What do you do if you are allergic to smoke?

By David Joel Miller

How do you work around smokers if you are allergic to smoke?

Cigarette Smoking

Cigarette Smoking
Photo courtesy of Flickr (Iqbal Osman1)

This question originally came to me as an email from a counselor who is allergic to smoke. While they love the work, it its difficult being around people who are heavy smokers. This problem also applies to those who have allergies to perfume or other strong scents. I thought I would pass this along for whatever it is worth. If any of you out there have other ideas feel free to leave a comment or contact me.

This is an extra problem, I believe, for anyone who works in mental health or substance abuse treatment areas. The comments also apply to those who work with the homeless or in social service agencies.

Smoke also affects the family members and children of the smokers. When there are children involved we suggest that the smoker refrain from smoking not only when the children are around but also suggest that they not smoke in areas that their children will be.

See the post on Third Hand Smoke to find out more about the lingering effects of having a smoker in a room where others later go.

As an ex-smoker, this is less of an issue for me. I often do not notice the scent of smoke but others may. I am not suggesting anyone take up smoking to reduce the issues they have with being around others who smoke.

I have written previously about how tobacco (nicotine) is the drug of choice among the homeless. See: What is the Drug of choice among the homeless?

Heavy smoking is common among those with serious and persistent mental illnesses, substance abusers and the homeless. Smoking is not the only reason that these clients may have a strong odor. Lack of hygiene facilities makes the problems worse and so do illnesses like depression that make it overwhelming for many people to do their activities of daily life.

The conventional wisdom used to be that smoking calmed down people with psychosis or emotional issues. So if you were trying to treat someone hearing voices or abusing street drugs why make then give up tobacco at the same time?

Today, more and more places, treatment facilities and self-help meetings are going smokeless. What we have found is that helping people give up tobacco does not hamper their recovery from other substances and may help improve their mental health symptoms.

Increasingly stop smoking programs are finding their place in the treatment of people with mental illness and substance use disorders.

Here are some thoughts to help those of you who find yourself around smokers who are triggering your allergies.

What do you do if you are allergic to smoke?

This is a serious challenge. I would hate to think that anyone would need to give up their profession because of allergies.  This is a server challenge for people with allergies since so many clients are heavy smokers and the smoke smell lingers long after they have put that cigarette out. Heavy smoking is common in people with psychosis, schizophrenia, substance use disorders and so on. I did have a colleague who had severe allergies and even someone wearing perfume or having flowers in their office set off their attacks.

Six suggestions for coping with smoke:

  1. See your doctor, especially an allergist. Untreated this is only likely to get worse. Taking medication may help prevent the allergies getting worse.
  2. Consider a fan or air purifier for your office
  3. Try to work in larger offices or rooms where the smell may be less overwhelming.
  4. See if you can do some distance counseling work. We have a law here (California) that helps people who are in rural areas, shut-in’s etc. see their therapist via the internet. Other professionals may be able to do more of their contacts via phone.
  5. See if you can get assigned to a school based program or work with children. Their parents may smoke but you will have less smell on your clients.
  6. See if you can work in an inpatient facility that has a no smoking policy

Not sure if those suggestions will help you but that is the ones I have thought of so far.

If any of you readers come up with any other solutions let me know.  Let’s see what blog readers can come up with.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books  

Ways to take care of yourself.

By David Joel Miller

You deserve to be well cared for.

Tender loving care

Tender loving care
Photo courtesy of Flickr (hehaden)

Did anyone teach you how to take care of yourself? Did they tell you that taking care of yourself is being selfish? Don’t listen to that kind of talk.

Taking good care of yourself is not being selfish. You can’t give others something you do not have. How can you expect your children and others around you to take care of themselves when you do not set a good example?

Having the guts and determination to keep on pushing forward despite the obstacles is an admirable quality. But eventually even the supper heroes need to rest and relax. Living your life as if the objective is to see how much you can suffer and push yourself is no way to live.

You are only here for one life. Try to get the most out of that life by living a life full of self-compassion.

Here are a list of simple to do self-care acts that can make you a more self-compassionate person.

1. Let yourself rest when tired – sleep

This one is at the top of the list for a reason. Sleep is not unproductive time. You do not get more accomplished by sleeping less. When needed you can probably get by on less sleep for a few days or even weeks but eventually that lack of rest catches up with you.

Sleep is the time when your brain cools down, increases blood flow and cleans out all the waste products. Your brain and nerves heal and memory’s get consolidated during sleep.

