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Page history last edited by PBworks 14 years, 4 months ago

InlsFinalProject - initial notes

InlsFinalProject2 - 14-Jul, 15-Jul - generation

InlsFinalProject3 - 16-Jul - generation

InlsFinalProject4 - 17-Jul - generation

InlsFinalProject5 - 22-Jul - composition

InlsFinalProject6 - 23-Jul - cheat sheet PDF



For this part of the process, since it's a presentation, and I want to deliver it mostly from memory, I've decided to use my handout as my prompt. Still, I want to be sure of the points I want to hit. So, I'm going to spew from memory the points I want to make, and the order in which I want to make them. (It helps that I'm describing a three-step process, which provides a natural sequence.)

Following this vomit draft, I'll commence the handout. I plan to spend all day today (22-Jun) mainly drawing it out by hand, making sure the design is good on paper. Tomorrow, 23-Jun, I'll put it into Word and make a PDF for download.

So this phase will blend composition and expression, to a degree. Since I'm not creating a paper as a final written product, I don't feel the need to obsess over felicitous frasing, but I do want to go through my schpiel. However, I do want to reassure myself that I own the material. Also, helps get me into a frame of mind and procrastinate even further.


Hiya. The title of this talk is THINKING ON PAPER, and it's based on the 1st and 2nd chapters of this book =show book=. I first came across this book many years ago and loved how it broke the writing process down into steps that made thinking about a writing project actually easy.


The rest of the book is not so interesting to me--it has bits on grammar and style (but you have THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE for that) and the differences between inductive and deductive reasoning (so what?)


So I'm mainly going to concentrate on their breakdown of the writing process, which is esp suited for medium-sized projects, like papers, essays, articles. It might be adaptable to larger projects like books or dissertations. Certainly, with the stuff we've been writing for this class--grant applications, job descriptions, and so on--this method may prove very helpful to you.


And i'll say that this is only one writing method out of many, it is not THE way to write anything and it may not resonate with you. BUT, I hope you do find a few tips or ideas that will be of value to you.


What we'll talk about

The authors believe that when you suffer from writers block and the words won't come, then you're trying to do too many things at once. So they break the writing process down into 3 (kind of big) sequential steps--generating ideas, composing topics for groups of ideas and putting them in a sequence, and then finally, as the very last part, concentraing on the grammar and style, which is what most of us associate with writing.


First, I want to talk about some of the things that they say causes writers' block, which is what this process aims to correct.


What causes writer's block?

Doing too many things at once

Writing is a lot of things. We mostly associate writing with performance, the finished product , but the authors say that writing is more than that. It's articulation -- it's putting ideas into words. If you're still trying to put your ideas into words, but you're writing as if this will be the final product that someone will read, then you'll freeze up because part of you knows that this idea isn't really ready for scrutiny. So this process separates the idea geneartion and articulation from the communication. Communication comes last in this process.

You want to get it right the first time

Very common. I did this when I was a reporter. But this plays into doing too many things at once.

Mystique of writing: real writers don't rewrite

Nope -- real writers write lots and lots of drafts. They produce more pages and words than they actually use. This just puts more pressure on yourself to perform before you really need to.

It has to be perfect!

A#1 source of procrastination. Not only that, but it has to be perfect the first time.

Waiting for the muse/inspiration

this is a big one.


This plays into the mystique of writing, that you need to let ideas gestate in the back of your mind, and then your subconscious or your muse will present to you a wonderful fully germinated beautiful idea. So you don't bother writing, bec you think, well, if i let the ideas sit there and compost for a while, then something beautiful will grow and i won't have to work for it.


i do believe in the muse and i believe in the subconscious. in THE WAR OF ART, the author begins his writing session by reciting a prayer to the muse from Homer. but i also believe that you can't treat the muse like a vending machine. "look, here's this stuff i want you to do, i'm too busy to take care of it, you deal with it, figure something out, call me when you have something but don't bother till then" --


if you treated a friend like that, would you expect them to whole-heartedly help you?


the fact is that inspiration doesn't hit when you're writing. inspiration hits you when you're in the shower, when you're on the bus, when you're in the grocery store thinking of other things. and it only comes when you've thought about the problem, and made some efforts of your own to solve it. when the muse sees that you're engaged, then she will come out of her room and touch you with her golden wings.


the key point is: writing is an activity, something you DO. Not something that happens to you.


