“The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is that you really want to say.”
– Mark Twain
My writing process begins with what I call thinking and what others might call procrastinating. So sue me. It may take me awhile to put pen to paper, but thinking about an assignment before you start writing is always a good idea. Admittedly, so is setting a deadline for when those thoughts need to be put down on paper.
But now what? You’ve done some thinking; you’ve done some research. Your thoughts have had some time to marinate, and you’ve got a vague idea of where this paper is heading. Now, it’s time to free-write.
The problem with free-writing is that almost nobody does it, because nobody sounds smart when they free-write. You’re rambling. You disregard grammar, sentence order, structure, and everything else you’ve learned about writing. That’s fine, though – just get those thoughts down on paper. Style can come later.
The benefits are twofold: 1) You won’t have to worry about remembering your genius ideas. 2) Chances are, just by writing, you’ll come across even more genius ideas – ones you couldn’t have articulated before.
Disclaimer: I have recently overcome a terrible, unjustifiable fear of free-writing, made even worse by knowing its value. Terrified of sentences that were less than perfect, my first drafts were always more polished than they should have been. This might sound like a great problem to have, but I was missing out on ideas and connections that writing without constraint could have helped me realize.
Here’s a rule of thumb: your first draft should go in the trash. It should be an ice cream scoop taken from your brain and plopped down on a piece of paper. Sure, most of it will melt, but a few sprinkles will remain. One of those may end up being the heart of your piece.