Fail to get enough sleep and your daily performance will decline. You may even damage that computer in your head and there are no replacement parts for the model brain you are using.

2. Take care of your body

Eat healthy and get some exercise. If you are too busy to eat well or exercise you are too busy. Eventually parts of the body get worn. You need good nutrition and some physical exercise to keep the machine you call your body working well.

Pushing yourself long hours on poor quality fuel results in excessive wear on your body and a shortened lifespan.

Want to get the most done in your career or home. Keep yourself in good shape for the whole journey.

3. Respect how you feel

Do not ignore your feelings. If something is bothering you attend to it before it becomes a major problem. Talk that issue through with a trusted friend or professional. If the issue is between you and your spouse then your partner is the one you need to be talking with.

Having healthy supportive relationships keeps you mentally, physically and emotionally healthy.

If you emotions are running rough do not ignore the feelings. Take yourself in for an emotional tune up if needed. Most people think that seeing a counselor or therapist is something you do after you have nervous breakdown. Get emotional help in the early stages and there may be no breakdown.

4. Schedule time for you

Never have any time for yourself? Then you are giving too much of your life away.  Make time for yourself, your interests and enjoying life.

You are the only you there will ever be. Enjoy every minute you spend with yourself. Being alone some of the time should not equal being lonely. Balance the time around others with the time you spend in solitude.

5. Pause to take stock of where you are in life – have goals

One good habit to get into is a periodic review of your life. Businesses take inventory at least one a year. Are there things in your life that are obsolete? Have a clearance sale and get those activities that are taking up your time but providing no value out of your life.

Are your activities taking you where you want to go? Review you goals and the strategies and tactics you are using to get to those goals.

6. Reward your hard work

Make sure you build in rewards for the hard work you do. What special rewards will you give yourself when you reach a goal?

7. Challenge yourself to build a sense of accomplishment

People have comfort zones. When you step just a little outside that zone you feel some anxiety but when you try on a new behavior and are successful you get used to this new area. Keep moving just a step outside that comfort zone and you will stretch out the area of things that you can comfortably do.

8. Give yourself a round of applause for things well done

Be your most enthusiastic cheerleader. Make sure you notice the things that you do and give yourself a round of apples every time you are able to master a new skill or challenge.

Accept compliments when offered. Do not reject those compliments with a self-depreciating “It was nothing.” A simple thank you to the party that offered you the praise will go a long way in building your self-esteem and theirs.

9. Invest time and money in yourself

You have a set amount of time each week. You can spend that time wisely or foolishly. Budget those hours and include an investment in yourself as part of that budget. Take a class, read something that interests you.

There is a difference between spending money and time for momentary pleasure and investing in yourself for the long run. Investments in yourself in learning new skills or expanding your experiences pay dividends down the road.

What other ways have you found that help you take care of yourself?

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books  

What is causing the ADHD epidemic?

By David Joel Miller

What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and why is it on the rise?


Photo courtesy of Flickr ( Life Mental Health)

ADHD appears to be everywhere. It is spreading faster than obesity. In my therapy practice most of my adult clients tell me that they were diagnosed with ADHD at some time in the past. Most of them have children with an ADHD diagnosis. It is common for the young people who come to see me to have, as their first diagnosis, ADHD.

ADHD is now something everyone gets. Over a nine-year period the number of girls diagnosed with ADHD increased 600% (Robinson et al., 2002.) It is no longer exclusively a diagnosis of children as adults and even senior citizens are receiving the diagnosis.

One author tells us that if the current trend continues, within 20 years, half of all children will be on an ADHD med (paraphrased from Shannon, 2009.)

Why is ADHD so common and what is fueling its spread?

To answer this question there a number of factors we need to look at. What is ADHD? Even more basic, what is Attention and what is hyperactivity? We also need to know is attention abilities something you are born with or does it develop over time? Are there things you can do to improve your attention or is this just the way you are? Are there alternatives to taking stimulant meds and do those alternative really work?

The relationship with other mental emotional and behavioral disorders is also important. There is a lot of overlap between having ADHD and having Autism, depression, anxiety and substance use disorders.

There are also cultural factors in ADHD. Certain population groups are more likely to get the ADHD diagnosis than others. Who gets diagnosed also is affected dramatically by who does the “testing” and who gives out the diagnosis.

There has been a lot of research on ADHD and its treatment recently. As I am able to read that research I want to report back to you what I find out and how you may be able to apply these ideas to your life or the life of someone you care about.

