School

How To Do Well On English Exams

Here’s how to do well on English exams from someone who learned the hard way.

Be specific.

Avoid making grand sweeping generalizations about all of humanity since the beginning of time. Narrow your scope and focus on the topic. Look at how the little details paint a bigger picture.

Be careful.

Read the questions carefully. Make sure you actually answer the prompt. Reread your own work. Sometimes your hand writes the opposite of what your head wants.

Be concise.

Don’t beat around the bush. Get to the point. Make a clear argument. Support your thesis with evidence. Be clear. Don’t be confusing or convoluted. If you can’t comprehend what you’re saying, how will anyone else?

Be yourself.

It is not the time to try to write like someone else. You have your own voice. You’ve been developing it for years. Give yourself some credit. You’re better than you believe, so prove that.

Be forgiving.

Your word choice won’t be flawless. Your sentence structure won’t be impeccable. That’s not the point. This exam is in a test of your ability to write perfectly.

Best of luck!

Writing

How To Deal With Criticism

Criticism isn’t easy to deal with even when it’s constructive.

Changing my mindset has helped me. I don’t want to be defensive or reactionary every time someone gives me feedback. That’s not the best attitude to have.

Besides, constructive criticism helps me improve and get better. I should listen to others, especially when they offer suggestions I wouldn’t have thought of on my own.

I try not to take any comments about my work personally. That’s obviously easier said than done, but more often than not, no one is attacking me. They’re just making a statement about my story.

I tend to seek out people I respect. I’m much more open to their opinions if I look up to them.

But when I receive feedback from a stranger or someone I don’t like, I do my best to see where s/he is coming from. After all, nobody has the same experiences as me.

What’s more, we can learn something from everyone, which is why I want to hear from different voices.

That said, I still filter. Not every remark is useful or helpful. The negative comments that serve no purpose are best ignored, forgotten.

Ultimately, I want to keep improving. There’s always room for improvement. I’m not perfect. I haven’t mastered everything, and I never will.

It’s important to hear people out whenever they provide helpful feedback. I’ll take what works and apply it to my own work. I can throw away what doesn’t.

At the end of the day, constructive criticism is part of life.

Productivity

How To Have A Productive Commute

I’m going back to school in less than a week, which means I’ll be commuting all the time. Here’s how I try to make my commutes productive.

Read.

Fortunately I don’t get motion sickness, so I love reading on the subway. It’s more convenient to open ebooks on my phone, but carrying a small paperback isn’t bad either.

Write.

I get most, if not all, of my writing done when I commute. If you don’t write, you could draw instead.

Study.

As a student, I’ve studied for many tests and exams while traveling to class. I tend to make cue cards or cheat sheets beforehand, and then review key concepts on the go.

Practice.

If you’re not a student, use your commute to go over lines for a presentation or moves to a dance. I’ve done both.

Sleep.

Or more accurately, take a quick 20 minute power nap. Resting doesn’t always seem productive, but if it means you have more energy the rest of your day, close your eyes and relax. You don’t even have to fall asleep. Sometimes all you need is just a short break where you don’t think about anything.

Eat.

I’ve lost track of how many times I have eaten on the subway. More often than not, it’s a granola bar. If you’re going to be stuck in traffic for an hour, you might as well take the time to refuel, so you’re not starving before you get home. On a similar note, make sure you’re drinking enough water when you’re out and about. Listen to your body. Take care of it, okay?

Here’s to commuting productively!

Writing

How To Tell A Good Story

Here’s my advice on how to tell a good story.

Create dynamic characters.

They shouldn’t be perfect because everyone is flawed in some way.

Make everyone want something.

As simple as wanting a glass of water or as complicated as saving the world.

Have stakes.

Every action has a reaction.

Don’t sugarcoat.

Tell the story in all it’s ugliness.

Never underestimate the intelligence of your readers.

Enough said.

Aim for clarity.

Confusion is bad communication.

Get creative.

Put your own twist on tried-and-true tropes.

Finish.

A complete story will always win against an incomplete one any day.

Give your readers some closure.

You don’t have to answer every question, but you still have to tie up a few loose ends.

Keep writing.

You won’t write good stories until you write a lot of bad ones.

Writing

How To Stay Positive As A Writer

It’s not easy staying positive as a writer, especially when the world keeps rejecting your work.

