Planning By Rough Drafts Structure

Some writers lose patience with methodical planning. Either they cannot generate enough ideas in the first place, or else they simply cannot find any pattern among the ideas they have, and so cannot draw up a structural outline.

Either way, they find that the breakthrough comes only when they actually begin writing the text. Or rather, writing a draft version of the text: the final version will probably differ unrecognisably from this preliminary effort.

It does not matter where you begin. Just pick on any promising ideas, and take it for a walk, so to speak.

The act of writing itself focuses the mind: one idea sparks off another, connections begin to form, and eventually an all-embracing structure might suggest itself. Quite what the psychological mechanism is remain unclear, but the trick is well-established in folk-wisdom: ‘How do I know what I think till I hear what I say?’ the legendary chatterbox replies when accused of aimless prattling.

The technique of ‘written prattling’ works best if conducted according to a few basic rules:

X . Write as quickly as you can. Don’t worry about a polished style, or even about finishing a sentence or paragraph. If a new idea occurs to you as a good follow-up, start writing it up directly even if the previous idea remains only half-written. The point is to develop a structure, not to develop a tidy text.

X . Keep jotting down new ideas – or new patterns of ideas – on a separate sheet of paper as they occur to you. In this way you might discover surprisingly quickly that  you can stop writing your rough draft, since enough material has emerged to form the basis of a satisfactory outline plan after all.

X . Once you have nothing more to write, put the draft to one side and try drawing up an outline plan from scratch. Perhaps the intense act of writing has churned up and fermented your ideas in a very productive way, enabling you to discern their proper pattern at last. Only if you still fail to see a clear structure should you return to your draft and read it through for clues. And if nothing satisfactory comes of that either, try the whole exercise all over again, using a different starting-point this time.

X . Above all, remain uncommitted. Your draft version is not meant to be the basis for your final version. Take it for what it is: a catalyst, or a form of therapy – a means to jolt you into the correct reaction or perception, but not itself the object of the exercise. Its purpose is to being clarity: once it has done that, put it away and start your writing project in earnest – compiling a plan, writing a proper draft, and editing and refining that into a final version.

The case study that follows demonstrates the more traditional technique of schematic outlines. Being a fairly straightforward assignment, it lends itself to that approach. But you could just as easily – and as quickly – get the same result by using the rough-drafting technique. And for more complicated writing tasks, you might find the new technique far more efficient than the traditional one.

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