Monthly Archives: February 2012

Witness Protection Program

Here’s a new creative writing prompt I though you all might enjoy!

Write a story about a person in the Witness Protection Program. Drop him/her into your job and life. What would it be like for that person to enter a life in a nursing home, although they don’t need to be there, or a college dormitory, although they aren’t there to learn. What challenges would they face unique to their position? Would they develop an affinity for the senile or handicapped elderly or a dislike for young people?

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Post From the Past: How to Efficiently Write a Great Research Paper

During my last two years in college, I wrote tons of research papers. While most of my classes only required one paper per semester, two of the classes that I took required three. As I read the syllabi for those classes, I realized that I needed to find a way to streamline my whole paper-writing process. This is what I came up with, and it worked really well for me.

Step 1: Choose a topic within 24 hours of learning that you have a paper to write.

Step 2: As soon as the topic is approved by your instructor, go to the library. Set aside two or three hours for taking notes (for a 1500 word paper – about 4 pages, double-spaced). I prefer to take hand-written notes – don’t ask me why. I always retype them anyway. Perhaps it’s because once I’ve written my notes once, and typed them once, I don’t have to reread them before I begin writing the paper.

Step 3: If you are researching something that is pretty obscure, try looking it up in the index of big books that cover a broad topic. Even if you can only find a paragraph or two covering your specific topic, you can still use that particular book as a source. (I had a teacher that required four different book sources and two online sources.) That way, even if you can’t find an entire book on your topic, you can still pull a different quote or fact from each book source. The rest you can find online.

Step 4: Write down bibliographical information immediately. You don’t have to format it yet – just make sure you have all the info.

Step 5: Take all of your notes verbatim, and make a note of which page you are taking the info from. If you begin a new page in the middle of your notes, make sure to note that as well. Instead of trying to italicize hand-written words, I use slashes to /set them apart/. If you have an idea of your own while copying notes, make sure you clearly mark it as yours.

My notes usually ended up looking something like this:

Book Title: Author’s full name: Publisher, City, Date

Page 17

Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah /blah blah/ blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah.

(Amy’s idea: blah blah blah.)

Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah (18) blah blah blah blah.

Type all of your notes into a single file.

Step 6: Spend a half hour taking notes from each book source. After a half hour – stop. Don’t allow yourself to get too caught up taking notes from any one source. You will never get finished! If you are researching a person, use each book to research a different era of the person’s life. If you are researching a different kind of topic, use each book to research a different aspect of that topic. Even if all of the books contain basically the same information, this is a good way to efficiently use multiple sources.

Step 7: Find your online sources, making sure they are from trusted sites. If you can use the school’s databases, all the better. Copy and paste all pertinent info into a single file. Copy and paste all bibliographical web site information at the beginning of each section. Since websites are in a constant state of change, make sure you include the access date (the date you copied the information).

Step 8: Print off all of your information. If you have more than twenty pages for a relatively short paper, you may want to delete some of the redundant or irrelevant material before printing.

Step 9: Decide how you want your paper to flow. Basically this is an outline. Biographies are relatively easy, since you will follow a chronological timeline. At the end of the paper, you can sum up greatest accomplishments, lasting impact, etc. Other types of papers can be easy as well; just decide on an order that makes sense, and stick with it. For example, your outline may look like this: Early Life, Interesting Turn of Events, Move to Boarding School, Work in the Field, Awards, Impact on Society, 200 Years Later, etc.

Step 10: Take several different colored highlighters or pens and mark your notes, using a different color for each point on the outline. Alternatively, you could bracket off each topic category in your notes, and mark the category in the margin.

You can either assign each category a color or a code. Your resulting notes will either look like this:

Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah (18) blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah.

Or like this, based on the outline given above:

EL (early life) Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah.

ITE Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah (18) blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah.

IS Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah.

EL Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah.

MBS Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah.

Step 11: Read all of your notes two or three times. Now put your notes away and write your paper based on the knowledge in your own head. If you don’t know a fact such as a year, a number, or a name, write a question mark there to be filled in later. Writing it this way, without the use of your notes, keeps the whole paper from seeming like a paraphrased imitation of your research (which is how most research papers end up).

Step 12: If your paper is too long, cut out the unessential stuff, or tighten up your sentence structure. If it is too short, read your notes again and look for interesting tidbits. Top your paper off by using one or two exact quotes per typed page.

Step 13: Go back over your research paper, and compare it to your notes, which should be verbatim from the sources, and make sure you haven’t accidentally plagiarized. Make use of your highlighted sections to find your sources easily, based on which section of the paper you are currently working on.

Step 14: Time for adding footnotes or in-text citations. You can look up your references easily by using your highlighted notes.

Step 15: Format your bibliography, footnotes, margins, etc. Set aside at least an hour to do this, instead of waiting until 20 minutes before you have to leave for class on the day the paper is due.

Step 16: If you are truly interested in your topic, and you have finished your paper early, now is the time to satisfy your thirst for knowledge and dig a little deeper. If you run out of time, you can turn your paper in the way it is. But if time allows, you can tweak it to your heart’s content!

My Prayer…Routine?

I am teaching my son to pray so he won’t have to figure it out for himself.

