Composing

I would like to make a distinction between quickly written, unedited, and free-flowing composing versus the slower, stop–think–make changes approach to composing. Let’s focus on the first type — I call it journal writing.

Journal writing is an excellent way to develop fluency in your writing. While it is a bit contrived, it is a tried and true way to learn how to trust your brain and your thinking processes, and to step out of the way and let your thoughts move from your mind to the text.

You can practice journal writing on your own as often as you like. Here is how it works: Think of a non-technical topic to begin with; set a timer for seven minutes; and write non-stop until the buzzer. If you are writing by hand, then the rule is that you must write as fast as you can without lifting your pencil/pen off the paper, and without stopping until the buzzer. If you are composing on a computer, then the rule is that you must type as quickly as you can, with no deleting or correcting of typos, and no stopping until the buzzer. Basically, keep composing for a full seven minutes.

When the seven minutes are over, finish the sentence you are working on and count the number of words in your text. Strive to write more each time you practice a journal entry until you have reached your personal best text length. Keep track of the number of words in each journal entry — you will see tangible evidence of how much text you are able to produce in seven minutes and how this amount improves quickly over time. I predict that you will also enjoy the freedom of composing text without any restrictions other than the topic you have chosen and the designated time frame.

Can journal writing help you with your academic writing? Yes, especially early in the composing process when you are developing an idea. Writing quickly without thinking of organizational structure, word choice, or grammar will allow you to develop the core aspects of your story.

What about the ‘stop and think and play around with organization, words, sentence structure, and grammar’ part of writing? That’s the next step — the slower and more focused editing process.

In fact, I am suggesting that you think of your writing as two distinct processes — an initial composing process (journal-type writing), followed by an editing process (intensive redrafting). You can apply this two-step approach to individual sections of a paper as well as to the paper as a whole.