​Discussion 3 – Drafting Strategies

Discussion 3 – Drafting Strategies

Learning Objectives Covered

  • Practice and use the second step of the writing process, the drafting phase.
  • Apply and use IWG formatting rules.

Background

Getting from the thoughts and vision in our head to written words on paper can be a challenge, like herding cats. (The video is not required to view, but it’s funny and it lasts just 68 seconds.)

https://youtu.be/Pk7yqlTMvp8 (Links to an external site.)(1:08)

But if we don’t get words onto the page, we can’t move to the next step, revision, which allows us to polish the words into something amazing. Whether we are writing an academic paper, poetry, a love note, a business proposal, or a novel, there will be moments of struggle in drafting our initial thoughts to paper at least once in a while. Many professional writers struggle with their initial draft every time they write.

Here is an excerpt from a book by William Zinsser that is illustrative:

A school in Connecticut once held “a day devoted to the arts,” and I was asked if I would come and talk about writing as a vocation. When I arrived I found that a second speaker had been invited—Dr. Brock (as I’ll call him), a surgeon who had recently begun to write and had sold some stories to magazines. He was going to talk about writing as an avocation. That made us a panel, and we sat down to face a crowd of students and teachers and parents, all eager to learn the secrets of our glamorous work.
Dr. Brock was dressed in a bright red jacket, looking vaguely bohemian, as authors are supposed to look, and the first question went to him. What was it like to be a writer?
He said it was tremendous fun. Coming home from an arduous day at the hospital, he would go straight to his yellow pad and write his tensions away. The words just flowed. It was easy. I then said that writing wasn’t easy and wasn’t fun. It was hard and lonely, and the words seldom just flowed.
Next Dr. Brock was asked if it was important to rewrite. Absolutely not, he said. “Let it all hang out,” he told us, and whatever form the sentences take will reflect the writer at his most natural. I then said that rewriting is the essence of writing. I pointed out that professional writers rewrite their sentences over and over and then rewrite what they have rewritten.
“What do you do on days when it isn’t going well?” Dr. Brock was asked. He said he just stopped writing and put the work aside for a day when it would go better. I then said that the professional writer must establish a daily schedule and stick to it. I said that writing is a craft, not an art, and that the man who runs away from his craft because he lacks inspiration is fooling himself. He is also going broke.
“What if you’re feeling depressed or unhappy?” a student asked. “Won’t that affect your writing?” Probably it will, Dr. Brock replied. Go fishing. Take a walk. Probably it won’t, I said. If your job is to write every day, you learn to do it like any other job.

There are many strategies for drafting that writers use. You can find them easily on the web through writing groups and in books on writing available at your local library or bookstore. Here are a couple of fun ones to try out.

Drafting Strategy 1: The Shovel of Death – The Shovel of Death is adapted from the Traveling Shovel of Death famous in the volunteer writing challenge National Novel Writing Month held each November nanowrimo.org. Generally it is used to kill a character in fiction. However, you can use the Shovel of Death in nonfiction as well. We’ll illustrate in the example below that also includes The Ninja Monkeys.

Drafting Strategy 2: The Ninja Monkeys – Like The Shovel of Death, the Ninja Monkeys show up whenever you are stuck in your writing, freeing you to keep writing. Here is an example:

Example of Strategy 1 and 2 – This example is an excerpt of an initial draft on the definition of technical communication in an undergraduate paper. The thoughts of the writer are conveyed in italics and brackets.

While we typically expect clear definitions from others and have placed in stone the values of clarity and precision in our practice, the truth is, humans often seek to maintain blurred definitions. Whether definitions remain blurred depends on the interests and power of the parties involved in the act of defining and their willingness to use their power. [Now what? I have no idea where to go next. Ah, time for the Ninja Monkeys]
While pondering how to write about struggles to define, I’m interrupted by four ninja monkeys. Their loud squawking makes me forget everything I was thinking of. And they really stink! They start tearing up my workspace, throwing things everywhere [oh, wait, that’s it. I can use an example.]
My nine-year-old son found himself on a sunny, warm Saturday morning stuck in his bedroom tasked with cleaning up “this pigsty” by his mother. Ten minutes later, my son brightly reported successful completion of the chore. Hearing mom stomp down the hallway, I shook my head and did as all wise fathers do in such situations—I hid. It soon became clear there were issues about the definition of “clean” as it applied to the bedroom. Fortunately, nobody wanted conflict and so a hasty, but clearly temporary, agreed upon definition led to a compromise. Neither party left thinking the situation permanently resolved. My son knew that next time my wife would prepare a more precise definition of “clean” he would not approve of. [Okay, now where to go from the example…think, think, think.]
Why would it be of value to keep the definitions of technical communication blurred? [Who gives a flying flip? I’m missing my show.] I grab my shovel of death and swing it at anyone who argues with me. Who wants to start? [Ah, perfect, the start.] Though technical communications as a discipline evolved after World War II (NOTE to self, find that citation), there is evidence of technical communications with the ancient Romans (NOTE to self, find that cite in the article from, what’s it, oh yeah, Miller).

