I’m not gonna lie: writing papers can suck. Even as someone who basically writes papers for a living these days (like this article), I still viewed every college paper with a tinge of dread.
After all, writing a paper isn’t like working math problems or reading a chapter of a book. As frustrating as those activities can be, they always seemed more finite than the monumental task of “writing a paper.” You can’t just open the book and start working: you have to brainstorm, research, outline, draft, edit, and add those pesky citations.
As I moved through college, however, I developed a system for cranking out papers in record time. This let me spend more time on things that I enjoyed, such as writing for this blog and taking long walks through the woods. Today, I’m going to share this process so that you too can write papers more quickly (without a decrease in the quality of your writing).
Sound impossible? Read on to see how it works.
1. Understand the Assignment
The ultimate waste of time when writing a paper is to write something that doesn’t even answer the question the professor is asking. Don’t be afraid to ask the professor to explain any part of the assignment that’s unclear.
If the assignment seems vague, it’s not because the professor is trying to trip you up. Often, it’s that they know their field so well that it’s easy for them to think some things are “obvious”…even when they aren’t to us non-experts.
Remember: asking for clarification because you don’t understand the assignment doesn’t make you stupid; what’s stupid is to complete the assignment without understanding it.
Yet, when I was an English TA in college, I saw this problem all the time. Students would spend hours researching and writing a paper on a completely different topic than what the professor assigned. It doesn’t matter how good a paper is–if it doesn’t answer the question, it’s going to receive a bad grade.
Best case scenario, the professor is nice and lets you rewrite it, but why do all that extra work? Furthermore, asking the professor for clarification shows initiative–that you care about the assignment. Demonstrating this level of engagement with your assignments can only boost your grade.
2. Research with Ruthless Efficiency
Once you understand the assignment, you need to start researching. But beware! If you’re not careful, research can be one of the best ways to procrastinate. “One more source” can easily turn into hours that you could have been writing.
To overcome the temptation to procrastinate on research, I employ my favorite approach for beating all forms of procrastination: setting a time limit. As I explained in my guide to library research, you shouldn’t spend more than 30 minutes per page of the final paper researching. That is, if the paper is supposed to be 5 pages, don’t spend more than 2.5 hours on research (maximum).
Spending any more time than this puts you at a point of diminishing returns. Don’t worry about not having enough information. If you find that you need more info after you start writing, you can always do more research. The goal of your initial research session is to give you just enough material to start writing. Get into the library or database, find your sources, take your notes, and then get to writing.
3. Create a Flat Outline
“It’s impossible to figure out every detail of your argument before you sit down, look at your sources, and actually try to write. Most students abandon their hierarchical outline soon after their fingers hit the keyboard.”
– Cal Newport, “How to Use a Flat Outline to Write Outstanding Papers, Fast”
Ever since I learned the traditional method of outlining papers in 8th grade, I felt the system was broken. I never created an outline with bullets and numbers and letters before writing the paper. I always just made one up afterwards because I was required to turn one in with the final paper.
Starting in college, I developed my own outlining technique that was much more effective. As it turns out, my technique wasn’t so original after all. As Cal Newport explains, it’s called a flat outline. In Cal’s words, the flat outline works as follows:
- Don’t build a hierarchical outline. Instead, list the topics you want to tackle in the order you want to tackle.
- Revisit the library to find sources for the topics that still need support.
- Dump all relevant quotes from your sources under the topics.
- Transform your topic-level outline into your paper. Don’t start from a blank screen.
Isn’t this so much better? The flat outline works because it mirrors the writing process. No one sits down to write with a perfect idea of what they’re going to say. You discover what you’re going to say through the process of writing. The flat outline gives you just enough structure to overcome the dreaded “blank canvas” while still leaving room for discovery.
4. Create the Perfect Writing Environment
Okay, so you have a rock solid understanding of the topic, you’ve done your research, and your flat outline is ready. Now, you need to sit down and write the sucker. But not so fast: where you write makes a difference.
