I told myself that, when the first day of April arrived, a significant increase in what I call my ‘study application’ will need to occur. My focus is now entirely on 2 areas of concern. The first is in-depth research on specific topics. The second is disciplining myself to develop a complete argument before beginning to write an essay. You cannot imagine how challenging the second point is for me. To be successful at it sometimes I cannot even pick up a pen until I completely think through my argument and its structure.
Over the years I have been studying and writing in this program I have often wondered why this is so challenging for me. I have wondered why an outline, essay plan, or argument, or whatever you want to call it, is even necessary. A paper or story can certainly be written without one, but it will surely be as haphazard an affair for the reader as it was for the writer. If you stop to think about what an essay plan or outline does, for example, provide focus, notes specific details, engages with the topic in a spirited way, makes the writing process more efficient, and aides concentration, it seems quite impossible to write a text of any kind without a clear plan or outline.
Suddenly it occurred to me that this is the phenomena behind the saying a lot of people start books but writers finish them. Now that I understand what a plan can do for me and my essays, what is stopping me from relying on them? Why do I still so often revert to a kind of automatic writing, thinking I can pick up my pen and write a convincing argument from beginning to end extemporaneously? Attempting to write without first developing a plan seems absurd, yet I do it almost every time.
At the art conservatory I attended the very first class we had to take was called ‘Blocks to Creativity and Productivity.’ For me, that course has become a mark of genius on the part of our faculty. It is not easy to be creative on demand, and produce materials to your highest standard at the drop of a hat on a daily basis. It was very wise to open this conversation on the first day. That course provided lessons I have relied on every day since. Some issues my instructors pointed out as particular nuisances for artists are fear of success or failure, internal and external distractions, and lack of mastery of the medium; the entire lesson is transferable to our student experience and the ‘exam as timed essay’ boggart and brollachan.
Without first developing an outline of my argument, a structure for my answer, it would not matter if I had the entire day to answer a question. My mark would very likely be the same, regardless of the time allowed to write. A good outline for my essays is evidence of having thought the issue through. Knowing all of that, what am I going to do about my particular challenge with argumentation? I clearly see the level I want to work at academically, and know how to get there. It is personally challenging to set aside habits of thinking and replace them with new ones. Looking back, I can see this challenge with argumentation has affected other projects though at the time I did not realize it.
Another great teacher taught me the value of a sentence outline. With a good sentence outline a paper just about writes itself. All you need to do is add transition sentences and a few adjectives or conjunctions. For the month of April I am going back to basics, sentence outlines. My reward will be speed thinking, and the fastest, most comprehensive essay plans I have ever written come May Day.
(For English majors trying to figure out how much they can write in ‘X’ amount of time, this blog is 640 words in 1 hour 20 minutes from outline to finish.)