From the day a child is born there is pressure to behave in certain ways. Some children are more active than others. Some from day one have better abilities to “pay attention” but genetics is not the whole story of why some people are diagnosed with ADHD and others are not.

Regardless of age a person can learn skills to improve their ability to “pay attention.” We can also learn skills to reduce or increase out behavior. Let’s begin out review of the ADHD phenomenon.

ADHD is not one thing but several

We professionals used to have two separate diagnosis for these issues, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD.) If you go back farther in the psychiatric literature these issues had other names.

The idea was that some people, mainly children, where not good at “paying attention.”  Mostly we thought that this was a lack of effort on their part and that they just needed to listen better. Most people with a predominantly inattentive issue did not cause anyone any problems and so did not get noticed until they were much older and came asking for help. Sometimes this inability to “pay attention” was written off as low intelligence or a learning disability. Sometimes those things were factors but often they were not.

We have studied attention a lot and it turns out there are a number of different skills that we call “paying attention” and that those skills develop with time and can be learned. More on the subject of what attention is and how it develops in upcoming posts.

Most ADHD diagnosis are about Behavior!

Most ADHD diagnosis come about because the child’s behavior is upsetting an adult. The child does not stay in their seat, talks to much and generally disrupts the class rom. Some parents tell us that their children are “hurricanes” and are always in motion. So if the child does not stay in one place, moves a lot and causes problems for adults, this gets them evaluated and probably diagnosed.

Hyperactivity is very situational. If a child runs all through the soccer practice and is fast at running around the track, they get A’s from the coach and may become track stars or pro soccer players. That same child who is never in their seat in the class room will get in trouble and probably placed on meds.

To avoid this ADHD diagnosis the child needs to develop the ability to regulate his behavior. A whole lot of factors, like diet and opportunities for physical activity can affect a child’s ability to sit still. When most people lived on farms and in rural communities there were more opportunities to “work off” that energy. Now most people on planet earth live in cities and they stay inside a lot more.

Some of my clients have told me they are not allowed to go outside because of the gangs and the drive-bys. Their parents tell me they are scared to let the kids out of the house. One client has two bullets in him from drive-bys. Any questions why his kids never leave the house?

One theory is that ADHD, the hyperactivity part, is a failure of human evolution to keep up with our changing environment. This may also be true of the inattentive part as we will talk about in the future.

ADHD also coexists with depression and anxiety

Many children’s first diagnosis is ADHD. They are then placed on a stimulant medication to treat this hyperactivity on the premise that the behavior problems are caused an inability to “pay attention” meaning a failure to do what the adult says.

It does not stop there. Before long, because their behavior is causing adults problems, we change this diagnosis to “Disruptive Behavior Disorder.” Eventually this may run the gamut of “bad child diagnoses” to Oppositional Defiant Disorder or even Conduct Disorder.

In the teen years or adulthood we then discover that this person was depressed or had an anxiety disorder all this time.

One treatment for anxiety disorders in adults is to tell them to avoid caffeine or other stimulants. This is a conflict if they are talking stimulant meds for their “ADHD.”

I fully believe that there are children who warrant the diagnosis of Disruptive Behavior Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder or even Conduct Disorder. They and the others in their lives need help. Just saying that we professionals and society need to be looking for depression and anxiety issues also.

So next stop would need to be this area of attention. What is the ability to “pay attention” how much are we born with and how does it develop.

The day you were born you had some ability to “pay attention.” In the next attention post let’s look at this day-one ability and how your attention abilities change and develops over time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books  

What is a mental health relapse?

By David Joel Miller

Do people with depression, anxiety or emotional problems relapse?

Wellness and Recovery

Wellness and Recovery
Photo courtesy of Flickr (Portland Prevention)

The term “Relapse” is increasingly being applied to mental illnesses and for good reasons.  Many people are familiar with the idea that people with a substance use disorder, alcoholics and drug addicts can relapse. The idea that people with a mental illness can relapse is becoming a recognized part of the mental (or behavioral) health field.

Wellness and recovery

We know more now than ever before about mental and emotional illness. Professional’s no longer thing of the mentally ill as somehow different from others. We now know that them is us. In their lifetime half of all Americans will experience the occurrence of an emotional or mental health problem that meets the criteria for a mental illness.

Looking at mental health issues as chronic conditions rather than once and forever problems has helped us to understand how someone with a mental health issue can “relapse.”