Because after procrastination, the greatest obstacle to writing a paper quickly is distraction. If you don’t have an environment where you can focus, you’ll waste hours jumping back and forth between the paper and whatever distractions come your way.
To make sure you have the focus of a zen master, you must create a writing environment that enables zen-like focus. For a full guide to creating a distraction-free study space, check out our article on the topic. In the meantime, here’s a summary of the best practices:
- Go to a studious place. This could be a quiet part of the library, an off-campus coffee shop, or even your dorm room. Wherever you know that people won’t distract or interrupt you, that’s the place you must go.
- Make it comfortable. You won’t be able to focus on writing if your chair feels like a bed of nails or the table wobbles. Take care of your base physical comfort before writing anything else. Caveat: don’t write while in bed. Your bed is only for sleeping and…you know, that other s-word.
- Block digital distractions. Depending on how bad your internet/phone addiction is, this could be as simple as closing unrelated programs and putting your phone in airplane mode or as drastic as installing an app such as Cold Turkey Writer that blocks everything on your computer until you write a certain number of words. If you need the internet to write (maybe you’re writing in Google Docs, for example), then you can install an app such as Freedom or SelfControl to block distracting sites.
- Assemble your supplies. Sitting down to write and realizing you left one of your sources back in your dorm is a definite productivity killer. Be sure you have your computer charged, sources assembled, and coffee/tea at the ready before your write a word.
- Put on your pump up playlist. If you don’t find it distracting, then I recommend using music that will get you in the zone to write. I have a few albums on rotation that get me into a mode of writing flow. For example, when writing this article I put on Muse’s The 2nd Law. You better believe I felt ready to conquer the world with that in the background. If you’re looking for a killer pre-made collection of study music, have a look at Thomas’s Ultimate Study Music Playlist.
5. Follow a Standard Structure
Each paper you write should not feel like reinventing the wheel. Your goal when writing a paper for a college class is to fulfill the assignment requirements in a way that goes just above and beyond enough to impress the professor. You’re not trying to break new ground in your discipline or redefine the way we use the English language (if you are, then you don’t need to read this article).
The way to make sure that you don’t get caught up in the structure is just to pick a standard structure for your discipline and follow it. Save the originality for your arguments. So how do you find these elusive standards? Ask your professor. They can point you to some relevant guides or examples.
Also, pay attention to the readings your professor assigns for the class. This should give you some idea of the academic conventions you should follow in your papers. It’s easy to go through an article and focus so much on the information that you ignore the structure (which is a good thing–the structure shouldn’t distract you). But if you spend a couple reading sessions paying attention to structure, you’ll get a feel for how it should go.
If that seems too advanced or too much work, then another option is to Google “SUBJECT NAME paper template”. Just be careful about the source–a template from a university is fine; one on some random student’s Blogger page, not so much.
6. Focus On Quality Over Quantity
If the paper is supposed to have a final page count of 5-7, you may be tempted to write a paper that’s 7 or even 8 pages. After all, more is better, right?
Wrong. Every professor I had in college told me that they would always prefer a good 5-page paper over an okay 7-page paper. Frankly, some topics don’t need 7 pages–5 is plenty. If you try to stretch it out, you may end up diluting your argument.
If you’re not convinced, consider this: I rarely wrote more than the minimum page count, and I consistently received A’s on papers in English, History, Religious Studies, and Education classes.
Knowing this, why would you ever write more than you need to? It’s not just a waste of time or effort; it may even be counterproductive.
Of course, your paper has to be good for this to work. For advice on improving the quality of your papers, check out my post on 6 Writing Tips to Make Your Papers 300% Better.
7. Draft and Edit Separately
Editing and drafting at the same time is, like all forms of multitasking, inefficient and ultimately impossible. Don’t do it. Write with your full attention and effort, and then edit.
