As I compose a new draft of my research article today, choosing where to put each idea that I’ve carefully crafted or hastily sketched over the last year (gulp) and a half, I realize how much I appreciate a good introduction.  I have written many introductions to this paper over the last year and a half, each of them trying to find the right framing technique for the ideas to follow.  The color of the frame matters, it trains the eye to see what’s inside in a particular way.  It forms expectations.

I enjoy reading narrative more than exposition, and so I am drawn to introductions that launch with anecdote.  My last draft began that way.  It, sadly, has to go.  The frame was too loose.  It lacked force of focus.  This draft needs a lead that focuses the eye on the political, on the cost of teaching undemocratically.  I think it needs to bring the word “dictator” to the fore.

But my teachers at U of Chicago taught me to begin with common ground, with an idea that readers would identify with–or with some conflict that the paper will contribute to:  “there has been much debate….”  Creating this sense of “oh yes” identification at the outset draws readers in and establishes your credibility as “on their side” or at least “relevant to their concerns” and therefore worth reading.  Do I therefore want to begin by stating the value of teaching democratically in a way that readers will affirm?  I can continue with details about process syllabi, which I know many of my readers will be unfamiliar with and skeptical of.  I could also save this for later.  OK, I think I’m–once again–back to outlining.  It is a comfort zone for me.  Am I procrastinating again by returning to outlining again?  Or have I identified, through my drafting process, that my former outline wasn’t right and therefore I need to return before I can move forward.  Writing is certainly recursive for me.


I’ve had my fair share of legitimate excuses these past four years–new job to learn, pregnancy, baby to care for–but I don’t have them anymore.  Sure Caroline still woke up cold with a tummy ache in the night last night, but just once.  That doesn’t count as a legitimate excuse for not making progress on my article this morning.  This phase of writing is just plain hard, no getting around it.  I’m both a visionary and a wordsmith.  The launch of an article, when all of the ideas are flying and coming into some sort of visual (for me) relationship to one another, is engaging and pleasurable.  I enter the “flow” zone.  The wordsmithing of a paragraph is also gripping for me.  Tedious when I stop and see how few lines I’ve completed, but still, I enjoy it and experience flow.

The middle steps of the writing process are another story.  I lag.  I procrastinate.  I abandon projects.  I’ve dreamed them, but they don’t exist yet.  The middle section is what Peter Elbow suggests that writers freewrite, but I find the distance between freewriting and wordsmithing a final draft to be too great to be of much value.  I can freewrite.  Making the freewritten draft into something usable is very difficult.  Elbow actually suggests freewriting the same section three times as a way of improving it, getting it closer to final draft, while never getting stuck.  Perhaps that’s a solution.  It seems that the third draft can’t really be called freewriting anymore, then, since the mind isn’t free but trying to stay loyal to the preconceived–and improving–argument.  Well, it’s nice to have that technique in my toolbox in case I get stuck this morning.  40 minutes of drafting, here I come.