But positivity is a beautiful thing. Here’s to keeping your optimism alive and well.

  • Celebrate small wins. You came up with an idea? You wrote one sentence? You edited a paragraph? Celebrate that. It’s easy to overlook all the little things in life. You may feel like you aren’t making progress, but if you’re putting in the work every day, life will fall into place. Besides, small wins add up to big victories over time.
  • Look back. Remember all you’ve achieved.
  • Look forward. Think about the things you can accomplish.
  • Treat yourself. You deserve it. Play. How fun. Do other activities.
  • Be aware of your thoughts and feelings. Humans tend to focus on the negatives. Say positive affirmations. Whatever they may be.
  • Filter out the noise. There’s a lot of sounds or voices around at any given time. You don’t have to listen to all of it.
  • Use social media in moderation. Spending all day on Facebook isn’t that productive and probably won’t leave you feeling too proud.
  • Exercise often. Endorphins are a wonderful thing.
  • Choose what you read carefully. Reading is amazing. But the media you consume can have an impact on your own emotions.
  • Go for a walk outside. Soak up the sun’s rays. Vitamin D is good for your health.
  • Write for yourself. Create what you want. Tell the stories you need to tell. You’re different and unique. You aren’t anyone else, so don’t pretend to be someone you’re not.
Editing

How To Silence Your Inner Editor

There are times you need to write, which means you somehow have to silence your inner editor. Unfortunately, that’s a lot easier said than done.

Below is all my bad advice on how to silence him or her.

Tell your editor to shut up. Put your foot down.

Ask nicely. If being mean doesn’t work, try being polite?

Don’t do anything. Sometimes not forcing the issue is the best thing you can do.

Embrace the obnoxious editor. Befriend him or her.

Ignore. Hopefully they can take a hint. Or at least learn to.

Blast music. Turn the volume up. Careful you don’t shatter your ear drums in the process.

Listen. Maybe your head is trying to tell you something. After you hear yourself out, maybe your inner editor will finally stop bothering you. One can hope.

Lock them in a cage and throw the key away. Or just imagine doing so.

Practice. Just keep writing.

Never write another word in your life. Non-writers don’t have to deal with annoying inner editors, right? It doesn’t seem like such a bad life.

Productivity

How To Have A Productive Day

Or at least a semi-productive one.

Feel free to use what works and discard what doesn’t.

  • Wake up early. Earlier than you normally do. That way, you have more time. In a perfect world, you’d go to bed earlier the night before.
  • Tackle the most difficult task first. Especially if you’ve been procrastinating. Get it out of the way. At the very least, start something.
  • Bunch things together. For instance, let’s assume you need to use the computer for a bunch of tasks. Try to complete all three at once rather than turning on your computer multiple times during the day. Get all your groceries in one trip. Run a bunch of errands together. Pay your bills at the same time.
  • Break up big projects into small tasks. If only so you’re not as overwhelmed by all you have to do.
  • Have incentives. Motivate yourself to work hard with rewards. It can be a piece of candy or a night out with friends.
  • Multi-task, don’t multi-focus. It’s almost impossible to focus on two or more tasks and do them well. It is possible to do two things that don’t split your attention or require intense concentration though. For example, listen to a podcast while washing the dishes.
  • Get rid of distractions. Go to another room that doesn’t have a tablet, TV, etc. Ask a family member to change the Wi-Fi password. Or get a friend to hide your smartphone.

Here’s to having a productive day year.

Reading

How To Read Every Day

Throw your phone away. Toss it into the trash. Take the garbage out. Right now.

Throw your TV out the window. Watching movies isn’t the same as reading books.

Throw your sleep schedule out the door. Let’s be honest, some days you’re going to stay up until the sun rises. It’s okay. Who needs to sleep anyway? Any reader of great literature knows the answer to that rhetorical question.

Throw your computer off the roof. Laptops and tablets have to go too. Any kind of distraction is no bueno.

Throw your car off a cliff. You can’t read while you’re driving. You shouldn’t anyway. Just stay home and enjoy a novel or ten.

Throw your gaming consoles at friends. Then grab some popcorn.

Throw your work at co-workers. Less working, more reading.

Throw yourself into another country. The alternative is to throw everyone you know as far as possible.

Throw me into a cell. I hope reading my bad posts doesn’t take time away from reading good books.