“Breaking Up is Hard to Do”

Not a great song. . .

One of the toughest aspects of writing research projects–besides avoiding the completion of things at the last minute–is the breaking up of tasks.

If split apart, each task might take ten to thirty minutes.  Sure, we can get into a two-hour writing jag where things work so well we don’t have to slow down, but that’s incredibly rare, even for published authors.  I once wrote a twenty page paper on early Roman writing instruction in one sitting, but I don’t even know how I did that.

Anyway, the idea is that we can break up the tasks.  Of course, we’ll have to do some tasks several times. We might be looking for that great source even as we are editing.  Writing is a recursive process.  Now, this could mean we swear again and again, but really it means that it curves back upon itself (like those early recurve bows which gain power from the curled shape and the lamination layers).  The layering and ordering really doesn’t matter.  Those linear thinkers tend to get frustrated with writing because it’s inherently chaotic.

The idea is to know what works for you.  Have several options for when things fall through (as in tests).  You should know several prewriting techniques and search tricks for those times when you are stymied.  There is a frustration factor to be managed and even used for your advantage.

The papers with which I get annoyed are those where the person never returns to the process.  For instance, a writer might get the first five sources that turn up in the first search they conduct.  Or, they might be so focused on their own experiences that they do without research.  Of course, there is often someone who entirely fails to reread–or even read fully–the essay directions.  (You should see the number of literature essays where the sheet says the audience knows the story involved, yet the writer still only retells the plot of the thing!)

Try and work in a time and place that are going to allow you to be successful.  (Sure, I’m one to talk. .  . three little ones are doing art around me right now.  I’m certainly not the still life model. . . )

Don’t forget to add in annotating and highlighting of sources for prospective paraphrases, quotes, summaries.  The beginnings and endings of sources tend to pack in important information, so go there.  Don’t forget the middles, though.

I’d like to see what you think about this breaking up of a seemingly overwhelming task into workable bits.