Similarly, never stop to look stuff up when you are writing. If you don’t know something, just make a note of it and come back to it later. At best, looking something up takes you away from writing, but even more likely it will pull you into an internet rabbit hole that will really derail the entire writing process.
The goal of writing this way is to keep you in the flow state as long as possible. Because if you can just get to a place of flow, your momentum will be unstoppable.
8. Write the Conclusion and Introduction Last
One of the greatest barriers to starting a paper is coming up with an introduction. If you think about it, this difficulty makes sense: how are you supposed to introduce something you haven’t even created?
This is why you shouldn’t write the introduction until you’ve finished the main body of the paper. I know it seems like a counterintuitive approach, but I challenge you to try it. This method avoids what has happened to me more times than I can count: writing the paper and then realizing that my intro doesn’t even fit with the final paper.
The same goes for the conclusion. Write it last. After all, how can you conclude when you haven’t even finished writing? If you want more advice on the specifics of writing solid conclusions, check out my post on how to write a paper.
9. Don’t Edit Alone
When you’re writing the draft, you need privacy and focus. But when you’re editing, having someone else to look over your work can speed things up. Why? Because you’re inherently blind to the mistakes in your writing. You’ve been looking at the draft so long that mistakes won’t jump out at you the way they will to a fresh set of eyes.
When it comes to finding someone to help you edit, you have a few options:
- Get a trusted friend to read the paper. Just make sure they don’t end up distracting you.
- Take the paper to your college’s writing center. Don’t expect them to be your copy editor, however. More than likely, the writing center staff will have you read the paper aloud to them. This lets you catch the errors yourself while still having the accountability of another person in the room.
- Ask your professor for feedback. This won’t always be possible, but sometimes your professor will be willing to give you feedback before you turn the paper in, especially if it’s a term paper or capstone project. Professors often build this feedback into the assignment by setting separate due dates for a proposal, a draft, and a final version. But even if they don’t, it never hurts to ask for feedback. The worst they can say is no.
10. Use a Citation Generator
The thickness of your typical style manual. A productivity killer.
Adding citations is the worst, especially when you just spent hours writing a paper and are so over it. If you don’t want to spend further hours paging through some arcane style manual, do yourself a favor and use a citation management/generation tool.
My favorite is Zotero, which allows you to keep track of research sources and even has a browser extension that will pull the citation info from a library catalog web page. But I also have friends who prefer EasyBib. It doesn’t matter which one you use–just pick one and watch your citation worries evaporate.
That being said, it doesn’t hurt to glance at your citations before submitting, as these tools aren’t perfect (especially when it comes to digital sources).
Bonus Tip: Take a Writing Intensive Class
This tip isn’t strictly part of the paper writing process, but it can make a big difference in your writing speed and quality. At my college, the definition of “writing intensive” varied from professor to professor, but it always meant a class with lots of writing, often one (short) essay per week in addition to a 20+ page final paper.
Each of these classes was intense, but at the end I always found myself a better writer. This went beyond just getting faster, although that was a major benefit. I also found that the quality of my arguments and analyses increased, along with massive improvements in my research skills.
If your college offers classes specifically geared to improve your writing, do yourself a favor and take a least one. Strong writing skills are always a benefit, both in college and beyond.
At the end of the day, writing a paper is still a lot of work. But if you follow the process in this article, you’ll be able to do it more quickly without a loss of quality.
What tactics do you use to speed up the paper writing process? Share them in the comments below, or discuss them in the College Info Geek Community.
Image Credits: featured, lightbulb, glasses, computer on table, structure, focus, collaborating, thick book, book and notebook
A woman at the dispensary searches for something called "Green Crack." She tells me this strain is ideal for writers. There are a few great strains, but Green Crack would be the best.
Marijuana is legal for recreational use in Colorado. There are some restrictions and other funky laws that tag along, but the average Colorado citizen can avail herself of the services provided by everyone's favorite green friend without going to a lot more trouble than it takes to buy a beer or a lottery ticket.
