How to Write Your First Draft

I’m finishing up grad school right now, and I’ve been extremely busy writing a 90-page paper. I also have another 20-page paper that’s due in several weeks.

I don’t have much time to spend on rough drafts, so I have to make every minute count.

Here is some personal advice on how to start writing your first draft:

1. Take a break.
Before writing anything, you need to take a break from your research. You need to give your mind time to mull over the topic. I suggest taking a day – or even a few days to let your mind soak it all in. If you don’t have the luxury of time, then take a nap before beginning your assignment.

2. Set goals for yourself.
Write a list of everything you want to accomplish during the time you’ve set aside to write. And designate a time for each task. Giving yourself a time limit puts pressure on you to accomplish your goal. It’s better to enforce a time limit on yourself (ahead of schedule) than writing your paper the night before it’s due.

3. Write an outline for your paper.
To get your mind focused, it’s always best to work from an outline. Your outline is a starting point to help you think about how your paper will be constructed. If you’re not sure how to write one – simply look at the structure of well-written journal articles.

4. Don’t think too hard. Just write.
When you’re writing your rough draft, you need to focus on writing. Don’t get stuck on trying to craft perfect sentences. Just let go – and let your mind crank out some ideas on the page. The sooner you start writing, the better. You can always polish it up later.

5. Write down every idea.
If you think of something interesting, but not sure how you’ll “fit” it into your paper – just write it down. Don’t worry about all the details. You can always eliminate it later – or find a creative way to weave it into your essay.

6. Talk about it.
One way to stimulate more ideas for your paper is to talk aloud about the subject. Pretend like you’re giving a lecture and think about how you would argue your case in front of your peers.

7. If you get stuck, move on to another section.
Sometimes you might run out of ideas on a certain section of your essay. That’s okay. It’s bound to happen. The simple way to defuse this is to move on to another section. Refer to your outline and find another area to work on. Sometimes I’ll just start working on my bibliography or abstract to distract me. The goal is to just keep moving along – and to keep adding content to your paper.

8. Take exercise breaks.
If you sit at computer too long, you’re bound to get tired. Make sure to take brief breaks to stretch and clear your mind. It will help you write more clearly.

9. Eat and drink wisely.
My last suggestion is to eat and drink wisely. I love to drink coffee and green tea when I’m writing – it helps me focus. Make sure to keep your body hydrated – and only eat foods that will give you energy. Try to avoid heavy foods that might make you sleepy.

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