The Writing Process Or… Zen and the Art of Essay Craft
First and foremost…
GETTING STARTED II
Habits That Will Result in a Poor Paper
Marriage to first draft
Habits That Will Result in a Successful Paper
Habits That Guarantee Failure
Understand Your Assignment (Then Forget About it For Awhile)
Thoroughly read your assignment prompt.
What, specifically, is your topic?
Who is your audience?
How long should your essay be?
Are there special requirements?
Ask questions if you don’t understand.
After figuring out your assignment - you need to generate ideas before you begin drafting.
Forget about the end product for a bit and just get creative.
Try listing, mapping, free-writing, journalist questions, cubing, or any other method that works for you.
Listing is a good way to quickly gather many ideas on paper.
Simply make a list of as many ideas as come to you as quickly as possible.
Topic: Essay About An Important Place
Bed, my comfy chair, the mountains, the ocean, my office, the garden, anywhere with a book, Starbucks, home, the shower, the right state of mind…
Mapping is a form of free association that creates a visual image of ideas and their connections. Using mapping can give you not only ideas for an essay - but connecting ideas that may turn into paragraphs.
Comfort Starbucks Aesthetics Books Tastes Smell Hanging out with friends Writing Studying Energy
Write, write, write and don’t stop. Freewriting means taking an idea and running with it wherever it leads. Don’t think about it - just keep writing. When you free yourself and just allow the ideas to come, you might end up with a great essay topic that you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.
Coffee calls from shelves and walls. I can’t not stop in. Who will be waiting for me today? Chatting till I have to run to class, my latte sloshing with each step. I don’t even mind when it splashes on my fingers: my sugar-free, non-fat liquid gold. Keeping me sane. The barista knows my name. Here I sip the taste of home.
Use the standard questions every journalist must answer.
Thinking of different ways to answer those questions might lead to a fresh perspective on your topic.
The Taste of Home
Who: Either alone or with friends.
What: Coffee, coffee, coffee!
When: Day, night, when studying, when socializing, when thinking, when chilling…
Where: Starbucks, Coffee Haus, my office, home, pretty much anywhere
Why: Energy, inspiration, comfort, mental and emotional health
How: With all the senses engaged.
Similar to Journalist Questions, cubing involves considering your topic from six different angles.
Describe it (colors, shapes, sizes, etc.)
Compare it (What is it similar to?)
Associate it (What does it make you think of?)
Analyze it (Tell how it's made)
Apply it (What can you do with it? How can it be used?)
Argue for or against it
Describe it: Engage the senses - how does it look and taste and feel - what do you hear and smell?
Compare it: Like finding my muse.
Associate it: A luxurious bubble bath; slipping into silk pajamas.
Analyze it: It gives me a moment to breathe in my surroundings, to organize my thoughts. When drinking a cup of coffee with friends, I am sharing my real self.
Apply it: Coffee can be an effective and relatively safe energizer. It can help get through massive amounts of graduate school readings.
Argue for or against it: Strangely, I think of home and comfort when I drink a cup of coffee during the day, despite the fact that no one in my home is terribly fond of coffee. When I make coffee at home, it never seems to be as comforting as coffee I share with friends at work.
The VRD ( Very Rough Draft)
The VRD is rough - very rough.
Take your idea and start writing about it.
Don’t worry too much about spelling, punctuation, organization or grammar. Just make sure it’s marginally readable.
It’s like freewriting - but attempts to stick to the topic and gets typed.
It CAN be nutty, horrible, abysmal, disorganized, slangy and even silly.
The idea is to just get started.
Anne Lamott, in Bird by Bird, describes the next part of the process as “seeing what develops” - like a polaroid.
After writing your VRD, let it breathe for a day or so and then read it again.
Do you see anything different there?
Can you see a more interesting direction for your essay developing?
Is there more to explore?
Anne Lamott’s Three Draft Essay
After gathering ideas, you can think of your essay writing process in three drafts:
The Down Draft: Just get it all down (aka - the VRD).
The Up Draft: Then fix it up (revision and organization).
The Dental Draft: Check every ‘tooth’ carefully - work on word choice and sentencing to make it sound better (tweaking).
Read it Out Loud
During the revision phase - read your paper slowly, out loud to yourself.
Better yet, read it out loud to a friend or tutor.
Even better - have someone read it out loud to you!
You will be amazed what paper issues you can ‘hear’ that you missed when reading.
If parts are awkward, confusing, choppy or repetitive, you’ll notice.
You might feel a little silly - but it may mean the difference in your paper grade.
Formatting and Requirements
If you haven’t already - it’s time to revisit your assignment sheet.
Notice the requirements for paper length, font, margins, etc.
Does it need a cover sheet? A creative title?
What should be included in your folder with the final draft?
After all your hard work - don’t loose points by neglecting the requirements.
At this point - if you’ve gone through the process - you should be proud of your essay.
If you’ve also gone to the Writing Center and conferenced with me - you should be proud and confident.
Give it one last check for those sneaky, ‘dum’ errors (like writing ‘to’ instead of ‘too’ or ‘your’ instead of ‘you are’)
And all that’s left to do is…
Staple it - put it in a folder with the process and celebrate!