Remember all those long nights spent staring at a cursor flashing away on your monitor? Nights filled with obsessing over the details of your contents, second guessing your word choices, and watching minutes tick by on the clock? All while your text made little to no progress at all? If you do, then I am sure that you will also remember those nights with dread (and thus hope to never repeat them).
Many factors can slow down the drafting process. Of course, sometimes, we are not sure about the exact details of our contents; delay from that kind of uncertainty is only natural. But what can you do when your comprehension is strong while you are nevertheless struggling to produce words in your rough draft?
Unfortunately, more than one answer exists, and these answers range from lacking focus to being in a rush. Your first step will need to be identifying the source of your unique difficulty. Does this moment’s problem result from not finding enough sources (or from not reading them closely enough)? Was your reading sufficient but your notetaking and review less so?
One particular problem plagues many adult academic writers: editing word choices while drafting a rough text. This kind of editing while drafting produces wordy constructs, confusing descriptions, and awkward grammatical structures. Remember some of those papers that you got back after those nights of cramming only to find that you missed something obvious in your first sentence?
If you (like so many of us) are trying to perfect your wording when you should instead be producing a rough draft, then you might benefit from using these methods that have helped others to avoid these delays.
TAKE A LOAD OFF (Allow imperfection)
Often, our stress comes from thinking ahead of our immediate steps. We try to finalize a text by fine tuning word choices before the larger structures have taken shape. A sculptor only carves the fine details on a statue after the rough shape is formed. The same should be true for our papers. Don’t expect perfection when you are only sketching in the larger shapes. You are writing a draft, after all! It does not need to be perfect (yet). Consider trying:
CALENDAR YOUR PROJECTS (Planning Your Paper)
Many students have drastically less time available than they would prefer for their most complex assignments. As a result, they skip revision entirely, editing text even while drafting. If you find yourself rushing in this way, then consider how our “Planning Your Paper” flier recommends producing the majority of your draft much earlier than most of us ever actually do (at a time halfway into your overall project’s timetable). Will you have all your sources yet? Maybe not. Will your ideas be finalized? Probably not. Will your thoughts be fully developed yet? Unlikely. Will the rough draft have errors? Of course. Despite all these supposed weaknesses, most students find that drafting rough text sooner allows them to better polish their final wording. Remember: drafting earlier leaves more time for review and adjustment!
TRY OUTLINING/EXPLORATORY WRITING
Even if you feel comfortable with your preferred method of these two, you should still try the opposite method in order to exercise your writing skills more deeply. If you prefer working from an outline, then consider also using exploratory writing to make short notes after reading each source. Vice-versa, if you prefer exploratory drafting, then consider making a simple annotated outline to split into chunks that you can draft individually in a free (but slightly more focused and organized) manner, like “Background Terminology” or “Discussion of Findings.”
EXPERIMENT WITH DIFFERENT MEDIA
Sometimes the biggest source of delay in our writing is discomfort with typing at a keyboard! Try producing text in different ways:
IMAGINE A DIFFERENT AUDIENCE
What’s wrong with imaging the professor (or other experts) while we draft?
These ideas (alone or in combination) should provide interesting methods for re-thinking any difficulties that have been increasing your drafting times. Good speed to you on your coming projects!
Daniel Roberts, MAR
Though Dan loves to study all different forms of communication, he finds the unique qualities of printed text fascinating. Because of that fascination with printed communications, he thrives when helping students to find ways to review the clarity of their phrasing and wording at the sentence level. His studies in religion, philosophy, history, doctrine, and ecclesiology allow him to help students coming from a wide variety of faith backgrounds to tackle their faith integration concepts in ways that produce clear and detailed text. Some of his research interests include theology, philosophy, religious history, comparative study of world religions, neuropsychology, diet and nutrition, logic (and logical fallacies), organic gardening, slow food, fine cooking, cinematography, screenwriting, and open source software.