  • depend on inspiration
  • wait for the muse
  • force yourself. Self-discipline and will power do work for some people, but again, you can't depend on them. Don't beat yourself up.
  • make heroic efforts. We're all getting too old to pull all-nighters.


OK -- so what's the process???

What the book does is create a structure that steps you through the writing process from articulating your ideas to organizing them to finally publishing them.


Do these stages in sequence, as much as possible.


If you can, give yourself some time, this could be a lengthy process.


Stage 1: Generate ideas

Goal of this stage: just empty your head. Your head is crammed full of ideas, but you've got lots of other stuff up there as well. roommate hassles, other assignements, you have to make dinner, when am i going to do the laundry, etc.


for this assignemnt, let's assume you're doing a paper on bread, you've got lots of ideas. where to start?


Just open a new blank file in your word processor and start typing. get those ideas out of your head.


key verbs here are VOMIT and SPEW. you are NOT writing.



  • use complete sentences. avoid keywords
  • keep a memo book or index cards nearby when inspiration does strike you
  • keep the silly ideas, and the half-baked ideas.
  • turn off the censor.


tell yourself: i'm not going to < write my paper > i'm just < making a list of ideas > . may help you get over your initial resistance.

  • use for vacuuming and working out
  • once you get over that initial bump of resistance, you may find yourself actually doing what you were putting off


put good ideas next to silly ideas. because until you see those ideas next to each other and start comparing them, you won't really know which are good and which are not good.


when i started listing ideas for this presentation, i wrote down lots of what i thought wsa great stuff. but when i looked at them later, it struck me that they were more ideas for fiction-writing rather than the expostiory writing this book deals with. they were great ideas, but they weren't great ideas for this presentation. so i had to, as william faulkner put it, "kill my darlings." but until i saw them jostling each other, i didn't realize that. if i had started writing this presentation last night with thsoe ideas in mind, then about halfway through i would have noticed, whoa, something's not right.


TIP - don't feel you have to wait for the idea to be fully formed and expressed before you write it down. just write it down. use the words you have to attract the words you want.

  • think about when you have a difficult conversation you have to initiate with a parent or roommate or teacher or co-worker or whoever. do you know exactly what you want to say, in exactly the order? I would say that we think about what we want to say for some time before we get it out, and i would say that we practice that conversation a lot in the car, as we're walking across the parking lot. we're trying out what we want to say, we want to hear how it sounds.
    • likewise, when you've got an inchoate idea, just write it down, engage in conversation with yoursef. maybe talk to yourself a lot more than you do now. keep turning that idea over and over until some other words collect to it.


you don't get the idea and then write. you write and then you get the idea. that's what this whole process is about.


Goal: Focus on Quantity and let the Quality take care of itself.

  • generate lots of text. more than you think you'll need. it's always easier to edit stuff down later than it is to add stuff in.
  • the ceramics story from ART AND FEAR


When do you stop?

When you feel like nothing new is coming out. Repetition is OK, you need to turn an idea over a lot. But when you feel like you're going over the same old stuff, then it's probably time to declare this phase done.


Take a break

Let the ideas cool off. If you can, take a couple of days.


Stage 2: Composing ideas

1. Create topics

  • Print out your ideas file.
  • Go to a coffee shop or your bed or wherever.
  • Read through your ideas and tag each idea with a title: "Bread crust" "Ingredients" "baking times" "Bread in history" "Ovens"
  • Spread the papers out so you can see everything at once. (On a screen, you only see "this" much.) Helps you also compare topic phrasing.
  • As you read through, you'll think of more ideas. Write them down. Annotate. Marginalia.
    • This is the muse slipping you stuff from under her door. Seeing your ideas next to each other gives you more ideas.
    • Also, since you've emptied your head of all this stuff, you can now very coolly evaluate the worth of these ideas, see which ones are worth pursuing, which are not.


