It’s 1:00 am and I’m starting to panic. The paper is due in eight hours, and right now it consists of a jumble of paragraphs that barely make sense, even to me.
How did I get here?
I always loved writing. I was that kid everyone told to be a writer! Sure, I’ve always been a procrastinator, but that was no big deal. I would just wait until the last minute and then whip out something passable.
So why am I staring at my computer and starting to cry?
I blame Aristotle.
Writing by the Seat of My Pants
Before I got myself up to my ears in a philosophy program, writing had been easy. Because I never had to wrestle with big ideas.
But as soon as I came up against topics that were really hard to think about—let alone write about—I was lost.
I didn’t know how to wrangle my writing. I didn’t have a series of steps I could use to clarify my ideas, then gather them together into an outline.
And I definitely didn’t have any skills for revising. If I couldn’t be brilliant on the first draft, I would just give up.
For me, writing was all-or-nothing. If I couldn’t nail it with a combo of procrastination and perfectionism, I didn’t want anything to do with it.
In short, I didn’t have a writing process.
So there I was, trying desperately to make sense of Aristotle’s Ethics in the early hours of the day the paper was due. Wishing for a time machine. Or a writing robot. Or both.
I turned in that awful paper and several more like it before I decided that the pain of not being able to get my ideas across was worse than the pain of swallowing my pride.
The Writing Game Changer
One day I headed over to where the student writing assistants camped out.
I plunked down with my current reading and my latest draft. (I didn’t know how to make a brainstorm or an outline—I just wrote ideas out in complete sentences as they struck me.)
And the assistant started to do the last thing I expected. He started to ask me questions. He didn’t want to read my paper. He wanted me to explain my ideas. When I tried to push my draft at him, he told me to set it aside.
“The first step is figuring out what you want to say.”
You could have knocked me over with my own rambling rough draft.
It literally hadn’t occurred to me that before I could write down an argument, I had to be able to summarize it.
I wish I could say that a lightning bolt hit me or that a choir sang the Hallelujah chorus in my mind. But in reality, I probably fought him the whole time I sat there.
That’s OK. The information sank into my stubborn skull eventually.
I needed a writing process. I needed a way to first gather my ideas—to make sense of them and figure out what I wanted to say. I realized the best way to do this was by talking.
And that poor writing assistant and many others paid the price. I started showing up all the time to talk through my papers.
I still wasn’t the greatest at revising, but because it wasn’t taking me as long to struggle through my first drafts, I actually had time to re-read them and make small improvements.
Not only was I writing better papers, I was procrastinating less! With my new-found process, I could start on papers by jotting down notes or scribbling an outline. I didn’t have to wait until I thought of the perfect opening sentence.
Plus, I became faster at writing. For all those years, I had been playing tug of war with my focus. I’d been trying to come up with ideas, organize them, and write polished sentences all at the same time. That ended when I took things step by step.
Finding My Writing Process
Over many years of trial and error, I figured out my writing process. I tried everything and kept what worked. I paid attention to what made my process faster and what slowed it down.
I looked out for those tell-tale warning signs: writing in circles, rewriting the first paragraph over and over again, and stopping my draft to edit.
I used my process and refined it over the years so that I can go from first idea to final draft in several steps, instead of one.
And now it’s what I love helping other people do. Except that I help them discover their writing process in a few sessions, instead of a few years.
Whether it’s for writing a book or just a blog post, knowing your own writing process saves you time and frustration.
If you’ve got a big idea that’s driving you crazy because you’re not sure how to get it out of your head and onto paper, I feel you.
Set up a free consultation. I’m here to help you stop stressing and start writing.