While working on my thesis proposal a couple weeks ago, I jotted down some notes to myself about the process of writing a first draft. Four quick reminders to make what seemed like an overwhelming process manageable.
It was my first time back in the academic-writing saddle after nearly a year away. This feels like the Most Important thing I have written up to this point in grad school, as it is the foundation for the thesis I will be working on for the next seven months. But it’s also just another paper. Just a word after a word after a word.
Here’s what I came up with, my Rules For Writing the First Draft Of the Thing:
- Don’t edit as you go. Don’t reread what you wrote yesterday. Keep moving ahead.
- If you can’t think/focus at a higher level today, do something less complex. Make the bibliography. Fix the formatting.
- Ideas all clogged up in your head? The way seems unclear? Map it out, draw paths between ideas. Make it visual.
- Call in backup. Study examples. Take notes. Keep records months before you start writing and lean on them now.
Austin Kleon recently shared his own advice for first drafts, headlined with “It doesn’t matter if it’s good right now. It just needs to exist.” My Rules helped my proposal exist. I suppose I’ll pull them out again in a couple months when I start drafting my thesis and see how they hold up over time.