Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Core Idea First—or Write First to Develop the Idea?

A client asks: I start writing my paper as a way of figuring out what my core idea is. But then my paper isn’t incisive. Should I switch to defining my core idea before beginning? 

In this two-part post based on my emailed answer, I number my answers for convenience. And, like all my writing, it’s revised. 

As with most writers, I have a strong preference between these choices. But I am far from convinced it's the best way, just what works for me. So I don't disclose it. Instead, I invite people to improve what already works for them—and to experiment only when they have the time. 

Part I: This isn’t as big a problem as you might think

1. Don't despair, there are a number of ways to tackle this thesis issue and no one right way. You can nail this in a way that feels comfortable to you.

2. There are strengths and downsides to both approaches; let's take a look.

3. If you develop the thesis first, writing can come easily because you know what you are trying to prove. BUT what if you hold off writing the paper, waiting for inspiration to strike? You will procrastinate, search/research, then panic to find a thesis, then plunge into writing at the last minute. That can be satisfying, but wow, talk about stress city. 

There's another downside: what if, in trying to prove your thesis, your research proves you wrong? Then you have to shift and rewrite. That's not necessarily bad; it can be fun to realize that what you once believed was true has been transformed. But it can be nerve-wracking to shift while running your deadline looms. 

4. If you write the paper before you have a core idea, the act of writing crystallizes your research and you then arrive at a thesis. This means you can plunge in fast and perhaps that is less stressful—I would hope so. BUT the downside is that having discovered your thesis, the paper lacks incisiveness. Your reader will keep asking, why is the writer telling me all this? So, to achieve clarity, you have to rewrite the whole beast. And you might have to do more research if your focus question shifts. 

Given these pros and cons, I suggest going with what you feel most comfortable with, and if you feel like experimenting, try the method that makes you uncomfortable. There's no right answer. 

Next time: in Part II “Eureka Finally—Now What?” we’ll look at rewriting once you have at last created that thesis statement.