All through high school and my freshman year of college my writing process was something like this:
Step 1: Sit down in class and think about a cool topic.
Step 2: Procrastinate until the night before the rough draft was due, and write an utterly useless rough draft as quickly as possible.
Step 3: Procrastinate until the night before the final is due – try to edit the rough draft – realize it is really really bad – delete it – start over – stay up all night writing some kind of final draft top to bottom.
Step 4: Pray to the writing gods for a good grade.
This was a pretty shitty writing process. But somehow it worked out. By reducing the procrastination component just a little bit I was able to pull off A’s and B’s on most of the papers in my English classes. These papers were never longer than 5 or 6 pages. I rarely did any kind of prewriting. I rarely outlined. I rarely brainstormed. If figured I could do all the prewriting in my head.
Then I encountered English 225. We wrote huge papers. 10 pages plus… The first paper of class I reached step 2 in my old writing process. The draft was so bad – the whole class read it. I had to go to the professor for help. I didn’t know what to do. I knew I would delete it, start over, follow the old shitty writing process, and the final would turn out poorly.
I screamed to my professor in desperation, “Mr. Professor, what can I do!?!?”. He replied, “have you ever heard of prewriting?”.
“?” I replied. He explained to me that the writing process itself should usually be more work the writing the actual paper. A thoroughly planned paper that has gone through many drafts tends to write itself. He encouraged me to start by freewriting. He said the biggest problem for most writers is that they start at the top of the page, write for four pages, and expect to have a finished draft by the time they get to the bottom. This doesnt work. You need to start with mind-drivel – brain-vomit. You need to force yourself to not self edit and write whatever you think for as long as you can. This though dump on your paper will contain alot of bad stuff – but it will contain some gold nuggets. Build your paper off these gold nuggets, he said, and you will be successful.
I’ve been freewriting ever since.