Writing Before You Write
First, you waited until the very last minute to write the damn thing. The essay was due Monday morning but you waited until Sunday night at about 9:30 PM or later to sit down and pull the assignment out of your notebook. You did think about the assignment during the week and on Friday night you didn't enjoy the party, the beer or the company of your friends as much as you wanted to because you had this anxiety, this creeping suspicion that there was an important school assignment waiting to ambush you when you arrived home. You swore then that you would lock yourself in your room on Saturday until it was finished.
You awoke Sunday morning (What happened to Saturday?) feeling like death and facing the real possibility that you might not be able to finish the essay on time. You loitered through breakfast, read the comics, and even started to read the newspaper article about a new cure for some disease with the Latin name estudiantis procrastinamythis. With a groan you rose, shuffled into your room, locked the door and sat down to work.
You cleaned your room. You opened the door just wide enough for you to to hear the Raider game your mother was watching in the living room. You needed a break so you took the dog for a long walk. When you returned home, dinner was waiting for you. You ate slowly. You re-read the article on estudiantis procrastinamythis . After you ate four cookies and helped with the dishes (a very rare event) you retired to your room, determined to have the essay finished in time for you to watch The X Files. You browsed through two or three old issues of People magazine looking for ideas. You tore a piece of paper out of your notebook, coughed, licked the end of the pencil, then began to think and write at the same time.
If this sounds at all familiar, don't feel too much guilt because even accomplished writers work this way, suffer from various forms of estudiantis procrastinamythis. Relax. For now I'm not going to rant on about time management. No. This section of the program is concerned with what you do after you lick the tip of the pencil, not what you do before you sit down to write. In this section I would like to introduce you to a few simple strategies for developing an idea, creating a manageable focus for your writing before you shape the finished essay. Trust me on this:
Much of your success and effectiveness as a writer depends on the quality of the writing you do before you write, the pre-writing steps you take before you begin to SCULPT your text.
Due to bad writing habits, laziness or a CRITICAL hole in their writing instruction, most students skip this pre-writing step completely and then wonder why their grades are so scary. I acknowledge that this is not always your fault. Even though there is a greater CONSCIOUSNESS now about the importance of this pre-writing work, many college writing instructors still don't introduce these strategies to their students because they assume that they were taught to the students in their high school writing courses. To make matters worse, many of us crusty old folk were never taught these approaches during our own schooling, so we don't even think about employing them or teaching them to our students.
I'm a case in point. When I was a student, I was expected to take a piece of paper and a pen and just write write write away. As you probably know, that approach can be torture, because it asks you to do the composing and organization of your writing in your head as you go. Then, several years ago, I went through a RENAISSANCE of sorts in my writing and teaching thanks to workshops that I took from some of my more recently-educated, up-to-date colleagues. I am proof that, at least when it comes to writing, you can teach an old dog new tricks. You can INSTALL a new set of writing habits.
The longer I teach, the more firmly I believe that taking the time to develop effective pre-writing is the greatest gift you could ever give your writing, and thus your grades. So here we go. Much of what I am going to ask you to do will feel alien and uncomfortable at first, but I promise that by the end of the semester these new habits will feel as COMFY as your favorite old pair of socks