4.4: Drafting Techniques

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Author: Roxann G. Schmidt

Drafting Techniques

Writer Henry Miller asserts that “Writing, like life itself, is a voyage of discovery.”

“Shitty” First Drafts-

Contrary to most of our myths about the process of writing, Anne Lamott, San Francisco writer, asserts that most writers dread the blank page. She argues, “Very few writers really know what they are doing until they have done it. Nor do they go about their business feeling dewy and thrilled. They do not write a few stiff warm-up sentences and then find themselves bounding along like huskies in the snow….[Instead] we all often feel like we are pulling teeth, even those writers whose prose ends up being the most natural and fluid” (Bird by Bird 22).

Lamott advocates for a technique called “shitty” first drafts where you intentionally sit down and get something—anything—on paper. Like freewriting, your goal is to write as quickly as possible, ignoring grammar, spelling and punctuation. In writing faster than your own internal editor can correct, you will often discover ideas worth developing. Lamott claims that “all good writing begins with terrible first efforts” (25). In other words, if your writing develops smoothly and easily with little effort on your part, then you probably aren’t challenging yourself.

Donald Murray suggests, “It is the failures that reveal the possibilities for good writing. We have to write badly to write well” (Write to Learn 19).

Fat Drafts

Fat drafts are where you intentionally write double the amount necessary for the assignment. Because half of writing is getting over the fear of actually doing it, this is a way to avoid “psyching yourself out.” The other half of writing is not getting too attached to our words; therefore, if you write double what you need, you are more open to hearing revision suggestions from others. With a paper of this length, you may be thinking: “This lady is crazy! There is no way I am going to write 50 pages when I only end with 25!” Keep in mind that you may not write all the extra pages at once. Essentially, this is giving yourself permission to write as many pages as you need to in order to effectively cover your topic.

Also, one effective fat draft technique is to first draft on the computer by single-spacing your document. After you have drafted and you format the document to double spacing, your paper is instantly double the original amount.

Ernest Hemingway believes, “There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly: sometimes it’s like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.”

Kurt Vonnegut once wrote: “When I write, I feel like an armless legless man with a crayon in his mouth.”

Memory Drafts

Memory drafts are an effective technique to use if your first (second or third) draft (or a portion of your paper) reads choppy and unnatural. The choppiness is sometimes a result of writers overediting themselves. It is also a sign that a writer used the cut and paste one too many times. If you like your ideas but cannot get one idea to flow naturally into another, this is an excellent technique.

In this composition process, you read your entire draft once, and then you put it away (either the papers themselves or the files) and start anew. You write a complete draft (bolding areas that need specific quotes or information). Then, you revisit your old draft, dissecting the relevant quotes, passages, and sentences you want to add to the new draft. Not only is the memory draft exponentially faster than writing the original draft (because you know what you want to say), but it is also more satisfying to write than spending hours trying to cut and paste.

“If writing seems hard, it’s because it is hard. It’s one of the hardest things people do,” so said William Zinsser.

Cut up Drafts

Beat writer William S. Burroughs (author of Naked Lunch and Junkie) “stole” the cutup method from a painter and applied it not only to writing, but also to film creation. The cutup is a mechanical method of juxtaposition in which Burroughs literally cuts up passages of prose by himself and other writers and then pastes them back together at random.

As Burroughs experimented with the technique, he began to develop a theory of the cutup, and this theory was incorporated into his pseudo-science of addiction. In addition to drugs and power as aspects of human's addictive nature, Burroughs adds an analysis of control over human beings exercised by language ("the Word"), time, and space (i.e., human's physical existence and the mental constructs she uses to survive and adapt). Drugs and power control the body, but "word and image locks" control the mind, that is, "locks" us into conventional patterns of perceiving, thinking, and speaking that determine our interactions with the environment and society.

The cutup is a way of exposing word and image controls and thus freeing oneself from them, an alteration of consciousness that occurs in both the writer and the reader of the text. For Burroughs as an artist, the cutup is an “impersonal method of inspiration, invention, and an arrangement that redefines the work of art as a process that occurs in collaboration with others.” In other words, writing is not the sole property of artists.

Think of the magnetic poetry you may have seen on refrigerators. This is the cutup draft in word form. Now, expand this to whole sentences and paragraphs and you have Burroughs' cutup technique.

Once you have drafted, you can use the cut-up technique by literally cutting up your paper into paragraphs, sentences, and even words. This must be done on paper rather than on the computer. Simply, place the dissected sections of your work in front of you and experiment. Sometimes you will discover a better (or at least, more interesting) arrangement than you originally had.

“The aim of education should be to teach us rather how to think, than what to think—rather to improve our minds, so as to enable us to think for ourselves, than to load the memory with thoughts of other men.” ~Bill Beattie.

4.4: Drafting Techniques is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.