Maybe, you’ve been there. It’s 11:16 pm, the night before your essay is due. You’ve opened a blank document and you’re about to write that paper you’ve been putting off for so long. You’ve to write about a novel, say, but you’re not sure what to write. You’ve read the book–or maybe not–and time is running out. Four pages due tomorrow. Now where do you start?
Easy, you might think: the introduction. The problem is that introductions are not for you to introduce yourself to your argument; they’re for you to introduce your argument to your readers. Ok, so now what do you do?
As we have discussed earlier when I introduced the 12-Step Program, writing is a process that does not generally begin when you start composing a draft. It’s one thing to be telling a story as you did in the first essay, but it’s another when you’ve got to say something that arises from your reading of a novel–a very long and complex book. If you write without analyzing and interpreting the novel, you’re most likely to either merely summarize the plot or make an overly general statement of the theme and then “find some quotes” or a couple of examples to support it. This will not go well. There’s a better way.
Prewrite. First, reread the prompt to make sure you understand what your task is, and then, use listing, clustering (see example above), or other methods to help you focus on which chapters, passages, details, and scenes you think will be useful in fully answering your questions. Once you’ve identified these ( you will almost certainly identify others later), you can begin writing about how these particulars reveal answers to your question. At this point, it is useful to note page numbers and quotations that you can make points about in your essay.
For this prewriting assignment, use clustering to identify a least 20 different scenes, passages, descriptions, examples, and/or instances of language use, behavior, or motif, noting page numbers. Next, from these choose at least 10 quotations and organize them in sections that correspond to different parts of the question in the prompt.
Create a document that includes at the top the question in the prompt, the 4-5 “sections” of your essay, and within those sections, brief summaries or quotations in the section in which they will belong. Submit an IMAGE that includes an image of your clustering with page numbers. OR, If you are doing HANDWRITTEN clusters, you ay submit a photo of your prewriting.
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