I have been trying to encourage him to cultivate a close, personal relationship with Christ. I don’t want him to have that all-too-pervasive mentality in which God is nothing more than a glorified vending machine. I’m trying to teach him that we go to God with more than just our wants. I’m also trying to teach him that our prayers should be like conversations, personal and varied – different every time we speak to God. When we pray, we use words and grammar that come to us naturally, like talking to a friend. But I do like to use the structure of the Lord’s Prayer for our example:

Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…

Every time we approach God, I believe we should worship Him for who He is. My son and I accomplish this by spending a few moments telling God how awesome He is. And then we try to think of specific things in our lives and in Creation that testify to His awesomeness. For example, we might see a beautiful sunset and worship God for His beauty. We might learn about how ants keep their own herds of aphids and praise Him for His wonderful creation. We might recover from an illness and stand in awe at the marvelous healing capabilities of the human body. At this point in our prayers, we also thank God for several varied and specific things such as salvation, liberty, parents that have taught us about God, or the mere fact that God thought of us individually and saw fit to create our souls. Then we thank him for things we like or enjoy, such as snowflakes, birthday parties, and toy train sets. Our praise and thanksgiving varies from prayer to prayer because I don’t ever want my son to look at the process as a ritual, but merely a conversation between friends, one of whom is holy and deserves acknowledgment of that fact.

Thy Kingdom come; thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…

I try to truly accept God’s will in my life. Whether He wants me to go or stay, be rich or poor, healthy or ailing – if it accomplishes His will, then that’s what I want in my life. My only unwavering desire is to see as many saved as possible, and I doubt that God’s will is any different in that respect. I would like to think that I would gladly give my life or graciously suffer the deaths of my loved ones, if it could only result in more souls saved. I don’t desire anyone to be separated from our Creator for all of eternity.

Give us this day our daily bread…

I believe it is okay to ask God for things. While it should not be the main reason we pray, He desires to give us the things we ask for, just as a doting father may enjoy buying coveted gifts for his children. When I ask though, I generally tag my petitions with “but your will be done.” I know that He knows better than I do what’s best for me, so I don’t really want anything outside of His will.

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors…

It is good for us to specifically address our short-comings, and confess them to God and one another. Doing so holds us more accountable, and may even help prevent us from repeating the same mistakes over and over. We need to search our souls for the things that are keeping us from a perfect walk with God, and take whatever steps necessary to oust them from our lives. One of those things is the resistance to forgive others. We have sinned against a holy God thousands of times, and have been forgiven all. What gives us the right, unholy creatures that we are, to withhold forgiveness from those who sin against us?

And lead us not into temptation…

And while we’re asking God to keep us from temptation, we need to not be the hypocrite that walks headlong into temptation on purpose. Our request for help should serve to keep us in check.

But deliver us from evil…

I pray that nothing traumatic ever happens to us, but again, I want God’s perfect will in my life. And God forbid I should ever be a source of evil in this world.

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.

Realize who God is. Realize his awesome power and sovereignty. Remember who you are speaking to as you approach Him with your petitions. Remember that He loves you personally; He is your doting Father. Remember that He desires friendship. But remember too, that He demands obedience.

Challenge: If you don’t have a prayer life to speak of, put down whatever you are doing and begin right now. If you aren’t willing to start now, when will you ever make time for God? I keep hearing Jillian Michaels in my head saying “Transformation is not a future event.” So true.

Post from the Past: Dial a Writing Prompt

I thought I would tell you about a neat little writing prompt generator that I thought of a while back.

Get out a piece of paper or open up your favorite word processing program. Now, think of ten different protagonists, numbering them 0-9. (The numbering system is important.) Your protagonist can be as vague or as specific as you like. Some ideas: police officer, librarian, little old lady, friendly monster, toddler, department manager, forgetful neighbor, shy girl in the corner, garbage man, step-mom. Next, again numbering each from 0-9, think of 10 locations, 10 items, and 10 antagonists. Don’t forget to stretch your imagination as far as possible. Your location ideas might be as common as a supermarket or as spectacular as a galaxy far, far away. (My personal favorite location idea is “under the sea.”) Item ideas: pencil, heirloom, coin, donut, notebook, sword, pocketwatch, railroad spike, strand of hair, game token. Once in a while, use something unexpected in the antagonist category, such as blond 10-year-old girl. You could do the same thing in the protagonist category.

Here’s the fun part:

Get out your cell phone or phonebook, and look someone up. The last four digits of their phone number will tell you which protagonist, location, item, and antagonist combination to use. For an added twist, write the story from the point of view of the actual person who’s phone number you chose. Have fun!

A prompt disguised as “been there, done that…”

Go somewhere that you already go on a regular basis. The grocery store, college, your mom’s house, church, etc. Only this time, keep an eye open for story ideas!

I Kissed Dating Goodbye

I just read the new updated edition of I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris. The first thing I want to say is, wow! I wish I had read this book as a teenager. Instead of a book filled with dos and don’ts, as you might suspect, it is mostly a book that speaks directly to matters of the heart. Its primary focus is to help you in your relationship with God; all other relationships are secondary. The book helps single people focus on what’s really important at that critical stage in their lives, and then helps them move on when romance becomes appropriate.

I loved this book! Although I have been married for over a decade, I can still look back and see where applying the truths of this book could have helped me remain pure during those years of being single. I wish I could go back and put God first! The book is still useful to married people, as we explore our relationships with God and others. Although this book wasn’t a tear-jerker, I still found myself in tears two or three times as I considered God’s love toward me over the years, in the midst of some terrible mistakes.

My favorite part of the book was the narration of a dream that Joshua Harris gives us at the opening of chapter eight. You can read it here: The dream is absolutely life-changing! In my opinion, the analogy is too perfect to be anything but God-given.  I summarized it to my husband, and even he was teary-eyed; he’s a Christian, but I had never seen him respond to God’s grace in that way before.

If you want to find out more, you can read Joshua Harris’ blog here. Or you can preview the book here.

Note: In exchange for an honest review, the publisher provided a complimentary copy of this book through Waterbrook Multnomah Publishers.

A prompt disguised as making history…

Write about a memory that has stuck with you for ten or more years. But change the outcome. Change it to something more tragic, or witty, or adventurous. Anything you like! It would be interesting to have your change bring about unexpected consequences…