Wrangle Your Writing Process

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Wrangle Your Writing ProcessA dish called Lomo Saltado
A dish called Lomo Saltado from the recipe book mentioned in this post

After a week of eating a lot of cereal and pizza, I decided to give my future self a gift. I meal-planned! I read through recipes in a book and chose ones that were feasible and appealing (shout out to this cookbook, which sorts recipes by the time they take to make). I did a late-night Fred’s run for all the ingredients and felt ready to feed myself and my family a whole week of mostly homemade food. 

I don’t often meal plan like this because I like to feel creative in the kitchen. For me, this means a little bit of challenge and a little bit of spontaneity. What ingredients do we have hanging around? How could they come together? But on weeks when I have a lot going on, the answers to those questions lead me to the freezer for pizza or the cupboard for boxed mac n cheese (family favorites and reasonable options! But sorta tiring when they show up every night). 

Moral of the story: Sometimes, especially when time is tight, planning is the crutch I need.

I’m telling you all this so that I can spin it into a metaphor for writing. Here we go: Writing is creative! And might feel fun when we’re feeling creative! But when we’re crunched, it can feel overwhelming or like a chore. And unfortunately, there aren’t good ways of short-cutting to the frozen pizza versions of a writing process without also short-cutting academic integrity. So what can we do?

Read the Recipe

I am terrible at this. Notoriously terrible. I once chose a “smashed potato” dish as a contribution to a potluck because it seemed quick but also delicious when I skimmed the recipe. Skim is the keyword here. I missed the part where the potatoes slow roasted for 2 hours, and started the recipe with only 30 minutes of available cooking time.

Don’t be me! When you’re working on a writing project for class, whether it’s a longer research paper or a shorter weekly assignment, read the prompt carefully and read it early. In fact, set aside 15 minutes a week before the writing is due just to read the assignment and jot down any questions you have (still time to ask the instructor!) or any initial ideas you have in response. Writing down those quick ideas is a little gift to your future self, who is going to have to sit down and actually write out a full response at some point. Your notes give your future self something to start with besides a blank page. This can take just a few minutes, and can greatly reduce the anxiety of sitting down to write later on.

First Tries Take Time

One of the recipes I chose last week was this super mushroomy savory pasta dish. Everyone in my family (even two little kids) will reliably eat a mushroom-smothered pasta. And the book reported that this one would only take me 30 minutes! I was thrilled but also a little intimidated by the long ingredient list. So I decided to make it on Sunday night, when my time is a little less crunched. I still started at 5:30 but guess what time we ate? 


That’s right, it was after 7pm. The prep work for many of the ingredients was involved! Also, I’m constantly interrupted when I’m cooking, so it just took more time.

It also takes time … to write. I’m not going to tell you to start early and give yourself enough time to do your writing, because I too am human and have been a student. What I will say is that once you do sit down to write, spend a few minutes establishing clearly what you’re doing. What are you working on in this writing session? If you’re making an argument in the writing, what is the basic argument? Do you have to get to a particular page or word count? This last one is key: How long will you be writing? 

The most time that any of us can stay focused on a task like writing is ~90 minutes. After 90 minutes, we need a break. If you have 3 hours before your writing is due, establish for yourself at the beginning of your writing session that you will stay put and undistracted for 90 minutes to write a first draft, take a 15 minute break, and come back to work on revisions for an hour before the submission deadline. 

Looking for a clear method for breaking down your writing time? Try the Pomodoro Technique.

Don’t Get Distracted

My kids distract me in the kitchen because they distract me everywhere. So does my phone, though. Don’t let your phone and all the people inside it distract you from your writing session! 

When I’m in a writing session, I pull the writing window away from email and other browser-based communication, close out iMessages and Slack on my computer, and force myself to ignore my friends so I can get through the writing. The kids might still pop in and distract. But take control of the distractions you have some control over (if you have control over your kids asking you for stuff when you are clearly busy, please email me and share your wisdom).

Kendell (right) and her son Soulei (left) at an event in the UAF makerspace
Kendell (right) and her son Soulei (left) at an event in the UAF makerspace


Tonight I made one of the recipes off my meal plan list and kinda ruined it. I didn’t have fresh mint, which it called for, so I used dried mint. But I was feeling so chef-y after frying the jalapenos and pressing the aromatics that I just liberally doused the dish in dried mint. And that is how we ate salmon toothpaste for dinner.

You have to try things a couple of times to get it right, sometimes. Writing is a process, and getting through the first draft of words on the page is, for many of us, the hardest step in the process. But it’s hard to communicate what we mean! If you can make time for it, ask a friend (or a tutor at the Writing Center!) to read your draft and give you feedback. Then loop back to those well-defined writing session techniques and spend 90 minutes working on revision. 

(The moral of this writing advice is that I should try making that minty salmon dish again and do better next time, but I probably won’t. There are more fish recipes in the sea.)

Get a Sous Chef

When my son was 3, he started to get picky about food. So I declared Tuesday’s “Chef Soulei” night and let him lead the cooking with me as his “sous chef” assistant. We ate a lot of hotdogs on Tuesdays. But now, he is a pretty competent sous chef for me! He’ll taste things while I’m cooking and give me really rude feedback, or chop something up while whining that he’s just a kid and this is a lot of work. It’s really helpful.

You shouldn’t write alone! Get a collaborator, get a sous chef, get a whole team of cheerleaders. The Writing Center tutors can usually fill multiple of these roles, and you can make an appointment to meet with them. My office offers writing sessions on Friday mornings, which are an opportunity to get accountability for the writing you need to do. Alternatively, invite a friend or (dare I say) a family member to sit down quietly with you and work on their own project while you work on your writing. Make writing the team sport that cooking should be.

Bon Appetit

Happy – or at least, reduced-stress – writing to you! If you have other writing tips or practices to share, I’d love to read and respond in the comments to this post! Alternatively, if you have very achievable and delicious weeknight dinner recipes, I’m here for those too :)

Wrangle Your Writing Process
Kendell’s daughter, Rieona, stirring up some magic in the kitchen


  • Kendell Newman Sadiik

    Associate Director of Transformative Teaching
    Kendell is a writer, teacher, and designer with 8 years of experience in project management and instructional design. With her B.A. in Political Economy, she worked in social science research in Cambridge, MA before coming to UAF for an M.F.A. in Creative Writing, which she completed in 2015. She is a listener, a problem-solver, and a creative collaborator. She values innovation and inclusion in education and works hard to make higher education accessible and responsive to all.

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