Mental health and illness lie on a continuum

There are not two discrete groups, the well and the ill. People who appear to be emotionally and mentally well may gradually develop symptoms. Disorders can come on suddenly or slowly. People with mental health issues can and do recover. They get better.

Along this continuum people can move from unwell (ill) to less unwell to well. Others can move from well to unwell. Across your life span you will probably make many trips back and forth on the continuum. You get sad and depressed or anxious and then you get better.

People can have a mental illness and then get better

For professional treatment we have set the point at which people get diagnosed as mentally ill very far over on the continuum. Your condition needs to interfere with school or work, prevent you from having good relationships, upset you or impair some important part of your life for it to be diagnosed as a mental illness.

Plenty of people get life problems that almost, but not quite reach the point of being mental illnesses. These people benefit from counseling also if they are able to get some. For milder issues (sub clinical) self-help books, blogs like this one, religious and social activities and so on can help them maintain their mental health.

Mental illnesses are often chronic conditions

Mental and emotional issues are a lot like being overweight and developing type two diabetes. Once you have been diagnosed as a diabetic it is unlikely that this will come off your medical file. You may take medications, exercise and watch your diet. All those things may get your blood sugar back under control.

With chronic conditions and mental and emotional disorders fit this pattern well, even once you recover there will be things that you need to do to keep your condition under control.

Our understanding of the need to do things to maintain mental health recovery is informed by the stages of change model. See Stages of Change for a list of all the posts on this process.

In that model we discovered that when someone recovers from a condition, excess weight, substance use, depression or just the normal problems of life, there are things that they will need to do to maintain those changes. We call that recover the “Maintenance steps or Maintenance Stage of Change.

People with mental illnesses do relapse

By relapse I mean a return to symptoms or an increase in symptoms that were previously under control. Sometimes that relapse is a result of new life events. Someone with PTSD or complex trauma may experience another trauma or something that reminds them of past trauma.

Someone with depression or anxiety may have an experience that is sad or makes them anxious. As these levels of emotion rise the person may become overwhelmed. If their support system is not being supportive or their coping skills are overwhelmed than the person moves to being less well, less able to cope and they may experience another episode of whatever we chose to call their mental or emotional issue.

This continuum of wellness and the possibility of recovery is easier to see when we talk about relatively well know conditions. Anxiety, the most common of all mental illness, and depression, that cousin of sadness, are good examples of how the journey from wellness to illness and back may occur.

We have all experienced some anxiety and can see how it may get better or worse. Depression is understandable. Sometimes in life we get sad, is we get too sad or stuck there to long that might turn into Major Depressive Disorder.

What about really serious mental illnesses the ones were it is harder to understand the symptoms. Do people with Borderline Personality Disorder, Schizophrenic or Dissociative Identify Disorder ever recover?

There sure do. There are treatments for all those conditions. Most of these treatments are skills based. Someone who hears voices all the time, they can learn to listen to the police officers voice and not the one in their head. This is not easy, it takes lots of skill development and practice but many people with even the most serious of emotional issues do recover.

Do you get the picture that I and other mental health professions are coming to be strong believers in wellness and recovery? Recovery happens. If recovery happens, sometimes there may be a return of symptoms. When that happens we expect a return to doing the things that helped the first time to help them recover even faster than the first time.

If there are other skills they need to learn, well during a relapse is a really great time to try out new skills and find a way to create your happy life, however you define it.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books  

My Stomach Growls When I am Hungry

David Joel Miller:

Something to think about.

Originally posted on Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane Blog:


I admit it, my life revolves around food. I start the day with breakfast; eggs, toast and tea. By noon time, my stomach is growling and asking for more to eat, and I unfailingly grant its wish. Because of my own feelings about food, I have extra empathy for those who do not have enough to eat.

Today, our Lutheran Church celebrated “God’s Work, Our Hands”. One of our group projects was a specialty of mine, something I do with my own children on a monthly basis. We made 128 bag lunches for the homeless. Bologna and cheese sandwiches, apple sauce and potato chips. When the production was finished, Marie and I drove to the local agency for the homeless and dropped them off. This is something we have done on a regular basis. Years ago, when we started this tradition, Marie was wary of the people milling about outside…

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Why couples have communication problems

By David Joel Miller

There are reasons why two people have communication problems.

Communication Problems

Communication Problems
Photo courtesy of Flickr (Ed Yourdon)

When couples come for relationship counseling the most common description of the problem is that they “have trouble communicating.” It is rarely that simple.

