One of the best pieces of advice I got as an undergraduate journalism student at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln was to NOT edit myself as I wrote my first draft.
“Just write,” my professor said. I love to write, so those words were like a present to my sometimes overly critical mind.
With this fabulous piece of advice, I moved forward with the assignment at hand and have since carried this philosophy forward (yes, I’m using it right now).
If you’re anything like me, I can stare at a blank page for hours. Maybe I don’t know where to start or where I want to go. Maybe I can’t find the right sources to back up the points I want to make. Or maybe I just don’t have any ideas. (More on this later.) BUT once I get started writing, I (hopefully) can’t stop!
And you shouldn’t stop.
When it comes to writing any types of work, I suggest letting yourself go. Yes, ideally you should work off of an outline and have a general idea of where you’re headed, but that doesn’t mean that you need to stop mid-thought to fix a typo, re-write a fragment sentence or figure out the correct punctuation. If you do these types of things, you might lose your train of thought or a great idea.
It’s when you’re done—when all of your ideas are spent—that you go back over your work, word-for-word, line-by-line to correct basic errors, write transitions, etc. You may also decide to rearrange thoughts to give them more impact or find a source to back-up one of your ideas. You didn’t know these types of things when you started, and that’s OK.
In my opinion the free-write first draft is your creative time and should be free of constraints. It’s when you check your work that you can develop a process that works for you. You also need to make sure that you schedule the appropriate amount of time for this check.
So here is a process that has always worked for me.
- Initial read through. My fingers ache from typing, so it’s time to give them a break. I read through the work in its entirety with my fingers off the keyboard—no fixes allowed.
- Warm up check. On a second pass, I fix blatant errors and make notes about ideas I have for improvement.
- Deep check. During my third read, I go through the piece and start rewriting and rearranging like I discussed above. I take the time to research additional sources that I may need. Depending on the length of your work it might be good to take this section-by-section.
- Read backwards. This is a great way to find missing words, mis-used words or spelling errors. It forces you to see each word. It can be kind of time consuming, but it’s worth it.
- Read aloud. Now that you have what is close to being your final product, take the time to read it out loud. You can also do this throughout the above steps. It’s a good way to make sure you’re ideas are flowing together nicely. You can fix mistakes as you go.
- Ask a friend. If you have a family member, teacher, peer, etc. who is willing, have them review your work. No matter how great of a writer you are, having someone else read your work can help make it ever better. You don’t have to use every suggestion, but some of them might be worthwhile, and you might even learn something.
- Finalize. Smile, take a deep breath, and submit. You did it.
There is so much more that we can discuss when it comes to writing no matter what kind of project you are tackling. For now, check out the writing resources provided by UNHS Lead Teacher Carolyn Hovermale.