Tuesday, 4 August 2015

The 17-Step Plan: An Update

I am trying very hard to adopt writing habits that make writing less stressful. If you'd like to feel as anxious and squirmy as I do when I think about my writing habits, feel free to read back on the post where I detailed the old system: it's here.

In the last piece I produced for my supervisors, I tried my best to adopt an approach that wasn't necessarily quicker, but one which didn't feel so harried.  After writing my last post, I remembered a useful post by Dr. Nadine Muller in which she suggests a way to get over the fear of the blank page. I should state unreservedly here that I LOVE this approach because it means my work plan now looks like this:

  1. Plan argument for essay, paragraph-by-paragraph
  2. Collate evidence/sources for each paragraph
  3. Write first draft: include references as you're writing
  4. Review first draft: annotate each section, then type up annotations.
  5. Review second draft.
  6. Add any additional references
  7. Final proof-read
  8. Send it off.

The process is now 8 steps, rather than 17. I don't even feel anxious writing it out or anything.

Apart from making the initial act of sitting down to write, this approach had benefits the whole way through the writing process: it meant that references were always to hand, and that I always knew which part of my argument should be coming next. This meant that I was able to side-step any tangents, and resist the urge to cram in just a little more information than was strictly needed. (A chronic habit.)

Having references to hand also made it much easier to give broader context to my arguments (because the quotes/paraphrases I needed were right there). Having references to hand also makes it easier to distinguish between areas where more evidence is needed, and areas where you just need to insert one reference. Ultimately, this results in better writing (if I do say so myself - I'm yet to see if my supervisors agree).

For me, another key element was pacing. I always want to do things as quickly as possible: it's my default setting. (It's also largely the reason that I have so many bruises, cuts and scrapes and any one given time: speed doesn't always equal safety.) Pacing myself meant a few practical steps. It meant pausing to choose the correct phrase, rather than rushing to get something down. It meant working in short bursts, punctuated by long breaks. It meant dedicating nearly three hours to collating all the references I needed. It meant taking some of the pressure off. It meant a happier writing experience.

I can't say this approach was quicker, or less intense.  If you include the time that I spent collating references, I spent over 28 hours producing 4900 words. I don't know if producing that many words in that length of time is 'good' or 'bad.' 

Increasingly, I don't care: adopting this approach meant an intense week, but one that felt -- ultimately -- fulfilling. I haven't yet met with supervisors to discuss this piece. I know it won't be perfect. But taking more time to write means that I now have enough distance to start appraising my own work. 

And for an arch-perfectionist, that objective space is a huge step forwards.

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