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Six Ways to Start the Writing Process

Six Ways to Start the Writing Process

Whether it’s for a school assignment or for a novel manuscript, everybody writes. For many people, however, writing often becomes a chore: time-consuming, demanding, and unsatisfactory. The problem is that most people don’t stop to think how to write. Just as there are steps to solving an algebraic equation, there are several steps that can be followed to produce a more satisfactory essay or story, some more obvious than others.

Perhaps the most tricky part of writing is figuring out how to begin. The first steps to writing – getting a concept, planning out a piece, and working out a draft – aren’t usually the most fun steps, but they are all often overlooked. Here are a few tips for starting your work quickly and without much hassle.

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First, decide what you actually want to write. Getting down the bare minimums for your piece will help you construct a bare draft for whatever it is you’re planning to end with. Either jot it off on a sticky note and put it next to your notebook, or write it on the top of your Word document.

How long is whatever you’re trying to write? What are you writing about? Are there any other requirements you have to worry about? While you might know exactly what you need before you start to write, putting it down is a good way to focus your mind on exactly what you need to accomplish.

Make sure you’re interested in what you’re writing. If you aren’t fascinated with the subject you’re writing about, it will almost certainly show in your writing. If you don’t have a choice as to what to write about, try to find some element in your subject that interests you, and focus on it. If you’re just writing to finish whatever it is you’re supposed to write, getting yourself to write it will take much longer than if you take just a little time to get yourself interested.

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Outline the basics of what you’re trying to get done. The most monotonous example of this, of course, is the five-paragraph essay most high schoolers are forced to learn about. While an overly-forced rubric can lead to an unoriginal paper, some structure can only help with your quickly jotting out a draft, which is the most important part of writing. If you have five pages to fill on a paper, decide how long you will write about each different point you have to make.

Outlining also helps with creative writing: even though creativity can’t be forced, it helps immensely to have a general idea of what’s going on in your story. Just look at Harry Potter, which concluded last month: the final book had strong ties with the six before it, even though it was written a full decade after the original book. Without some sense of direction, J. K. Rowling would never have been able to create such a powerful conclusion.

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Stop everything else and concentrate on writing. The draft of any piece is almost always the hardest thing to write, since you have nothing to base your writing on. While you’re writing your draft, try to concentrate on it as much as possible. Turn off your instant messenger, if you have one on. Don’t take a break to check your email. Any interruption might destroy your focus on your piece, and it is far harder to return to writing a draft than it is to write it all in one go.

If your piece is a long one, this might not be entirely possible. Still, try to set aside at least an hour at a time when you’re trying to write, so you can get into the flow of your writing.

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Lower your standards. Writer’s block really originates from high standards: often, you will sit down to write but not like what you’re producing. The trick to eliminating this? Stop worrying so much over whether or not every little bit you write is a good as it can be. Either way, you are probably going to have to return to your draft several times an revise it: don’t attempt to revise every line as you write it.

If you have a section you think is of a particularly low quality, make a note of it, but keep writing. Revision is when you’ll go back and fix all the errors you’ve written. The draft is just your chance to write quickly and get the foundations of your piece over with.

Take your time before revising. You won’t be able to assess your piece immediately after you’ve written it: give yourself time before looking over your work. Read a book, talk to friends, perhaps exercise… just make sure that when you go back to read over your draft, you’re in a different mindset than you were when you were first writing. If you spend too much time looking at your work, you won’t be able to revise objectively. There’s no rush to finishing your work after you’ve begun: just take your time and you’ll be far more able to produce a quality piece of work.

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

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