Paper(Draft) Writer Part II: Don’t Dodge the Draft!

Brooke Blankenship is back to finish up her short series on paper drafting! Let’s get started, shall we?


Your paper is due in less than a week. Who needs drafting, right?

Drafting an essay can seem like a waste when you’re pressed for time. I promise it’s not, though—writing a draft allows you to wrestle with, revise, and more deeply understand what you’re writing about. You’ll be rewarded for your time with a better written essay, a better thought-out essay… really, in general, just a better essay.     

The trick to drafting is that there really isn’t a trick at all. You should always gather your ideas before writing a paper, and you’ll be truly successful if you gather them in the way that’s best for you. Below are three versatile types of draft, each with its respective pros and cons.

  1. The Vomit Approach 

There are two subtypes of the vomit approach –  chaotic vomit and tidy vomit.

Get your ideas out any way you can (giphy.com)

Chaotic Vomit involves any kind of note taking, idea logging tool: post-its, voice recordings, a pen and legal pad, a whiteboard, notes on your phone, or discussion with professors, classmates, or friends. Any of these can help you get your preliminary essay ideas out of your system.

  • Have a quote, statistic, or other piece of evidence you know you’re going to use? Get it down now.
  • You might not have a thesis statement yet, but is there a main idea or trend in your study that you know you want to write about? Get this down now, too. Not only will you have a clearer idea of the focus and direction of your paper, but you’ll get your ideas out while they’re fresh and before you forget them.

Tidy Vomit can, but doesn’t always, come a bit later in the essay planning process.  Perhaps you know exactly what your thesis is and what evidence you’re going to use to argue it, but you don’t yet know how best to phrase things or put ideas together. This is where tidy vomit comes in—it’s writing, in an essay-like format, your ideas, but you don’t have to worry about citations, fluidity, or academic language. Just write it however you like. It can be colloquial, overly wordy, or ridden with expletives. Whatever gets you writing now so that you can edit later.

PROS AND CONS TO THIS APPROACH

PROS: It’s a way to get your ideas out quickly and without structure; academic writing and citations aren’t necessary. CONS: The draft may not have a thesis or main argument yet and will probably require tons of editing.     
  1. The “We’ll See Where This Goes” Approach
This can be a rewarding approach, but only if you have the time for it. (giphy.com)

This approach can be used when you know the main topic or theme of your paper, but you may not have a specific thesis statement or argument just yet. The “We’ll See Where This Goes” approach allows you to find your specific argument by writing your way through the uncertainty. This type of draft can have a stream-of-consciousness feel to it, and you might find that you’re talking to yourself within the paper. It might be long and meandering.

Remember, though—you’re not just writing for the sake of writing with this approach. You are writing, as much as you need and for as long as you need, to figure out which of your ideas work, which ones don’t, and how they all fit together. It’s a journey.

PROS AND CONS TO THIS APPROACH

This is a high-risk, high-reward approach.

PROS: You might have great success and build an insightful, nuanced paper… CONS:  …or you might end up confusing yourself and subverting any arguments you’ve already made.

Either way, this approach is a great investment of time. If your paper is due tomorrow, I do not suggest you use this method.  

  1. The Skeleton Approach
Let those words fill in the blanks. (giphy.com)

“The Skeleton” is what most people envision when they imagine an outline for an essay. You’ve got your thesis statement, topic sentences, and evidence laid out and ready to go. You might have even used this symbol: “.” The benefit of this approach is that you’ve (probably) already worked out your argument, organization, and evidence, so all that’s left is for you to fill in the blanks.

PROS AND CONS TO THIS APPROACH

PROS: The legwork is already done, so all you have to do is add beautiful prose. CONS:  After everything, the Skeleton is just that – a skeleton. You may have your argument planned out, but daunting, empty paragraphs can lead to writer’s block. Additionally, the rigid structure of the outline might not allow your argument the freedom to evolve.

However you choose to draft, remember—no one type is for everyone. You can choose one of these three, none of these three, or parts of each. No matter how much time you have before the due date, though, do try to prewrite at least a little. It will bring you direction, more awareness of yourself as a writer, and the opportunity to make and fix mistakes before you submit.

Good luck on your drafts!

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