Audio Version (January 2022):
Drafting is the stage of the writing process in which we develop a complete first version of a piece of writing. If we have done some prewriting, we probably have sentences and ideas that can become part of the draft.
Tips for getting going
If you are more comfortable starting on paper than on the computer, you can start on paper and then type it before you revise. You can also use a voice recorder to get yourself started, dictating a paragraph or two to get you thinking. The following approaches may help as you begin to write:
- Begin writing with the part that is clearest in your mind. There is no need to write in the order that the paragraphs will appeal in the end. You can start with the third paragraph in your outline if ideas come easily to mind. You can start with the second paragraph or the first paragraph, too. Many people write your introduction and conclusion last, after they have fleshed out the body paragraphs.
- Take short breaks to refresh your mind. This tip might be most useful if you are writing a multipage report or essay. Still, if you are antsy or cannot concentrate, take a break to let your mind rest. Don't beat yourself up. Try setting an alarm to limit your break, and when the time is up, return to your desk to write. As Anne Lamott says in her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, "Try looking at your mind as a wayward puppy that you are trying to paper train. You don't drop-kick a puppy into the neighbor's yard every time it piddles on the floor. You just keep bringing it back to the newspaper.”
- Don't let your inner critic slow you down. Anne Lamott says, "Perfectionism...is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft." Try to think of the bad first draft as the goal, not a sign of failure. A bad first draft is a step forward. Try to let go of your worries. There will be time to rethink, rephrase, and rework during the revision process.
- Refer back to your prewriting. If you are stuck, you may want to copy and paste something in from a brainstorm. If you have an outline, use it to guide the development of your paragraphs and the elaboration of your ideas. Each main idea becomes the topic of a new paragraph. Develop it with the supporting details and the subpoints of those details that you included in your outline.
- Set small goals and time yourself. Some call this "fast drafting." By experimenting, you can figure out how long you can usually concentrate given the right conditions: 30 minutes? 60 minutes? 75? Plan one longer session or several shorter ones. Decide on the goal: Write a paragraph in 10 minutes, 2 pages in 1 hour, or a complete essay in 1 hour and 15 minutes. Turn off phones and social media, close extra browser windows and tabs, let the dog outside. This needs to be quiet, concentrated time. You may want to tie a small reward to each goal like watching a video, eating a snack, or checking social media.
- Keep your audience and purpose in mind as you write. Your purpose will guide your mind as you compose your sentences. Your sense of your audience will guide word choice. For most college assignments, the audience is assumed to be an intelligent general reader. It may help to imagine your classmates as your write. Keep asking yourself what your readers, with their background and experience, need to be told in order to understand. How can you best express your ideas so they are totally clear?
- Adapted by Anna Mills from Writing for Success, created by an author and publisher who prefer to remain anonymous, adapted and presented by the Saylor Foundation and licensed CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.
- The section on fast drafting was adapted from English Composition: Connect, Collaborate, Communicate by Ann Inoshita, Karyl Garland, Kate Sims, Jeanne K. Tsutsui Keuma, & Tasha Williams, licensed CC BY 4.0.