Brilliant Beginnings, Marvellous Middles, Excellent Endings

When a piece of work presents itself to you, what are your reactions throughout the creative process? Unless you’re a consistent master, at least one of these problems will have cropped up along the way:

  • You just can’t start on it. You just dwell on it and ignore it for days;
  • You begin enthusiastically, you reach your conclusions convincingly, yet the bulk in between those two posts feels like a drag;
  • You get the majority out of the work out the way, but never fully close the door on it. The end never comes.

Let’s take each point individually and go through five ways you can improve each section:

Finding a brilliant beginning

photo by Clearly Ambiguous

1. Stop worrying about it – The more you build up starting, the worse it’ll feel. In no time, you scare yourself into never wanting to look at another piece of work again. Your fears just get in the way of progress. The more you deal with getting the work started, the easier it will be to crack on with the rest of the project.

2. Just start! – No matter how little you’ve planned, and regardless of how little you think you know, just start writing. At this stage, you don’t need to be convincing and you don’t need to treat the work like a final draft. Even if you discard 90% of what you write later, that 10% you keep could be where all the drive and magic comes from.

3. Each day spent ignoring the work is one day entirely wasted – If you get 30 days to write an essay, it’s daft to say after 10 days, “Don’t worry, I’ve still got 20 days left…it’s plenty of time”. That attitude often leads to disaster. There’s no excuse for zero work. You won’t get any wasted days back, so make the most of each one.

4. Plan ahead – Don’t build things up in your head, get a plan written down and stick to it. Sometimes all you need is a push toward the structure. When that’s in place, the rest often comes naturally.

5. Break the work down into small chunks – Not only should you plan ahead, you should also take it steadily. If you find it difficult to start on a piece of work, there’s nothing quite like 10 minutes spent getting those first random thoughts down. Then, bit by bit, you find a sizeable construction forming. Give yourself a brief pat on the back and enjoy just how effortless the gradual process can feel.

Moulding a marvellous middle

photo by jessicafm

1. Get those ideas written down – Don’t worry about structure, just jot your thoughts out and see where it takes you.

2. Use the solid start and ending as a basis for a meaty argument – Don’t think of the middle as unnecessary padding. I’ve seen many a student think the middle section of an essay is the least important, but they get the essay marked and the tutor complains that the student didn’t argue the case for the good introduction and conclusion. Good work goes to waste because you didn’t convince yourself of the essay’s full worth.

3. Focus on the chance to prove what you believe – You’ve got an opinion, so start showing why you feel the way you do.

4. Actually believe in it! – In some cases, it’s possible to begin writing what looks like a positive answer, yet have no real understanding or care as to why. Maybe you’ve taken another writer’s opinion, because you feel it’s the best ‘right’ answer. Perhaps you have listened to a friend’s ideas and haven’t considered any further for yourself. Whatever the issue, a good piece of work is best achieved when you have true conviction.

5. Go wild, be daring, experiment! – For myself, the middle of any project is the most daunting aspect. But it’s also what excites me most. It’s the section in which I feel the ability to explore all kinds of strange ideas and move off in random directions. So while I’m daunted at the prospect of losing context, I’ve got most chance of finding an even stronger context at the end of the voyage of discovery. There’s no harm in changing your beginnings and endings to suit, so long as it’s all strong.

Work to an excellent ending

finished

1. Consider your opinions – What do you think in conclusion? No matter how daft it sounds, write it down. What have you already written down? Does it naturally point toward a summing up, or are your ideas contradictory? If they argue along the way, maybe it’s not your ending that’s difficult, but mixed ideas that are getting in the way. Reach out to what you really think.

2. Don’t treat yourself until you’ve actually finished – If you’re ‘nearly there’, it’s not the best time to celebrate with a few drinks. You face returning to the final stages with a blank head and you won’t feel like celebrating then.

3. Don’t use time as an excuse – If you get most of the work out of the way early on, what’s the point in spoiling the positive effort by leaving the last blocks until the end? If you had several weeks before an essay was due in, why would you want to do three quarters of it and totally forget about the rest until it’s no longer fresh in your head? A fantastic piece of work should never be let down by a rushed, shoddy conclusion.

4. Set targets for ANY aspects of the work you are leaving until later – If you must keep some work back, make sure to plan exactly WHEN you’re going to do it, WHAT needs doing, and WHY you want to leave it until later.

5. Don’t let your imagination get the better of you – It’s positive to be enthusiastic, but only to the point where it helps you get the work done. Get too cocky and the opposite occurs…your mental attitude gives you so much confidence that you feel like the work is done, even when it’s not yet written down.  No matter how wonderful the project is set out in your head, it needs to be set down on paper for it to be real and tangible.