DON'T START WRITING. You're still thinking on paper, you're still talking to yourself at this point, not talking to other people.


what yu'll prob find from the first stage is that you've got a lot of good material. you may find that some gems will slide through unchanged from first stage to last.


the authors have a neat quote where they say that writing is like prospecting for gold. now and then you see a nugget on the ground waiting for you to pick it up, but mostly it's sifting sand looking for small shiny particles that'll add up to something valuable.


at this point, you're still sifting. but you're developing the topics that will eventually grow into an outline.


2. Take a break.

Get some distance from your material and think about it loosely without the kind of focused concentration that you have done.


3. Retype the whole thing.

  • Probably very controversial directive.
  • Group all the topics together. If "Oven" topics were on 3 different pages, now you bring them all together.
  • Include your marginalia and annotations.
  • If you feel inspired and it comes easy, add some more stuff. BUT DON'T WRITE. DON'T FORCE ANYTHING. You're still writing for yourself.
  • Maybe add some transtions here: "On the other hand, " "It's also the case that, " etc



By retyping you're rewriting. You're re-engaging with your material. If writing is thinking on paper, then what you're doing here is re-thinking on paper. you'll start to see connections that you didn't notice before.


Revising via cut and paste is more efficient, time-wise, but is it more effective, quality-wise? Only way to know is to try it and see.


"I'm not writing my paper, I'm just retyping my notes"


First draft!


  • Examples: Lew Shiner, Fred Pohl


4. Take yet another break.

After looking over what I've written so far, I see that I've got a monologue of Joycean length here. Oh well. Gets it out of my head. Looks far too long to be delivered in 10 minues.


5. Put the topics in a sequence.

  • Print out the topical draft you've created.
  • On the paper, mark sections as "Introduction" "Conclusion" "Main body" "Supporting evidence" etc.
  • Do natural sequences make themselves obvious? use arrows or doodads to indiciate which topics may be subordinate to another
  • Add more ideas as they strike you, but don't do anything big, unless it comes easy.


You're transitioning from writing for yourself, to writing for an audience. You're now thinking about what would make sense to a new reader of this material.


6. Yes, retype it again

  • Add transitional phrases and sentences - "moreover," "this supposes that," "on the other hand," "this suggests," "bus consider the opposite case"



Second draft!


Stage 3: Expressing ideas

Here's where you're now on stage and performing. This stage is all about COMMUNICATION


  • Print out your sequential draft
  • Focus on the grammar, style, formatting, editing, etc -- all the showy stuff
  • Here's where you start worrying about stuff.
  • Show it to others to critique
  • READ IT ALOUD -- you'll be surprised at the awkwardnesses you find
  • Remember that rewriting is rethinking, and you want to get your ideas sharp and polished here
  • Now you're writing with the reader in mind. Anticipate their stupid questions and stupid objections


TIP: For any statement, ask "So what?" or "Specify", and then revise the sentence or write new material to answer those questions.


Retype one more time to get a third draft



As presented, this process could take several days. If you know you have a month to work on something that's good. But what if you have less time?


Based on the time you have to deadline, plan to spend 1/3rd of your time in each phase.

  • My experience with this presentation


Monitoring progress

Writing is a continuous process and some parts of this process may loop and feedback, esp int he seq'l to expression parts


To avoid blocks and confusion: be aware of where you are in the process. Are you trying to reach for final results too early?


As much as poss, try to keep generation, composition, and expression as separate from each other and SEQUENTIAL



  • Continuous revision: generate ideas, think in full sentences, but staying inside one file, not retyping. Everytime you go back, you add more to it.
    • Works best with the "little and often" strategy
  • For this presentation: generated ideas, tagged my topics, didn't have to worry about sequence. But since I wanted to do this from memory with minimal notes, I retyped my internal monologue into a blank file to see how much of this I owned, without rsorting to my previous notes.



  • This is one method for writing medium-length documents.
  • You have your own method and style.
  • Quote: writing is like prospecting.

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