Imagine yourself serenely facing a blank computer screen, effortlessly producing a draft, and then discovering that the draft is perfect, just as it is. Unfortunately, most of us realize this happy fantasy only when the document in question is a two-line email. For documents of greater complexity and longer-range import, the first draft is only the first draft, never the last.
The sometimes remote relationship between the first and the final draft means that good writing involves good time management. It simply takes time to transform a first-draft record of your thoughts into a successful communication with your reader. How you manage the time affects your level of stress and the quality of the document you produce.
It helps to remember that writing is not a seamless process requiring sustained effort over a massive block of time, but a series of discrete steps, each of which requires a chip off the block. For instance, if your deadline is ten hours away, estimate how much time you’ll need for your research and preparation, including an outline; how much you can devote to the first draft and its revision; how much remains for editing, formatting, and proofreading. Your choices will change from project to project, of course. But making these choices keeps panic at bay, because you have made your writing an activity you control, not a calamity that overtakes you. If you budget your time wisely and then stick to the budget, you’ll produce the best document you can produce in the ten hours available to you.
Writing is not a seamless process requiring sustained effort over a massive block of time, but a series of discrete steps, each of which requires a chip off the block.
The work you do before you put fingertips to keyboard—your research, your thinking and re-thinking, your ordering of your thoughts—is time well-spent, especially when you face a near deadline. The usual response to such pressure is to plunge in and hope for the best. The better response is to plan carefully and implement your plan.
Doing nothing is a welcome aspect of the writing process. Once you’ve finished revising the rough draft, let it sit for a while, preferably overnight, so that you can turn to the task of editing with the necessary objectivity. Fresh eyes help you edit quickly and effectively.
Keep track of how you spend your writing time so that you’ll be better able to estimate the time you’ll need to produce the kinds of documents you ordinarily write. It’s useful to know, for instance, that a two-page letter usually takes you an hour and that a ten-page memo requires an hour per page. Then you’ll be able to allocate your time so that your writing will be easier and less nerve-racking and will produce good results.
Next: Writing the First Paragraph
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