This post is brought to you by ... Procrastination!
Well, here I am. Tomorrow, I have to turn in a conference paper to my supervisor, which is great, because that means I'll have the rest of the week to tweak and improve. However, this also means I have to finish the darn thing in the next 24 hours. (I'm sitting at 3 pages at the moment. I have at least 7 to go).
In the old days, by which I mean, undergrad, I would think and plan and collect primary source quotations and usually write papers in the last day, maybe two before they were due. They were always done on time, but they were also usually completed at a bit of a sprint, over the course of a few very painful days.
Toward the end of my Master's thesis, a much longer and more involved process, I began to come up with some strategies to help myself approach writing, an activity that I love and hate, that is easy and brain-achingly hard, and that I will apparently avoid at all costs.
1. I figured out that if I could convince myself to refine and enlarge my outline enough times, I would end up accidentally starting a draft. That draft would also be relatively easy, because I would have laid out all my points and page references and quotations ahead of time.
2. A bit later, I discovered that writing longhand, especially at the beginning of the paper worked well. I couldn't obsess over word count; the white page seemed less foreboding that the flickering white screen.
3. A bit later, I learned the trick of "messiness". This works especially well if I'm writing to a constrictive word count for a proposal or abstract. I tell myself, well, I'll just get my ideas down first, and then I can shape the proposal later, even if my sentences don't make sense or are hugely wordy. If I start on paper, I can easily refine as I type everything up.
4. Cannibalize from other documents. Starting an a paper is hard. If I can steal an opening paragraph from a related essay (even if I have to change it around a fair bit later), I can skip the difficulty of opening and play around with tweaking and shaping raw material instead. Afterwards, continuing is much less difficult.
5. Rewriting. I discovered today, yet again, how hard transitioning from one part of a paper to another can be. Answer? Rewrite the previous paragraph or section and then write what comes next. I know that once I get back into the flow of writing, words/ideas will probably show up in my head without too much more effort. Rereading previous material can also serve the same purpose, and is something that has worked well in the past for novel-writing too.
I'm actually feeling pretty good about this paper (on male homosocial bonds and sibling rivalry in Charlotte and Branwell Bronte's early writing). It feels like the ideas are snapping and sparking against each other. I've got primary and secondary sources ready to be referred to; I'm surrounded by my books and papers; I actually have a firm argument (hurrah!). So... now I guess I really just need to get back to it.