The end of the semester is here, and for many students, that means cranking out multiple final papers. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with so many demands, and often, the most demanding force is the little voice inside telling us to be perfect, to wow the professor, to get that A+ and rise above the rest of the class.
Anne Lamott, writing guru and author of Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, advises against seeking the perfect draft:
“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft […] Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow (inadvertently, I’m sure) forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here — and, by extension, what we’re supposed to be writing.”
If you feel stuck, the best way to break the block is to put pen to paper and just start writing – something, anything. Write exactly what you’re thinking in your own words: “I don’t know what I’m doing” is a great start. See where your thoughts lead you. You will surprise yourself when you let the words start flowing! You will soon have a sh*tty first draft with raw ideas for your paper.
You can then revise by adding supporting material and structuring your ideas into separate sections with transitions. This might seem like more work than writing just one draft, but allowing yourself a sh*tty first draft actually cuts down on total writing time and conserves energy, because you are not stressing over every sentence. Later, you can focus your attention on revising, maximizing your chances of writing good (dare I say, great?) second and third drafts. So start writing your sh*tty first draft now!
For more on writing sh*tty first drafts, see our previous post.