Polished Draft – Here is the example cleaned up and ready for serious revision.

While we typically expect clear definitions from others and have placed in stone the values of clarity and precision in our practice, the truth is, humans often seek to maintain blurred definitions. Whether definitions remain blurred depends on the interests and power of the parties involved in the act of defining and their willingness to use their power. An example illustrates my point.
My nine-year-old son found himself on a sunny, warm Saturday morning stuck in his bedroom tasked with cleaning up “this pigsty” by his mother. Ten minutes later, my son brightly reported successful completion of the chore. Hearing mom stomp down the hallway, I shook my head and did as all wise fathers do in such situations—I hid. It soon became clear there were issues about the definition of “clean” as it applied to the bedroom. Fortunately, nobody wanted conflict and so a hasty, but clearly temporary, agreed upon definition led to a compromise. Neither party left thinking the situation permanently resolved. My son knew that next time my wife would prepare a more precise definition of “clean” he would not approve of.
Why would it be of value to keep the definitions of technical communication blurred? Though technical communications as a discipline evolved after World War II (Longo, 2000, p. 2), there is evidence of the act “as early as the Romans” (Miller & Saidla, as cited in Kynell & Seely, 2002).

Other Drafting Strategies

Instructors and writers can often feel pretty strongly their drafting strategies are the best. In truth, the best strategies are the ones that work for you. Among the most popular–but not nearly as fun as Ninja Monkeys–are:

  • Outlining – This is nothing more than forming a list, in the order you want to address them, of the topics, key points, and main quotes/citations you want to use in your paper. When the outline is done, you write simply filling in the details on the list.
  • Reverse Outlining – This is usually used after the first draft to help in the revision process but it can be used for initial drafts as long as you write something.
  • Mind Maps – There is free mind map software available on the web. However, you can easily mind map using a sheet of paper and a pen or by using 3 x 5 notecards. If you use the notecards, write one idea, point, citation, or quote you think may be useful in your paper on each card. Then use a big surface, like a kitchen table, to spread out the notecards. Group the notecards together in piles or columns that make sense. As you see the big picture, you can then decide what not to include or what you might need to add. Determine the order you want to address everything. You can take a photo with your phone and use that to guide your writing.

Other Drafting Ideas

You can also change things up in writing a draft by switching from using the laptop to using pen and paper. Or you could go outside or to a cafe to change the atmosphere. Some writers set a timer and keep writing for that amount of time without a stop and then they get a break.

The key from all of this is to find the technique(s) and strategy(ies) that work best for you. Once you have a draft, even if it’s really awful, you have something you can build on and play with to get a great final product. Professional writers work with drafts. They don’t simply write the final piece as the first thing they do. Don’t try to do it either. You will convey your message with greater skill if you wisely use drafting to build the quality of your final piece.

Discussion Prompt

This discussion is a drafting game. For your initial post, pick one of the topics below and then do a three-minute timed writing on it. If you get stuck, use the Ninja Monkeys or the Shovel of Death.

IMPORTANT: This is the only activity in this course that is on a topic that differs from the paper you are writing. The topic you choose only applies to this week’s discussion forum. It does NOT change the topic of your paper! Your paper is on the topic you chose in Week 1.

Your replies to others should be a one-minute timed writing building on what the person you are replying to wrote.

Choose one of these topics:

  1. How Luke Skywalker’s Jedi training compares to your college education
  2. Contrast and compare aggressive driving to the behavior of bees
  3. If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, where did he pick them from? Pickled peppers are processed foods. What were the advantages and disadvantages of picking pickled peppers over raw peppers or traditional pickled cucumbers?
  4. The proper technique for eating Oreo cookies

If you want to see an example of how this works, you can see it here.

You will be graded on how you showed where references would be helpful, understanding of how to approach the topic, and cohesiveness in your replies.

Remember that part of the discussion grade is submitting on time and using proper grammar, spelling, etc. You’re training to be a professional—write like it.

Will also need to do replies as well, but those come after the first post.

Will also need to do replies as well, but those come after the first post.

Will also need to do replies as well, but those come after the first post.Will also need to do replies as well, but those come after the first post.Will also need to do replies as well, but those come after the first post.Will also need to do replies as well, but those come after the first post.Will also need to do replies as well, but those come after the first post.Will also need to do replies as well, but those come after the first post.


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