How Real Writers Write

 

I don’t feel I have a particular “method” or superstitious habit that I walk through before beginning an essay or writing piece. I suppose my most common start to writing is making an outline — a practice I dreaded in high school. What’s the point of an outline? Just write what you’re going to say. Well, young Ashley, eventually you’ll have to write 10-15 page papers that require a little prior thought and organization that you perhaps didn’t have to tackle in writing your long 2-3 page essays. But, I digress.

I think that half of my planning and organizing processes before beginning to write involves me asking ‘how would a real writer plan this out?’ Unsure of where I could find such a real writer, I go back to my thoughts and attempt to gather them on paper. After a good twenty minutes of hard thinking and essay-planning, it’s time for a Facebook break. Or sports. Whichever feels most pressing at the moment.

After planning out the essay, I devise a plan on when to work on the essay. For example, last semester I had a 10-page essay I was feeling stressed about completing so I broke it up into about a week worth of time, outlining exactly what parts I’d complete on which days and how many pages it would be. On Wednesday, I’d have pages 4-6 complete on the history of race in sports and the introduction of Colin Kaepernick.

My least favorite part about this method is that without fail, my estimates as to how many pages each idea would take up were always more than reality. You know those people who say they went over the page limit because they just couldn’t quit writing? The normal writer-like problem to have? Yeah, Ashley doesn’t have that problem. As much as giving myself goals and structure to aid in completing a piece of writing is helpful, I think parts of the process are also detrimental to the quality of work. Part of me wants to say that x part of the essay should take up x pages so that I can physically see myself progressing through the essay but part of me feels that giving expectations and/or limits to the writing can make it a little less genuine.

My professor last semester told us that often we might find our true thesis, our true angle to the story, after already having written five or six pages. I laughed internally at this as I thought, ‘well, if you plan it out right the first time, the first five or six pages don’t have to be a waste.’ I ate my words after writing eight pages of the third class essay and realized that what I was writing was not the actual argument I wanted to make. It took eight pages of agony to figure this out. I struggled — hard — to get those eight pages there, and once I finally realized I wanted to talk about patriotism and not whether or not Kaepernick’s anthem protests were effective, I seamlessly rearranged and reordered the essay, recreating my argument. This is similar to what Anne Lamott mentions in her first chapter of “Bird by Bird.” Sometimes there really is no way to know, or realize, your angle until you type a bunch of nonsense. And that’s okay.

Perhaps I do have a method to the way in which I write. And maybe I’m just as real as any writer.

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