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The Secret Mindset of Writing

The secret mindset of writing

By Tray Armstrong


If you want to be a good writer, you must write. That’s it. That’s the key to being a good writer. Bye, guys. *Lets door softly close behind me.*

Oh, you’re following me? Well, guess I can’t blame you. I’ll admit, that advice seems… simplistic at best. Perhaps it’s better to tell you a piece of guidance I’ve read once before, and that’ll get you going again on your way to literary greatness (or, perhaps more accurately, on your way to finishing that essay).

There is no wasted writing. No words you put on the page will ever be in vain, even if you think they might be. Even if you delete every sentence you wrote when you begin revising, you have still made progress towards the goal of a completed paper. Writing is not instant. Sometimes it flows easily out of my pen or keyboard onto the page, but often I find it drags on in a slow and arduous slog to get to the next paragraph. It can be one of the most disheartening feelings in the world, but that’s not where the story ends.

Even if it is difficult, keep writing! Even if it seems like garbage and your ideas are not flowing well and everything is just not connecting, keep writing. Finish your thoughts. Do not let yourself think that you must get it right on the first try. That’s not how writing works. Instead, look at your situation like a road you’re taking on a journey. Every word you write, even if it’s not in the paper at the end, is a step towards your ultimate destination. Even if you wake up the next morning and find you must delete pages worth of writing because it is not coherent with the rest of your paper, you are still closer to your goal because you no longer have to type those words out. You have tried them, and hopefully you have found some that work and some that didn’t, and you have moved forward.

Deleting words is never easy, especially if you’re writing for a page count or word minimum. It feels like you are losing sentences you have worked incredibly hard on and could not bear to turn in the paper without. In part, this is correct because you have slaved over your work, but are they indispensable? I would argue that they are not. If it does not feel like it fits in your paper, in your argument, in your goal, then it’s not worth having in your writing. Delete it, erase it, blot it from the face of the earth, but appreciate when you’ve done so, for you have moved forward.

The process I have just described to you is a method of refinement writers often use called “drafting.” Drafting is the strongest tool of the writing process because it is like a rehearsal for a speech: the more we practice writing down our argument, the stronger and more eloquent it becomes. While tools like outlining and peer reviewing are amazing tools, and universally useful for paper-writing, there is no replacement for drafting. If the writer is serious about drafting a phenomenal paper, there will never be an exception to this rule: never will your first draft be better than your second. There is always something that can be improved from a first try.

No one is good at everything on their first attempt, and this must be the mindset you take when writing. You must write with dastardly abandon and delete ruthlessly and without compromise. The goal of your initial writing is to spill all of your ideas onto a page, no matter how strange or disgusting they may be to look at, and then begin deleting and reworking things that do not fit. Your first draft is not meant to be perfect, but rather, it is meant to be on the page. Deletion does not mean stagnation in your quest for the final draft. On the contrary, you are moving forward with every press of that dreaded backspace key. Don’t be afraid to cut down whole forests of ink and line when writing and drafting a paper. You must have the mindset of a literary hitman when editing your paper, because such diligent deletion of useless words, phrases, and ideas will only sharpen and strengthen your message.

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