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Saturday, January 8, 2011

Smooth Draft

Try writing a smooth draft instead of a rough one. Never, ever refer to one of your drafts as "rough." The language we use does make a difference to us, highly suggestible humanists. I can see having a draft that is incomplete. You might want to share that with someone, but never a rough draft.

***

Some writers start at the beginning of the paper and write sequentially, paragraph by paragraph, until the end. They don't start the next sentence until they are happy with everything in the paper preceding it. I have never been able to work that way. In the first place, ideas occur to me at unpredictable intervals for later sections and I need to write those ideas down so I don't forget them. It might be a week or two until I get "there" in the paper and by that time I will have forgotten. Secondly, I need to skip back and forth between sections to make sure they are consistent with one another. Thirdly, I know I will go back and change sentences anyway, so there doesn't seem any point in getting them perfect before I move on.

Rarely, I am able to write several paragraphs of coherent prose back-to-back. I enjoy that when it happens, but I couldn't depend on that.

7 comments:

Vance Maverick said...

Is your point that you don't accept the metaphor of substance and surface for writing? What you describe in the next-to-last paragraph (sentences that need changing, potential inconsistencies) sounds exactly like what most people mean by "rough draft".

Jonathan said...

Yes, but I don't consider that *even* a draft yet. It is simply what I am working on before it is a "smooth" or penultimate draft. My point is that you shouldn't show a draft to anyone unless it is smooth or penultimate.

Thomas said...

I usually tell people to (what you would call) "smooth out" (or "smoothe"?) their draft before sending it to me. That means removing the, well, yes, "rough edges", i.e., all glaringly obvious signs that the text is a work in progress. Let me point out flaws and holes, don't leave a "this is where I'm going to expand on" or "I'm missing some references here" in the text you send to someone else. Let it pretend, just for an evening out, to be a finished text. Let it make its moves. Smooth moves.

Jonathan said...

That's exactly what I mean. I hate when people present bad papers at the Humanities Center where I teach and talk about how rough their drafts are that they are presenting to us. They should pull the draft together and make no apologies. What are we supposed to say? Yes, your work is rough, so why are you showing it to us?

Vance Maverick said...

Ah, OK -- if the point is that rough drafts aren't for sharing, then I agree. Presenting something that requires an apology should be embarrassing.

Tangentially, I've recently started working at a big tech company, and I've been surprised at how little writing is valued. People do write, but there's no expectation that documents will ever be tidied up, let alone kept consistent with reality.

Jonathan said...

There is no rough draft, then. There is only an incomplete draft on the way to becoming a smooth one.

Andrew Shields said...

The apologies are embarrassing because they make professional scholars sound like undergraduates prefacing their answers to your questions with such formulas as "Well, I'm not sure but ..." Even the undergraduates know that they should not start prepared presentations like that!

-- Well, maybe they don't. After all, they hand me essays saying "It's not very good, but ..." Whenever they say that, I say, "Okay, I'll give it a D, okay? Then I don't have to read it."