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Despite common belief, writer's block will not cause apocalypse

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It's almost that time of the year again: the last push before Reading Week. Unless you're a robot built by engineering students, chances are your stress has steadily risen since the first week of January, most of which comes from procrastinating on assignments. Don't kid yourself, friends, I know you all would prefer to do anything other than those pressing essays. That's why you're reading this article instead of studying, isn't it? I thought so.

Sole responsibility for stress does not always lie with procrastination alone, however. That infamous writer's block always hits you at the worst possible times. Fear not, for there are many resources the University of Calgary offers, from clubs to the Student Success Centre, to help remedy this dilemma.

Brenda McDermott from Writing Support Services is an eager and helpful aid.

"We're not all grammar and spelling," she says about the writing centre. "Sometimes we can help you with one or two tweaks to the way you approach writing, the way you do your assignments, that can save you a lot of time, or at least make the time you have more effective."

McDermott believes the main problems facing students are lack of prioritizing and scheduling. Though sometimes, she adds, the problems are ones that students create themselves.

For example, you don't always need a large chunk of time to study or read. Working in small increments of time throughout the day helps ease that last minute panic before an assignment is due.

"You spend 15 minutes thinking about your thesis statement, you can do that waiting for the bus or CTrain. That can be really productive time towards your paper because then it's in your head and you haven't forgotten about it."

McDermott acknowledges that some students draw a blank when it comes to the writing portion of assignments. She recommends moving through the struggle in sections.

"If your writer's block is because of that daunting first sentence of the introduction, you don't have to start with the introduction. If you have a sense of a thesis statement or what your target goal is, start writing what is easiest to write about at the moment."

Her best advice, however, is to not leave everything to the last minute.

"Not the old adage of starting things earlier," McDermott clarifies, "just thinking about them earlier. I want people to work smarter not harder."

"Whatever kind of work that you can do before crunch time, even just cognitive work, it can be a relief to your brain so you're not all of a sudden thinking through four or five papers all at once."

McDermott and the Student Success Centre offer writing, time management and procrastination seminars all semester long.

Another on-campus option is the Scribe and Muse Reading and Writing Club, headed by president Michael Beckett and vice-president Ken Hunt. Scribe and Muse offers not just social events for writers, but a peer-revising program for students of all faculties.

For students looking to improve their writing skills, the club will pair them with students who have displayed exceptional reading and writing abilities to mentor and encourage those who struggle.

A club full of aspiring authors, Scribe and Muse has copious amounts of advice for writers, especially regarding writer's block.

"The biggest thing with writer's block, to combat it, is to just start writing," Beckett says. "Whether it's good or bad, when you hand in your essay and you do well on it, nobody else is going to know that you had this writer's block or that you left something out."

On the flipside, Hunt recommends free writing exercises in order to get the ball rolling.

"You write for five minutes, you don't stop, you don't think about what you're writing until it's done," Hunt says. "It's a great way to remove that inhibition about writing."

Scribe and Muse also holds writing circles for creative writing, which Beckett says could help relieve stress.

"It helps you channel your experiences, channel anger, emotion," he explains. "Instead of blowing up at a girlfriend, you channel the feelings onto the words on the paper."

Beckett says planning and starting your work early is still the best way to avoid stress.

"Facebook is always going to be there, so is the shopping mall, so are television series, but what's not going to be here is that opportunity to hand in that essay again," he says. "That deadline is going to come and it will pass and it will never come again."

"It's going to take you a long time, because you are not Tolkien or Rowling," adds Hunt. "It's about the process more than about the talent."

For more information about procrastination and that darn writer's block, visit the Student Success Center on the third floor of Mac Hall or the Scribe and Muse club in Social Sciences 1025.

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