As repeatedly mentioned in most of my “learning to write” journal entries, I did not learn to write essays as a child. Most of my writing experiences come from writing “statement of purpose” for graduate school, or writing my essays during graduate school. However, I must say that I made up for most of my life’s writing during graduate school!
Back in 2008, when I was applying for graduate school, I did not quite understand the process of writing and was quite frustrated by the multiple drafts I had to share with my father during the application process. Needless to say, my essays in 2008 were never reflective, and I did not secure admission in any of the school I applied to.
When I came to the US and started working, my first experience with writing was writing emails to colleagues and peers, and since Facebook and Twitter were new technologies, I had to learn this entirely new genre of writing short messages. Well, I am still in the process of learning the “precise writing” genre. During my work at Harvard Kennedy School, I read some of the essays of students who applied for fellowships, and it was then I realized the importance of drafting in writing, and that there is no easy way to write my essays. So, when I applied to graduate school the second time in 2015, I honestly put my heart and mind into writing my statements of purpose, focused on producing multiple drafts and getting reviewers to read each draft.
Accordingly, my graduate school essays were pretty comprehensive and reflective. During the drafting process for my admission essays, my first step to writing was reading the prompt of the piece. The general format was to talk about my journey to graduate school, but depending on the prompt, I had to decide on what experience to focus on in the first few paragraphs. So generally, my drafting process was to write my introduction in the opening paragraphs and write about individual work experiences based on relevance in the following sections. My final paragraph generally had a conclusion that showed how I would fit the bill for as a graduate school candidate in that school. I remember going through at least 20 to 25 drafts of each essay over many days, reading and re-reading them, checking for mistakes and better vocabulary, and sharing it with someone who would be able to give me critical feedback.
During graduate school, however, my process of drafting was slightly different. Once I came up with an idea on a particular topic, I would start with giving my article a title as the first step. This title would help me think about the body of the essay, the theme and geographical location that I would be focusing on. Then, I would start my research to see what kind of research was out there. During my reading and research process, I would write some sentences from articles that I found appealing and provide citations to those articles (so that I do not lose track of where I saw that sentence). With a few sentences in one of my initial drafts and an idea of available research, my next step would be to give my paper subheadings to make sure I have the flow and to focus on particular areas of the broader topics under each sub-heading. Once I populated each of the subtitles, I would write the introduction and the conclusion, and the opening would also include a blurb about the flow of the essay for the reader. Finally, I would read and make corrections to it, and give the article a final title. Although I would have preferred for reviewers to review my articles, owing to the number of essays we students had to write on a weekly basis, getting suitable reviewers for each of those articles was hard.
The most common thread among the different methods of drafting is actually listing the ideas. This list of ideas serves as a starting point to some, or it gives writers a general feel of the essay to others. The critical difference in these approaches is the relationship the writer has with their writing. How the writer feels about their draft in many cases provides a purpose and the direction for the essay, and ultimately determines the take-home lessons of the composition.
According to me, writing and drafting are not mutually exclusive, and at times can be used synonymously. Although drafting can mean that the end-product of the article is not ready yet, writing can encompass all the steps from the start to all producing a final piece. I do not think one can write an essay without drafting, neither can one draft without writing. So, for all the people who are learning to write, focus on the quality of every single draft to get produce a final compelling article.