I often find myself procrastinating when I have important writing to do. Some of that is self pressure to 'write right' but sometimes there are other contextual factors at play. I didn't sleep well. I'm worried about someone. I have an urgent need to colour block my wardrobe. I need to investigate the body of knowledge on purposeful procrastination...
Yeah. You get the idea.
In order to get started, I often give myself permission to make the first draft a 'daft draft'. That is, I just start writing. Sometimes setting a timer so I can 'make it' to 15 minutes.
What I write is usually a woeful piece of work that conveys ideas in whatever way they come, with whatever words come out. Sometimes they're angry words. And that's okay too. But before you know it, there are paragraphs written and prose to play with.
Later, when I am feeling more motivated, I'll go back and consider the audience, the genre, the structure, the strength of my arguments - and all that jazz.
Seeing emotion in my original draft often helps me evaluate arguments and interrogate my claims. Do I really have any evidence for that idea? I wonder if I can find some? What do other people say about the topic? And off to the library I go.
Sometimes I'll print and cut up the paragraphs to work with the text in a new way. I make a jigsaw out of topic sentences and supporting statements and switch the order and structure around. Making sure I practice what I preach to my students about topic sentences and transitions.
As I edit, sometimes I'll read the work aloud, just to get a sense for flow and punctuation. I'll imagine I'm in conversation with the audience. How will I introduce this point? How might they reply? How would I respond? Do I need to say that at all?
That's when higher order thinking really kicks in. And off I go again.
Reflecting on my own experience of writing in my first language, has helped me work with my learners in the EAP classroom.
My learners are all apprentice writers, often coming to grips with a very new academic discourse - in an additional language. This is no mean feat and I know they struggle with motivation too.
The good news is, I can empathise. After all, I'm still an apprentice too.
Sometimes I share my experience of writing above with my learners. I change some of the procrastination activities to mirror more of their own - or ask them to share theirs - but ultimately, I let them know I'm okay with 'daft drafting' as a means of getting started.
I do expect them to move to the edit stage before submission but I want them to understand that the word 'draft' is most certainly, a verb. I'm not after perfection in their first attempt. Nor even in their last draft. What I am after is improvement. And that's where teaching comes in.
But that's a whole other story.
The writing process is unique to every context and there are lots of tips on teaching process writing and peer review out there, so I will stop here (see Further Readings below).
Right now, I need to go and write one of those "important" works.
But at least now I'm looking forward to my next 'daft draft'.
An Introduction to Process Writing - by the British Council
Genre and Second Language Writing - Ken Hyland
Seven secrets of stylish academic writing - The Conversation
Redetermining paradigmatic norms: is there any hope for academic writing? (new!)
This blog post represents the views and reflections of the author only and are not intended to represent the views of any affiliated institution.