Success in Academic Writing - Trevor Day 2018
The ‘no composing’ approach
We have considered ’writing to a prompt’ and freewriting as techniques for unlocking your composing. A third approach I call the ’no composing’ technique because it involves reducing the process of composing to a minimum. It includes plenty of planning, and ample reviewing and editing, but comparatively little composing - bursts of writing fluently in sentences and paragraphs.
Imagine you have made notes for part of an essay. Those notes started out as a single bullet point for each paragraph and have now grown to several bullet points for each. However, when it comes to writing flowing prose, those paragraphs do not respond readily to your attention. You find you cannot move rapidly from bullet points to flowing text. You find yourself tinkering with what you have written, moving bullet points and phrases around, and you have trouble creating coherent sentences.
This tinkering process - which can be likened to fitting the pieces of a jigsaw together - is occasionally the only way to get something written. The pieces do not readily fall into place. This can occur for a variety of reasons. You may be trying to force the process of composing when you are not yet ready. Perhaps you have not thought deeply enough about the argument you are creating or you have not sufficiently absorbed the sense of the sources you have used. You may be in a poor state of mind to compose, and may need to break off and return refreshed. More often than not, it is because you need to do more thinking and information gathering to develop a coherent argument. This does not always happen through a flash of insight, but may require a gradual process of consolidation.
When I use the ’no composing’ technique it tends to be towards the end of an article or book, when I am seeking to assemble information from many parts of the narrative in an interesting way. For some students, the approach is most likely to happen when writing the conclusion of an essay or the discussion of a practical report. A few students spend rather too much time using the ’no composing’ approach. It is a slow process. For some students, assembling sentences a piece at a time by ’filling in the gaps’ is a way of not having to take too large a step in one go. However, the process can be sluggish and laborious and, with practice, most students find they can move beyond it for all but some of the most difficult writing challenges. However, the tactic is there should you need it - part of your repertoire of approaches to writing.