The Ups and Downs of Drafting

When I first entered into the world of Academic Paper Writing, I was told what to do at every step of the way. Let’s go back to my freshman year of high school. I had to write an analytical essay about Salmon Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories. 

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Haroun and the Sea of Stories: the story didn’t compel me at the time, but the imagery is beautiful!

First, my English teacher instructed our class to gather quotes and write brief paragraphs about their context and significance in the book as a whole. Then we had to bring thesis statements in to class, and my teacher displayed them one at a time on an overhead projector and anonymously critiqued them, saying things like “make this more clear,” “what is your argument” etc.

The next step of the process was the outline. It was supposed to be 2-3 pages, with a clear introduction, bolded thesis statement, clear topic sentences (with 2-3 pieces of textual evidence per body paragraph), and a conclusion. The next step was a rough draft. 5-7 pages. Double spaced.

Before I started working on this component of the writing process, I felt pretty overwhelmed. It seemed like a daunting task – to convert a 2-3 page outline into a legitimate, turnin-able draft that I was willing to allow other people to read and critique.

But I fell into the habits of all students, ever, and put off this “conversion” process until the night before the draft was due. In the last minute, I deleted the spaces and bullet points in my outline, double spaced the text, and added a title and my name and date in the corner. Voilà – the birth of my rough draft.

Entering into class the next day, I was definitely worried that my rough draft was, uh, insufficient. And when I had to give it over to a classmate for peer review, I told him that: “this is really bad, sorry about that. I did it at the last minute. I have a lot of work left to do.”

But then his comments were encouraging rather than critical, and at the end of the class I felt good about my draft. It felt like an actual paper. By the time the final draft deadline rolled around, I had spent close to no time revising my draft. Rather, I had made a few sentence-level edits and then called it a day. I was satisfied.

It is experiences such as this one that have made me skeptical about the drafting process. Throughout high school, and frequently in college, instructors will provide me and my peers with very specific deadlines and guidelines regarding the various components of project creation. Then, we will put in as little time and effort as possible in order to meet the various requirements and receive decent grades on them.

Sooo how can we escape from this ugly, formulaic “drafting” process? I think the key is personalization and flexibility, and I believe that the nature of the Writing 220 class and the Writer/Designer textbook allows for these elements.

Since every Writing Minor student has such a different project and preoccupation that s/he is working on, it is impossible for the class to break down the drafting project into specific, concrete expectations. I love that the concepts “rough cuts” and “rough drafts” are so open-ended. Writer/Designer talks about the argumentative work that must, or should, be accomplished at each step of the process, but does not emphasize what these specific steps should look life. And I think this is crucial. The drafting process is very much individualized. There is no universal “appearance” of a rough draft or cut—they are very much concept, or argument based.

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The “rough draft” of my paper for English 258 last year

As I have moved forward in the academic world, and have had more experiences with the drafting and writing processes, I have come to realize that formulaic structures and deadlines do not work for me. Rather than creating rigid, polished outlines, I free-write and draw picture and have conversations that lead me to the ideas, arguments, and structures that become my texts. As I move forward in my projects for this class – my re-mediation as well as my e-portfolio – I hope to engage in drafting processes that emphasize content, rather than structure. Right now my e-portfolio is a vague, abstract concept. There are some visuals attached to this concept: colors, fonts, etc. But I still have a lot of territory to cover before it is “turnin-able.”

In the weeks to come, I hope to use the insights of others as much as possible. I think that conversation will be essential to my drafting process: I need to run my ideas by others, and ask people – not necessarily writing minors, but anyone – what they think, what that take away from my work. From there, I will gain the necessary feedback to move forward, and create something that will be relevant.


2 thoughts to “The Ups and Downs of Drafting”

  1. Hey Annika!
    I’m glad that you’ve realized what you need to do, and that is to get feedback from as many people as possible. I like that you point out that concrete deadlines don’t make writing better, but constructive criticism can. But although deadlines and specifications can scare some people and force them to put it off until the last night, drafts are so crucial that I don’t think teachers can just stop that “ugly” process. When I was younger and even in high school, structure was the most important part of creating a draft, because I didn’t really know how to do it. Content was secondary. Now that we’ve learned the rules and structures of writing, we can feel more free to stray from them, and focus on the content of our writing. So it’s completely fine if the layout of the ePortfolio is vague to you right now, because I think, through talking with others about the content of your work, your natural instincts as a writer/designer will kick in and you’ll do a great job.

    1. I totally second that, Cole. And Annika, your high school tale really resonates with me. I think in high school peer revision just seemed like an activity that the teacher planned to fill time, it was not helpful at all, with constructive criticism only in the sense that commas were corrected and typos circled. However, in college I think that your idea of “personalization and flexibility” really rings true. It’s no longer a game of edits, but a discussion. And because this more advanced revision process is more discussion based, I don’t think you should be scared that your rough draft is still “rough.” I always like to bring it back to Lamott…

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