In my 15 or so years of education, I’ve learned my fair share of writing strategies but I find that most of them just over complicate the writing process for me. I’ve tried making all sorts of flow charts, venn diagrams, and graphs and I’ve even drawn some pictures. I’ve done a bunch of different types of outlines, from writing out a bunch of topic sentences to creating bulleted lists, but ultimately I end up wanting to tear my hair out half way through the process. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely think it can be helpful and important to get ideas organized before I start writing, but in most cases I find these strategies to be more trouble than they’re worth.
My favorite writing strategy is to first schedule out a time to start writing, and promise myself that no matter what I will write during that time (and yes, it has to be scheduled and marked into my google calendar and everything, because otherwise it would never get done). Once that writing time arrives, I start writing. Usually I can’t help but think obsessively about my topic before I start actually writing it– what exactly am I going to say? What type of tone do I want to convey? How will I support my argument?– but during this assigned writing time, I make myself just write. No thinking. No nagging. No structuring necessary. I guess this is pretty similar to the shitty rough draft idea. I just write whatever I’ve been thinking about in my head since getting the assignment.
Usually I try to make the free-writing last for at least a half hour or more, just so I end up with a bunch of information, but once I’ve decided I’m done, then that’s it. It’s over. I like to read over what I’ve just written afterwards and maybe make a few adjustments and comments really briefly (and I mean it. No more than a few minutes of skimming and fixing the things that I just can’t bare to leave as they are).
A few days later (usually at least a day but no more than a week), I come back to my original writing to start the assignment for real. I think of it as starting over with a totally blank slate, but instead of feeling daunted by the notorious blank page, I’m already ahead of the game. I already have a whole bunch of stuff written and I can pull from that to start this new paper. Sometimes I use small segments from the original “freewrite” material, but other times I end up using the free write work as the main body of my paper and just end up adding in little details here and there. Obviously I prefer it this second way, but honestly I think that just having something to work with makes a world of difference.
For me, that’s the most effective writing strategy.