GUIDE – On the Importance of Using Planning Strategies

(I wrote this handout to address the value of planning a written project, but the the principles apply equally well to the value of planning a digital composition project.)

Sometimes students resist the idea of using strategies for planning a project because the prefer to just “jump right in” and start writing. That’s fine, as long as you understand that what you’re creating by “just jumping in” is actually a sketch draft, meaning that whatever you produce using that method may not end up in the final version.

In other words, you need to be willing to take a critical look at whatever you produced by “just jumping in” and to make substantial revisions in it, based both on your own sense of what would improve the project and also on feedback from classmates and your instructor.

Some writing professionals call this process “sketch drafting,” the way an artist might sketch out a scene in pencil before committing to trying to paint it. The idea is to use the sketch drafting process to try out a variety of ideas and see what you think of how they’re going, even if they’re not yet presented in well-composed sentences (or “paint”), as that part should come later.

A sure sign of an untrained writer is one who turns in a “final” paper that reveals a new and interesting insight in the very last paragraph. Far than being “final,” that paper is actually a first draft, meaning that it’s in the nature of all first drafts for writers to to arrive at interesting insights as a result of the process of writing — not before they start writing.

Once the writer receives some training in writing, her next step should be to take that interesting insight and start over, with that insight as the controlling idea of the paper rather than something that appears tacked on at the end. Sometimes that means having to scrap a bunch of writing that led up to the interesting insight but that isn’t directly related to it, but that’s just part of the writing process.

It’s no different than how musicians produce music, writing hundreds of hours of songs and lyrics in order to arrive at an album that contains only one hour’s worth. Or how film makers produce films, producing hundreds (or even thousands) of hours of footage in order to produce a 70 minute final product. The secret to composing powerful messages lies in knowing what to leave behind on the “cutting room floor,” as it were.

So even though I will ask you to use some kind of planning strategy, such as sketch outlining or storyboarding, if you want to pretend that this is the “real deal” because that works better for you, that’s fine — as long as you realize that whatever you produce is not, in fact, the real deal, but a draft that you may end up revising substantially.