Write. Just Write. Edit Later.

Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash

Advice #4: Write. Just Write. Edit Later.

Contrary to my previous suggestions, this one is the least relevant to grammar or language in general. It’s a productivity hack, motivation fuel, or a note to self if you like.

To me, writing is more like a “live or die”, “publish or perish” matter; to students, it is an assignment to finish, a deadline to go after, and a skill to take them to their future workplace.

In my class, students often struggle with the first words to put on the paper. Many of them would spend half an hour finding a “perfect” sentence following the first. Most of them are afraid to show what they have written.

I believe that has to do with a culture emphasizing “deficit”: focusing on spotting mistakes and deducting marks often make students’ composition full of crosses and corrections with red marker pens.

Students are so used to being denied, and afraid to make mistakes, so much that they finally give up and stop taking part in the learning process.

So I would tell my students to start writing their final term paper in the first week, in the form of an outline or a very rough draft. They are also told not to care too much about accuracy at this stage; it is fine as long as they have nailed down main ideas.

I want them to make mistakes as soon as possible. The reason behind this is simple: make mistakes off the record, or make a crappy final draft on the record.

With bad first drafts, I can discuss with you what and how you are going to improve them: paragraphing, conciseness, logic, tone, etc. At least there is something we can work on.

It is something honestly telling people who you are, as long as you produce something. And this kind of production needs quality, which is however built upon quantity.

The more you take the pain to write crappy pieces, accept criticism and improve, the more likely you can come up with a high quality text.

But with bad final drafts, I can do very little to help. My comments might benefit your next essay, or inspire your learning in general. But your term paper is then already graded, moderated and sent to the exam board. It’s all set in stone.

So if you believe in the Pareto Principle, spend 20% of your semester to prepare for 80% of a draft, and refine the rest of the period to polish and refine your final draft.

Yes. Just write, and edit later.


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