My daughter's been all stressed out about a 500-700 word essay that's due tomorrow. Since she had been really sick today, I told her to lie down and dictate the essay to me -- to just spit it out, and we'd clean it up later. (This method seemed particularly apropos, considering her physical state.) She had been thinking about what she wanted to write for several days, so this was easy for her.
She began to talk, and I typed down what she said. After some starts and stops and my reminding her of the subject and point of the essay, we got into it. Quite often, her thoughts would start to wander and I'd stop and say, What's your point? (I'm so mean.) Then I'd read her the how and why of the directions again. We'd continue. I stopped her again with Ugh! when she got hokey or sticky sweet -- in other words, inauthentic.
Then, *boom*, we were at 564 words. I asked her about why she chose this particular topic and how she felt about it, and her answer provided an tidy ending to her essay. Sure, it needs a little editing, but that's the easy part.
The sense of dread over starting a writing assignment and the "blank page" is so much worse than the actual writing. Here's some things we discussed tonight:
1. Understand the assignment.
2. Write like you talk. Edit later.
3. Don't get lost in minutiae.
4. When stuck or wandering down rabbit holes, continue to ask, "what's the point?"
5. Do not ever write just to fill space.
6. Always write authentically. You can fudge details to move the story along, sure (unless you're billing the story as 100% factual), but don't fake thoughts, feelings, emotions, motives. Don't play "nice." Be real.
7. Answering the "why" question (why I wrote about this... how and why this story affected me) is a nice way to wrap up an essay.
8. It's often easier to write (or rewrite) the introduction to your piece last. Just jump in anywhere to begin.
This is organic writing. It's different than the way writing usually has been taught, which is: "you must write an introductory paragraph, three body paragraphs, and a summary paragraph in which you restate the introductory paragraph 'using different words.' [Gah! Why should one use different words if the first ones communicated exactly what you wanted?] Each paragraph must have five sentences, including a topic sentence. Do not start a sentence with 'and' or 'but.' Do not end a sentence with a preposition. OKAY, GO! Write about anything you want." No wonder people freak out. Form (sentences, paragraphs) should follow function (communicating ideas), not the other way around.