Mind Map. Outline. Vision Board.
There is no one way to write a paper. There is no formula. The blank page is the most fearsome and daunting enemy. What do you do? Do whatever works.
I loathe the blank page. So usually what I do is make it not blank. I put my name on it. (Because I own it now!) And I put the date. (Because I want everyone to know the day on which I p0wnd the blank page!) And then I put a descriptive title!! Like, not even a clever one, just what the topic is, because it’s just a draft. (That’s right, Draft…!)
Of course, the opening line seems like it is so important, and so it can be quite hard to first write this. Many people I know skip this step and come back to it. Then it’s not first anymore. Get it?
I asked Terry Woronov, one of the lecturers in ANTH 1002, what she does, and she said:
I know that at some point everything I write is going to have to include some kind of description of who [what, where, and when, or] what the setting is. [E]ven if I don't know where that material is going to go (start, middle or end), I always start by writing it first. I can always move it around later. I start there because it's information that I know [already]. I don't have to make an argument. It's just description. It loosens me up. I find that by starting this way, I get over the fear of the blank page, and usually, once I'm in the process of description, I start having a better sense of what I actually want to argue. (T. E. Woronov, personal communication, 2015, paraphrase)
For myself, I write a letter. I close the word processor, and open my mail program, and write a note to a friend:
Oh, hey, how are you? I’m fine. I’m writing a paper about why Australian missionaries in the early 20th century chose to use a pidgin word to refer to Christian rituals when they refused to speak pidgin to converts or use it in Bible translation. It’s neat. The fact that got me started on this was…
None of the text of these letters ends up in the paper. In fact, I don’t argue or even say much in detail about my ideas. I’m not trying to convince anyone at this point. What I’m doing is getting a sense of the whole. The Parthenon is still being built in my own mind. Also, sending an email to friend is great because you kind of imagine them sympathetically listening and not interrupting, but also it is written, so you have to be engaged with the topic in detail. To date, no one has ever replied to one of these messages either, except to say, “Sounds good!” If you write to me, I’ll probably say more, but I will mostly be encouraging.
This is about getting a rough draft out. A rough draft may be very rough. It may have a few [Insert some bits about ritual here]. It may also be an outline or sketch. This means that we have to start early on drafts, because we know we have to revise, and revise, and revise them.