Yes, it's a little weird. You do go to a store that can only let so many people into the purchasing area at a time, so you might end up in a waiting room with (mostly normal) people and one guy in a mobility scooter who has peed himself. Yes, the strains of marijuana still have names like "Mantanuska Thunderfuck" and "ChemDawg Biodiesel." Yes, you can pay with a debit card, but only through a complicated, "cashless ATM" procedure. There's still a certain level of seedy charm to the whole thing. But ultimately, you can drive home with marijuana you purchased above-board, and if you get pulled over, so long as your dispensary bag is still stapled shut, everything is fine (if you work at an Office Depot in Colorado and wonder why you've had a sudden run on mini staplers, now you know).
For lots of Coloradoans, it's been nice, though not a huge lifestyle change. This hasn't traditionally been a state where it's difficult to come across marijuana, and medical marijuana has been going strong for a while.
Drugs can open your mind. But for me, that opening of the mind had a lot more to do with the people and places I saw, the things I heard, than it did with the chemical properties of a burning leaf.
Personally, my life didn't change much after the law did. I'm not one for drugs. The most significant difference in my life with the legalization, and not one to be sneezed at, was the ability to walk downtown areas without having some guy ask if you would sign a petition to legalize marijuana. I complained long and hard about the ineffectiveness of these goons, but I guess they did it. Or someone did, anyway. And I hope they are enjoying the sweet, sometimes harsh, taste of victory.
Let's talk about what this has to do with writing.
There's any number of stories out there about creative people doing creative things with the aid of marijuana. Jay-Z. Jon Stewart. Steve Jobs. Brian Wilson. Oh, and the writers. Hunter S. Thompson, Ken Kesey, Norman Mailer, Stephen King. Even Maya Angelou.
What surprised me most was a recent-ish article about Lee Child, author of the Jack Reacher series. It's a good profile, and Child comes off as charming, especially when he points out with true humor and humility that people are always looking for the next Jack Reacher book, not the next Lee Child joint. But the big reveal in the article: Child says he's been smoking marijuana 5 nights a week for the last 44 years.
Okay, it's one thing for your Hunter S. Thompson's to smoke. The man wrote a book about a drug-fueled drive across the desert that both horrified and intrigued my younger self. I'm convinced he invented drugs just so he'd have something new to occupy his afternoons. The inclusion of marijuana in his process is a given.
But Lee Child? This is a guy with an impressively steady output. His books are super popular, and he shares a lot of rabid fans with the likes of Bill O'Reilly (I have an inside line on this knowledge). The guy writes successful books, puts out multiple titles a year, and his main character is a straight-laced, militaristic hero type who would sooner use the word "joint" when he talks about popping a bad guy's shoulder out of socket than he would to talk about mind-altering substances.
As an aspiring writer, I'm willing to do a lot of things to improve my game. Pretty much anything, really. Different techniques, regiments of pens, lighting schemes, getting up 20 minutes earlier or 30 minutes later. Especially the 30 minutes later part. If I hear David Sedaris uses a certain kind of notebook, I take a look at it on Amazon in hopes that maybe it's cheap (it is not) and that maybe just the tiniest bit of doing what he does will transfer his talent to me (it does not).
Like a lot of writers, I use caffeine. I don't drink coffee. I abuse caffeine. Abuse it with the giddy aptitude of a teenager abusing himself during the Big Change. I drink alcohol. Not so much as a writing aid. Socially, and rarely, every few blue moons or so,to facilitate a vomit session on a country club patio.
Anyway, there are a lot of little things that writers try to get better. To write better. And if one of those things is now legal, and if a good number of the cool kids AND the squares are doing it... is there a strong reason not to try it? Or, more to the point, test it out?
Why Am I The Right Person?
For starters, it's legal for me. Which means I can write about it.
