Someone asked me the other day whether I thought ‘just write’ was a good idea. It is something that I support, although always with the caveat that it doesn’t work for everyone. I call this ‘writing along the way’ because just write is writing that helps you get somewhere. But not everyone agrees with this position – see for example Three Month Thesis who says this is the worst advice ever. I suspect that this might be because the other half of the heuristic often gets lost – it’s not just write, but just write up to the point where you are able to make a plan.
Why just write? It is often very important to just write in order to find out what you think – and sometimes just write short pieces at speed, in order to overcome the pesky internal critic in your head that stops you writing anything. At some point, you MUST stop just write and work out a plan and an argument. However, when you’ve been just write-ing, you do end up with a lot of textual resource on which to base a plan – or The Tiny Text that I prefer. And in fact you may very well not try to edit what you produced as just write, but rather start anew and again, after the plan is made.
The position that just write is a Good Thing is not an urban myth or something that has been recently made up by a few people thinking online about the kind of writing that worked for them. Just write has quite a history in the field of writing research and there is a lot of empirical data about its efficacy. As a final contribution to #acwrimo, I though it would be appropriate to pay due respect to Peter Elbow, whose book Writing without teachers is often credited as being the origin of just write in the academic sphere.
In this little and quite old youtube clip – bear with it – Elbow describes how he came to understand the process of writing by systematically examining his own writing failure. The self-critical way in which he did this over a number of years is pretty instructive – he was examining himself as writer at the same time as he was writing, not a bad idea. Elbow then went on to conduct systematic research into other people’s academic writing. So this began the evidence base for saying that just write is useful – although of course not everywhere, not all the time, and not in all disciplines.
And as Elbow clearly points out, just write is not at all useful without the other half of the advice – just write, then plan, then write again.