“It is an unnecessary burden to try to think of words and also worry at the same time whether they’re the right words.” —Peter Elbow
There are many reasons that people (including native speakers) find writing difficult, but one of the biggest is that when we write our papers, we are often trying to do two things at once:
- To get our ideas down on paper—often complex ideas that may not even be fully formed or understood yet by the writer
- To say them in the best possible way (i.e., perfectly), with correct grammar and elegant wording
These are two complex but very different mental processes. No wonder writing can seem difficult. Add to this a third obstacle,
- To write in a foreign language
and you might think it’s a wonder that you can write at all!
There is a simple solution, however, namley to separate these processes into distinct steps. Namely, when writing your first draft, just focus on getting the ideas roughly into sentences. Don't worry too much about grammar, spelling, or even ideal vocabulary. You can not worry for three reasons:
- If you are writing expository papers, your English is probably now at a fairly high level, so it will actually be difficult for you to make too many mistakes;
- You have already outlined your ideas, working with the language and finding much accurate vocabulary there, meaning that you're not working from scratch but rather building on something you are already familiar with. Now you're just putting it in sentence and paragraph form;
And the third and biggest reason:
- The term “Draft” (instead of “Write”) implicitly contains the awareness that you will have other drafts in the future, meaning that you know that this one will be revised and edited in later steps.
If you think you can save time by focusing on constructing perfect or even excellent sentences now and eliminating those later steps, you can't. You will need the same amount of time, if not more, and your stress level will be higher and the quality—since you are trying to do those three mental task at once—probably lower.
Just let the ideas flow into sentences as though you are pouring concrete into wooden frame; you'll smooth it out later.
Thus when drafting, simpy do the following:
- Either print out your detailed outline and have it in front of you, or have it on the left side of your computer screen and your draft document on the right.
- Working step by step through your outline, just write.
- Do write complete sentences and paragraphs, and try moderately to use proper grammar, accurate wording, and transition words to link your ideas as necessary.
- However, almost as in freewriting, don't let yourself get stuck. You may pause for a few seconds, but don't labor over sentences. Just get them down and move on.
- Even without worrying excessively about grammar, putting your ideas in sentence form will not always be easy. Ideas can be complex and difficult to express, and even native English speakers must struggle sometimes to say (or even know!) exactly what they mean, so don't expect yourself to be able to do it the first time.
- Let yourself write freely and feel the satisfaction of 1) getting a draft done, and then 2) crafting it to say what you want to say the way you want say it.
Click to watch a short video modeling how to write a draft.