Our thoughts are fluid and continuous, but essay style is perceived as a particular state that should generally be adhered to. In writing, you have to ignore the rules to get the best results. Once you’ve coaxed the words out of your head and experienced all sorts of crazy comments, only then should you craft what you’ve got into the strict essay style.
We all have an Internal Editor inside our head. The Editor doesn’t like what we write. And we don’t like it when our work is criticised.
That’s why writing can be so difficult. All the jarring moments where a word won’t fit; time spent searching for a word that’s on the tip of your tongue and just won’t come out; worrying that you haven’t explained yourself properly.
The Internal Editor has the cheek to pick you up on these findings straight away. How would you feel if someone was stood behind you, tutting or laughing each time they disapproved of your work? The Internal Editor does that. It’s your job to ignore the tuts and laughs until the Editor stops bothering you.
You have many ways of doing this. The most direct way is ‘JUST WRITE’. But the Editor likes to play on your confidence too, so you need to find other ways of working before this can work at the click of your fingers.
So before fitting all the words in your essay together, it’s essential to work in varying ways to find how you handle your work best. Try these suggestions:
- List important points and keywords that you want to focus on. Already, it’ll give you some platforms to begin from.
- Write in a stream of consciousness. Let it take you all over the place. Don’t stop and think about it, just let your mind create all sorts of weird and wonderful associations about the essay.
- Have a conversation. Imagine you’re talking to someone else and write the conversation up. You could be speaking to your lecturer, to one of the main people your essay is about, to a critic whose work you agree with. What do they think? What opinions do you think they would have about the question(s) you’re trying to answer?
- Begin with concluding remarks. If you already have an opinion, get that written down first. Then you can work backwards and look to support your belief/hypothesis/plan.
- Attempt an Abstract. How would you sum up your work in a couple of paragraphs if it was already finished?
- Don’t just type into a word processor. Use a pen and paper, write on an e-mail screen, write it in Facebook, go from A4 pad to post-it notes. Everything concentrates your mind in a different way.
- Create a mind map. Visualise the topics, the line of questioning, the key arguments, the facts, the things other academics have thought about it. Branch off until you have all sorts of avenues you can explore further.
- Find quotes that interest you on the subject and work around them. Get your inspiration from others!
- Make a short plan of themes in your essay (e.g. introduction, study of words, criticism of structure, analysis of other theories, back stories, further arguments toward your ideas/opinions, conclusion). A structure is a clear indication of what you want to write, even if it isn’t the essay itself. Structures are far less intimidating than staring at a blank page.
- Initially treat the essay as notes. If you’re better at noting down information, treat your first drafts as an exercise in note-taking. Your internal editor probably doesn’t disturb you so much when you’re writing notes from a book or a lecture…
- Don’t think about word count, don’t think about quality, don’t think about punctuation, don’t think about ANYTHING! As I said above, the most direct Writing Block is to just write and see where it takes you. The editing comes after the writing, not before and not during.
In time, the Internal Editor will discover you’re not going to listen to their complaints until the moment you ask to hear them. That’s when you’re in control and your Internal Editor is working for you; not the other way around.
Good luck shutting the voice up!