College of Staten Island
 The City University of New York

  Harry Thorne,
  WAC Coordinator
  Office: Building 2S Rm 227
  Email WAC

Writing Across the Curriculum/
Writing in the Disciplines
for Students

 Spend Your Brainpower Strategically

Think about your “brainpower” as a limited resource that can grow over time. I tell myself that I only have so much thinking juice every day, and I have to be careful about where I spend it. Some activities don't require a lot. Some things, like writing, quickly deplete my supply. Being an effective writer in college is not just about managing time, but also the precious resource of brainpower. For example, I usually give my mornings—my best time for brainpower—to my most important and hardest projects. I know that I burn through my brainpower supply pretty well in the morning, so I plan to read and research in the afternoon, which I find less demanding.

Text Box: Finding the right time for different types of work can make you phenomenally more productive.Think about where you're spending your brainpower and motivation. One simple trick to make sure that you're giving your writing plenty of brainpower is to do your writing before other, less important things. Notice that when I mentioned writing in the mornings, I said that I write before doing my other reading and research. If I tried to write after reading and researching, I probably would get frustrated really easily and wouldn't be as efficient. Finding the right time for different types of work can make you phenomenally more productive.

You can experiment with writing at different times of the day to find out when you write best. A lot of professional writers say that they like to write first thing in the morning or late into the night. There’s something about mid-afternoon that for most people is just terrible for writing. I can tell that because three or four o’clock is when I hear even really productive professors on the phone making dinner plans and stepping out for a cup of coffee.

If you’re pretty organized and start on writing projects early, you can actually structure your time so that you do the most difficult thinking at the times when you’re most focused and alive, and let some other tasks happen in the times when you’re feeling less perky and brilliant. For example, I can blow through tons of writing for a few hours earlier in the day, but I can’t keep that up forever, so that’s when I switch to reading books and translating sources that I’ll use in the next day’s writing. When I’m sick or groggy or not really wanting to work, then I can do things like update my bibliography or get books and articles that I need. I figure that if I’m always working on something important during worktime, then I’m going to get my projects done on time without having to feel super stressed.  

You can even make a list of the stuff that is hard and easier for you so that you have an easy guide to structuring your work time to get the most out of every minute you work. Again, the point isn’t to torture yourself, but to make work easier and to get it done faster so that you can move on and really enjoy the things you like doing outside of school. If you feel like beating your head against the wall while trying to do work and you feel like you just can’t do it, the problem may be that you’re attempting to do the task at a time when you should be working on the easier stuff.

Here’s my list:
Brainpower-draining:  Easier:
  • Writing a first draft 
  • Figuring out my argument
  • Reading whole chapters or books in French or Italian
  • Reading books in English
  • Updating my bibliography
  • Searching for sources online
Here’s what your list might look like:
Brainpower-draining:  Easier:
  • Reading and taking notes
  • Writing a first draft 
  • Updating citations in an unfamiliar style
  • Typing notes and drafts already handwritten
  • Brainstorming using a graphic organizer
  • Updating citations in a style you already know

What does your actual list look like? Does your list explain why work goes so well for you at some times, but not others? You can create your own list to post in your workspace or keep with your school stuff so that you can use it to plan your time and use every minute effectively.

Next: Reflect on Past Experience When Writing Essays ->