Second, I'm not a weed guy. I don't have any sort of agenda or reason to pretend that it's awesome when it's not. I don't know anything about the benefits of hemp rope or any of that, and the argument of America's Founding Fathers growing weed does nothing for me. They also probably used slaves to cultivate it, so the decision-making is questionable there.
If weed sucks as a writing tool, I'll be honest and say it sucks. If it's awesome, I'll tell you, and maybe you'll have to plan a writer's retreat out west. I hope it succeeds because that'd be great, but I suspect it won't. That's the extent of my bias. Hope versus pessimism, which is a distillation of my normal state.
Apology and Drug Content Warning
I will talk about marijuana use here. This was all done in the legal privacy of my home, 100% compliant with the law, and I never worked or operated machinery while intoxicated. Well, unless an Xbox counts as machinery. However, I'm fairly certain that the Xbox was designed specifically to be operated while high, and good luck convincing me otherwise.
Let's keep in mind that I'm not endorsing any illegal behavior here. If smoking is illegal where you are, then, you know, just like any crime, you'll have to weigh the consequences and benefits and make your own decision.
If there are any folks under age out there, I will also say a little something. I'm a product of the D.A.R.E. system, which was all about telling kids how horrible drugs are. It's a program that most kids of the 80's and 90's remember, and recently I found out it had an abysmal success rate. My personal theory, D.A.R.E. wasn't very honest with us. I was led to believe that a hit of marijuana would cause me to go into a fugue where I would murder a cat and then eat a sandwich made out of my own face.
Look, that's not going to happen. But if you start using drugs or drinking when you're young, and if you keep doing it, everyone around you will know it when you're 25.
Now that we've got all that out of the way, I have four tests. It's pretty tough to plan objective tests for art. So I tried to cover a few different areas and ideas about art and the process of making art. I'll do each test high, and I'll do each test 100% sober, see which yields better results.
Please excuse me for calling this art.
For the tests taken while high, I took 5 or 6 hits total from 2 different vapor pens. These are delightful, disposable devices that are like electronic cigarettes. You take a hit, the end lights up, and when you breathe out there's just the tiniest bit of vapor, like breathing out on a cold day.
I bought two pens with different sativa strains. The two basics marijuana types you'll find at the shops are indica and sativa, and then you'll see some blends of the two. I told the nice lady at the shop about my project, and she let me know that sativa was absolutely the way to go, that I'd feel a little high but there would be no cloudiness.
Test One: Motivation
Let's be honest. Sometimes the hardest part of writing is...writing. That's a gross oversimplification, grosser than the grossest ghost in Ghostbusters, which is either Slimer eating all those hot dogs or that rotting corpse driving the taxi.
My normal method is the Put On Your Sweats method. Something I came up with from coaching runners, the premise is that you don't have to go for a run today, but you DO have to put on your sweats and walk your ass to the end of the block. Most times, if you get there, you'll decide to go ahead and run. It's that part where you move from the couch to the road that's hardest.
The writing equivalent, I'll go to a coffee shop or get set up at home, get everything out, put pen to paper. I don't have to finish anything or go any further, but most times I'll keep going once I'm that far.
The test works like this:
During a timed 5-minute period, I have two options. Start writing or watch Cosmos on Netflix. I picked that program because it seems like something I would enjoy while high.
For the 5 minutes, I'll tally how many times I decide I'd prefer to watch Cosmos and how many times I'd prefer to start writing this column. My computer is in front of me with the cursor blinking, Cosmos is ready to go on the TV with a button press.
Results: Sober, I only went for writing. I was ready to write. I figured that the infinite Cosmos would be there when I finished.
High, I tallied my thoughts. A decision to write twice, Cosmos seven times, and a third category I created, "Do Nothing" twice. Cosmos did have a strong edge in that I could watch it from the couch, which sounded like a great idea at the time. I also made a couple of arguments in favor of Cosmos, including "It's a spacetime odyssey," which, it turns out, is the tagline under the show's title.
