervals between them regularly, even if it’s only by a minute or two. Also, place your alarm device as far away from your bed as possible. This way, you’ll be forced to get up to turn it off. Yes, you’ll probably hate yourself for this, but narcissism is overrated anyways. Oh, and a strategic alarm tone can be helpful as well. Choose the most annoying option offered on your device, or customize it with a personal song that you know will get you moving (such as “Circle of Life” from The Lion King Soundtrack, a personal favourite).

  • Water is your best friend. Besides the fact that you should be drinking water consistently throughout the day, chugging some down after waking up has positive benefits for the body. According to an article from LiveStrong, water intake in the morning will help replenish and refuel the organs within your body that have become a little more than parched overnight, providing a refreshed and alert effect on your body and mind. Some even say that a glass of salt water in the morning has health benefits as well. Showering in the morning is another way to achieve similar energizing sensations, and the promise of cleanliness and good hygiene will appeal to the germaphobe in all of us.

  • Simply sitting up in bed or forcing your eyes to stay open is one baby step closer to actually waking up. Take a few deep breaths and stretch out that diaphragm. Do some simple, languid stretches – reach your hands up to the ceiling, then bend down and touch your toes. Stand up. Take a couple more deep breaths. Give yourself a little wiggle, shake it out. Rub some sleep goop out of your eyes. Feeling more awake now? Good. Go start your day.

  • And finally, probably the mother of all sleep advice: go to bed earlier. Bad sleep regiments are usually a result of procrastination and poor time-management skills. Understandably and unavoidably, sometimes a few hours of sleep are sacrificed for final exams and assignments weighted at 40% of your grade. But if do you get the chance to sleep before the crack of dawn, take it. We all know that one more YouTube video actually means four more, and that Tumblr is the danger-zone-level-six-mega-black-hole-death-trap of the Web. Do your best to avoid sites like these just before bedtime; your future self with thank you profusely for it. Though it may be tough at first, once you establish a (even semi) stable routine of sleeping earlier, getting up earlier will subsequently be a bit easier because you’ve clocked in those essential hours that your body needs to operate daily. Be strict with yourself on this front – discipline is key!


So until the blessed day that Professional Sleeper becomes a credible job position or we find a way to add more hours into a day, these tips will hopefully aid in making mornings less detestable. Stay strong, fellow sleepers.