Both people speak the same language, in my office this is primarily some version of English. They seem to be able to communicate just fine when they agree on things. We are out of milk, is rarely a communication problem.

What the communication problem is about is mostly the feelings and the hidden agenda behind the statement. “We are out of milk” becomes “You are so selfish, you drank all the milk again” or “Why didn’t you see we needed milk?”

Here are some common causes of “communication problems.”

1. You insist on being right – Right fighting

You keep telling the other person you are right and they are wrong. They do not agree. No amount to communication training will make this other person start agreeing with you. Continuing to insist you are right and refusing to hear the other persons point of view will not remove the communication problem.

Accept that the other person in your life may never agree with you about some things. You do not need to change their mind. They have the right to their opinion. They even have the right to be wrong.

You, by the way, also have the right to be wrong. When you are wrong, admit it. Continuing to argue to make yourself right or to hide your error will not improve communication.

2. You attack instead of request

You walk into the kitchen and there are dirty dishes everywhere. You head for the bedroom and your partners dirty clothing is on the floor again.

You could hunt them down and let them know that they are a pig, they grew up in a barn and that their mother is the fattest sow in town.

This personal attack is not likely to improve communication. It just results in a counter offensive about your family’s obsessive fanatical neatness.

3. You keep repeating things ever louder

Yelling louder does not improve communication with deaf people or non-English speakers. Repeating the same thing over with the same words does not help couples communicate.

Do not say it over again until you have established whether the other person heard you and what they thought you meant by those words.

If they did not understand you the first time you need to use other words to explain. If they did hear you but disagree repeating yourself is likely to provoke a hostile response.

4. Your idea of communicating is getting your way

Being good at communication will help you tell other people what you think and how you feel. There is no guarantee that you will ever get your partner to agree with you. You partner has the right to think and feel what they want to.

Accept that no amount of communication will get other people to change in the direction you want them to change. Learn to work on changing yourself, become a better person and become more accepting.

5. You focus on being understood rather than on understanding

Until you understand your partner there is no open space for them to understand you. Why would you want to understand someone who started every conversation with the assertion you were wrong and just needed to start agreeing with them?

Become better at understanding them and then as they feel understood they may be willing to try to understand you. A side benefit of really understanding others is that you may find they were not as opposed to what you wanted as you were thinking.

6. You expect your partner to know what you need – mindreading

Have you ever head that “If you loved me I wouldn’t have to explain,” or the comment that “If I have to explain this you wouldn’t get it.”

Do you think that because you need something your partner should know that and do the thing you want?

Somewhere this romantic idea got into our heads that two people who are in love are on the same frequency and just know what each other feels and needs.

There are times when two people in a relationship are on the same page and sometimes you do just know what your partner needs. But don’t expect your partner to be able to read your mind. Tell them what you want and need.

Ever had trouble deciding what to have for lunch? Maybe there are times you partner is not clear on their thoughts. Do not expect them to be able to read your mind when you can’t tell what you are thinking at times.

7. There are secrets you do not want your partner to know

If you have secrets, big ones like an affair in progress or some spending you know they would not approve of you are headed down the road to poor communication.

When you are holding things back the relationship gets chilly. This does not mean that you need to blurt out every wrong thing you do and expect your partner to automatically forgive and forget. What you should be doing is working on having fewer things in your life you can’t tell your partner about.

Having secrets is guaranteed to reduce the communication between people.

8. You are communicating with someone else about couple’s issues

Most couples do not have that talk about what is and is not cheating before they get into a relationship. Once these situations come up there can be significant differences between what partners think is OK and not OK to be doing.

Sharing things about your partner, about your sex life and other intimate issues, is a common way to reduce the communication in a relationship.

There is this temptation to talk to your family or your friends and vent about the things that are causing conflicts between you. But once you have let the secrets you share with your partner out to other people there is this tendency for those secrets to come back around and bite you.

Do you want your partner’s mother calling you about that problem you two are having in the bedroom? Don’t you share about it with your family either.

Talking to a coworker about your relationship, especially a coworker of your sexual preference, is a dangerous step in the direction of an affair. As we have talked about in the past affairs do not have to be sexual to damage your current relationship. Those emotional affairs, they can end the communication between you and your partner. Once the communication is gone the intimacy is sure to follow.

Have you had any of these communication problems in your relationships? Have you detected other communication problems? Feel free to leave a comment or send me a reply via the contact me feature and I will respond to as many as possible.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books .  