Conclusion: The results of this test, would weed motivate me to write, came out strongly in the negative. Sober takes the category. Not a big surprise. Weed isn't exactly known for being a strong motivator. In fact, I even cruised over to the Phish forums when I was looking up advice for this column. A member asked whether or not it was a good idea to smoke before he wrote a paper that was due the next day. The advice, FROM THE PHISH FORUM, was a level-headed answer to write sober, then reward yourself with a high after you finished.
There aren't a lot of advice questions I would ask of the Phish forum, but in this case, I think it might be a good place to connect with an expert. If the Phish forum advises against drug use, then I have to count that as a hard strike against marijuana in this situation.
I'm not someone who usually requires a creative boost. I'm not bragging here. Not saying my ideas are good. Simply that I have them. I keep a notebook of what I consider my dumbest ideas in case I win the lottery or become a powerful man. These ideas include a video game called Noah's AnARKy, where you play as Noah, who has to team up with a talking bear to kill two of every animal. There's also an idea in there for a service that provides a weirdo that can be rented, and this weirdo will liven up social events such as weddings or house parties by being, well weird. Finally, there's a proposed decree that we should retire the name "Rhinoceros" in favor of the name "Rhinosaurus," pronounced "rye-no-sore-us."
Again, these aren't good ideas, just ideas that may illustrate why I don't really feel the "mind-expansion" portion of drugs is something I'm in desperate need of.
To test how creative I'm feeling, I'll use this random topic generator to come up with 3 topics, each of which I'll write on for 3 minutes. I'll do it once sober, once high. Is my mind expanded? Am I more creative?
Results: In terms of pure production, you can see the sober text (bottom sheet) is tighter and more abundant. From the high attempt, the highlight was probably a question about the art on the side of Chinese food boxes, the red dragon stuff, and whether there was anything like that in China or not. Sober, the biggest question was why they bothered with all the cult stuff in Temple Of Doom just to have child labor for a mine. I mean, it's terrible, but you don't have to do the whole cult thing to enslave children. You can just sort of decide kid labor is the way to go.
If I were to take these writing prompts and say which had more usable content, the sober attempts were a lot better. I could pull something out of each topic that's worth exploring. High? Well, one topic (Famous World War II Spies) resulted in multiple attempts at a dick joke, which I did pull off. But there was some serious heavy lifting. That's not the joke, by the way.
I WILL say I did get a lot of laughs from the high attempt, and if you had the right kind of dorks such as myself, getting high, writing on randomly-generated topics for three minutes and sharing your work would be a pretty decent get-together for people of the pen.
I knew a young lady who was training for a marathon, and before her long runs, which she found boring, she would get stoned. She claimed this allowed her mind to drift and made the whole experience pretty painless.
I'm a big editor. If something of mine sees the light of day, it's been edited several times. And while editing is important, it's something that I wish was easier to slog through. It can be tedious to go through a draft the sixth time.
Can I effectively edit while high? Or even more effectively?
For this test I pulled a page from a project I'm working on. Full disclosure, it's not a heavy project. It's a story that takes off on the movie 3 Ninjas, and it's written from the dad's perspective. I always thought it would be strange to be a father who suddenly finds his boys are karate experts who regularly fist fight ADULTS.
Results: I timed each attempt, and they were pretty darn close. Sober, I got through the page a minute faster. So over time, that'd be a big gain. It's a minute, but it's also an extra 25%.
I also counted the number of changes I made. High, I made 73, while sober I made 61. Which is pretty similar, especially considering the nature of the test going over two different pages that may or may not need as many edits.
How did I feel about the corrections?
High, I felt pretty disconnected from what I was doing. I could edit a page, but only line to line. It was hard to keep track of what I was doing. The context was lost. At one point I came across a section where I'd badly copied and pasted something, and I couldn't deal with that whatsoever.
Sober, it was a lot easier to keep the entirety of the previous page in my head. To edit with more context of the larger piece as opposed to what was immediately in front of me.
