Prewriting

No one I have ever known has liked prewriting. Perhaps if I spent more time with professional writers, I would find more folks who enjoy this part of the process. But we are students, and we don't like to work harder than we have to. Since we can often get away with not prewriting, why should we bother with it ever?

It is tempting to sit down at a keyboard, type until a paper is finished, and turn it in the next day. This seems so efficient — everything gets done in the space of a few packed hours. However, the product of this sort of cram-writing is never as good as the result of a proper multi-draft writing process

I'm not suggesting that you must write multiple drafts of everything that you turn in. In a sense, though, when you write a paper in a single sitting, you are writing multiple drafts — but in a piecemeal and inefficient way. How often have you backspaced through a sentence that came out wrong? How often have you stared at a computer screen or notepad, trying to come up with just the right sentence or phrase, when you could been productively thinking through the content of your paper? I know that I have done these things far more often than I should have.

Blank stares and backspacing are a kind of drafting and redrafting. They often occur when you're trying to do everything — generate ideas, compose, and edit — at once. But if you're making multiple drafts anyway, you might as well have separate versions to show for it: versions that document your progress.

If you care about the product of your writing, you will inevitably work through a couple of drafts. Nothing can or will be perfect after just one try. We all know this, even if we hate to admit it. Achieving perfection in only one draft is an impossible goal.

That is why I recommend prewriting. A good prewriting session lets you get some ideas on paper and explore possible arguments without the terrible burden of perfection that comes with writing the paper itself. You don't have to worry about the precise phrasing of your thoughts, since no one else will ever see your prewriting. In other words, prewriting can take the place of an early draft.

There are dozens of prewriting strategies and dozens of other writing sources to tell you about them. Just pick one or two that work for you. The important thing is that you get a feel for your paper before you actually begin writing it.

Preliminaries

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