Writing a Great Paper or Report the Easy Way

By David Joel Miller

Writing a great paper or report can be easier than writing a bad one.

Term Paper

Term Paper
Photo courtesy of Flickr ( ilovebutter)

A few simple steps can transform a major difficult project into a manageable one and result in a great job with a lot less effort.

There are things that you may be doing that make that term paper or report a lot harder to do than it needs to be. Every semester I offer my students a challenge, Do your paper early and I will take a look at it and tell you what grade you will get. Then you can fix the paper before the deadline and I will grade the revised one or you can keep that first grade. (This is not an original idea, one of my professors in grad school made the same offer.)

Over the semesters I have concluded that it is not necessarily the students with the highest I.Q.s that write the best papers. It is also not necessarily those who grades on the other tests are the highest who write the superior papers.

One other surprise has been that it is not the ones who work the hardest who get the best scores on the papers. People who write the best papers and those who do the great projects and proposals do certain things that make the whole process easier and the end result is a better outcome.

Often those who turn in the early papers do far superior work to those who utilize the whole term to get the job done.

Here are some ways to make the job faster and easier than you think and still produce some great work.

1. Start planning the project the moment you know you will be doing it.

The early planners have a topic in mind early on and they look for books and articles right from the start. As a result they may decide that their first choice of topic will not work or that there is limited research on their topic.

Starting early helps you know what you will need to find and gives you the option of altering your plans. Those who wait till the night before it is due often find they can’t come up with good sources on the topic they have chosen and now with hours to go they have to start all over.

2. Allow more time than it will take so you will not be rushed

Last minute papers always seem to take longer than expected. The result is that things get left out. Last minute papers are often shorter than the requirement. They have fewer or no sources and they may lack a title page or other mechanical aspects.

Give yourself extra time and you can complete all the parts not just the major text part.

3. Get all the needed resources ready before you start.

Online resources are nice but sometimes the serious research or references you will need are only available in a library. Make that trip beforehand and all will go well.

More than one student has been late because their printer would not work or they closed a document without saving it. Having time to get that printer cartridge or more paper takes all the stress off your plate. Things can and do go wrong especially when you are working under pressure close to a deadline.

4. Do a quick first draft

Starting early lets you do a first “down” draft where you get your ideas on paper. After doing that first draft early on there is plenty of time to let this simmer and then revise. Last minute projects have to be completed and turned in ready or not. Some nonsensical things slip through.

5. Let it sit and percolate

Giving a project a few days to sit and then rereading it will help you spot all sorts of errors that should have been obvious but weren’t. When read to close to the first writing our brains seem read what we meant not what we actually wrote.

I found early on that writing and then publishing a blog post that same day let a lot of errors slip through. Writing a post one week and then revising the next increases the chances that I will see an error and correct it. (Yes errors do still creep through.)

6. Follow the directions

If the directions said APA format and you wrote in MLA there are points off for that. If the requirement was a paper on current trends and you wrote about the history you are off topic.

More than one grant proposal did not get funded because that grant writer left out a required part of the submission.

7. Give out lots of credit to others

Do not plagiarise. Use citations. Include references. Plagiarism in academic circles is more than just using someone else’s words. If it was someone else’s idea you credit them.

In blogs and popular writing we are more worried about copyright, so make sure you quote only as the copyright holder allowed. A mention of the person who wrote the book on your topic is always a good idea even when you reframe and add your take on the subject.

8. Use words that you and your reader will understand.

Using a highly technical vocabulary does not make your paper better, especially if you do not understand the words. More than one student has quoted long bits of technical language that looks very impressive but is total unrelated to the topic at hand.

If you do not understand what was said do not think it helps your writing to quote it. Good writing makes technical subjects understandable to those who are reading your paper.

9. Read it over one last time with “new eyes.”

By starting early and allowing time for the paper to sit and “ripen” you give yourself time to reread it one last time before you hit print and live with the consequences.

10. Ask someone else to read your paper or project

Whenever possible have someone else take a look at your work and see if they can understand what you wrote. You are not necessarily looking for agreement but you do need to know that they can understand what you said and that there are no glaring errors. If they do disagree with you check to see if you were unclear or if what you said was not really what you meant. Sometimes you think you said it clearly but others may read a whole other meaning into what you said.

There are some suggestions for writing a paper that will get you a passing grade and doing things this way may make that dreaded writing assignment a whole lot less stressful.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books