Sober wins this one. Although if a person were doing line edits, someone who is used to being high might be reasonably effective.
Test: Clerical Skills
Sometimes the life of a writer is a lot of clerical stuff. Typing, inputting edits, emails. There are a lot of tasks that don't require a ton of thought. It wouldn't be such a bad thing to turn off the brain just a bit while the body did this work for me. Sort of like having my own robot who lives inside my skin. Except way less disgusting and terrible than that idea. In fact, scratch that idea from your mind. That's just an awful concept.
The test is to type up a handwritten page from my notebook. After doing it once sober and once high, I'll check for errors, record the time, and discuss whether or not it was a slog.
Results: High, I typed a page in 3 minutes, 52 seconds. Sober, it was 3 minutes, 45 seconds. Close enough there.
In terms of errors, I made 7 errors while high, 3 while sober. A difference, certainly, although while high I felt less need to correct errors I knew I was making. It was all about the typing, which could be an advantage in a case like this. If the goal is to type, you can type, and the errors made are easy to catch and rectify later.
The biggest difference: while sober I added new lines or changed the text just a bit here and there. The type-up served as a second draft opportunity, which is a plus for me. If the time is similar but I've added and edited, there's a distinct benefit to sobriety there.
Weed did not improve my motivation to write, my creativity, my editing skills or my clerical skills. As a writing tool, weed batted 0-for-4.
Before someone out there gets upset, let me reiterate a few things in one short phrase: Weed didn't work for ME.
It might work for you. It certainly works for many, many other creative people, or at least it's something they feel is beneficial or essential to their process. I may have blown it and gotten entirely too high, gone beyond a working high. I'd lend credence to that theory based on the fact that I consumed two of these "donuts" which came in a strange, foreign-born box of powders. Just add water to make 4 gelatinous mounds of hate. Then decorate with the provided sprinkles.
While the smoking was a failure in terms of productivity, did it expand my mind in any significant way? Yes. Sort of.
As an explanation, let me put it this way:
I did a thing.
As a writer, something that I'd share with other writers is that it's important to do stuff. Get out and do something you haven't done, or go somewhere you haven't gone. Even if it's a weird thrift store in town or an outdoor trail, or the tourist trap that you've never gotten around to if you live in a big city.
A different experience here and there helps. If you go to the Empire State Building, you'll overhear a snatch of dialogue between tourists for a story you're working on. If you hit that thrift store, maybe you'll find a beloved object that can become a beloved object and touchstone in your newest piece. If you buy weed from the dispensary, you might not do a lot of good while you're high, but maybe you have an idea for a story about a rogue Office Depot employee selling mini staplers in a van outside the dispensary. Maybe you notice that the man who peed himself in his mobility scooter is piloting a scooter called MegaStar or Sprinter. Maybe you see something, anything you wouldn't see if you stayed in your comfort zone, which for most of us, is home.
Try a 5K this week. Maybe next week go to a music festival. Maybe the week after that you go to a church service. Even just entering your office building from a different side is something. Whatever you do, it's not just about what you do, it's about the stuff that surrounds that new thing and the way you, as a writer, experience it.
Weed did expand my mind, but not in the traditional sense. It expanded my mind to include some real-life touchstones that I wouldn't have experienced if I went to Gordon's Liquor again instead of the weed dispensary. I wouldn't have been on the hunt for "Green Crack." I wouldn't have anticipated the munchies and purchased bizarre, DIY donuts. I sure as hell wouldn't have EATEN those abominations, no matter how many sprinkles they had, if I'd been in my right mind.
Drugs can open your mind. But for me, that opening of the mind had a lot more to do with the people and places I saw, the things I heard, than it did with the chemical properties of a burning leaf.
Oh, and also, if we're talking mind expansion, I finally got to watch Cosmos after I finished the tests. I was very correct about watching that show while high. Very, very correct.