Creating an Essay

The Writing Process

Sometimes the best writing happens when you are nowhere near a pen or a computer. Our brains are wired in such a way that our most creative ideas (and by creative, I mean inventive, innovative, thoughtful, as well as artistic) occur to us when our brains are at rest. How many times have you thought of the solution to a problem as you were drifting off to sleep or in the shower? Our brains continue working at problems on other levels while they are occupied with more menial tasks. That’s why it’s important to build in time in your writing process for “percolation” — get some research done, take some notes, then step away from the computer to exercise or relax, ideally away from screens or books, in order to really let your brain do its work.

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In addition to “percolation,” there are some other, less fun, stages in the writing process. Here’s a brief guide:

1. Get organized! Bring the research together, be confident about your thesis, and plan your draft. Knowing where you want to end up makes the rougher patches easier to get through.

2. Write the first draft: DO NOT EDIT at this stage. Get all your ideas out without criticizing yourself. This is the time for inventiveness and creativity: turn off that bossy part of your brain that’s always worried about spelling and semicolons!

3. Walk away.

4. Come back a couple of days later (remember how I said to start early on this?) and revise. Revise means to tackle the structural and content problems with the essay. Really work on the best way to communicate your thesis here; don’t worry about grammar yet.

5. Edit: look at any problems with style or grammar that recur in your essay. Refer to guides on academic writing to ensure your diction is at the appropriate level (hint: avoid cliches, use third person, and vary your sentence length). This is also a good time to review your Works Cited list and citations. See the next pages for models.

6. Proofread: now is the time to let that bossy critic part of your brain go over the essay word-by-word to find any silly errors or typos that grammarly didn’t help you with. You can also read the essay backwards, sentence by sentence. This helps isolate grammar problems that you might otherwise miss.

7. Repeat as necessary; do not assume that because you have reached Step 6 you are finished — your ever-helpful brain may produce a whole new idea to research and add in to the essay! In case I haven’t mentioned it before, START EARLY!