Break the rules: write out of order

Let’s start at the very beginning.

A very good place to start.

–“Do Re Me,” The Sound of Music

In writing, the beginning often is a very good place to start, as Maria sings in The Sound of Music. But it’s a myth that the beginning is the only place to start writing.

Introductions can be daunting. It’s common to feel pressure to write a perfect introduction that will set up the rest of your paper in an eloquent delineation of all the arguments you plan to advance. Yet before you write out those arguments in full, you may not be prepared to write that amazing introduction that you have in mind.

If you find yourself staring at a blank or near-blank introductory section, it’s okay to move on. Maybe you’re itching to write section three instead—in which case I strongly advise you to do so. Writing something, anything, is always better than not writing.

The ability to write out of order easily is one reason why I enjoy Scrivener so much, but this method can be adapted to pretty much any word processing program. In Scrivener, you can create sections, title them, and maybe write a few notes to yourself if you’re so inclined. Then you can start working in what will ultimately be the middle of the paper. If you’re working with a more traditional word processing program, you can do the same thing by making placeholders in your document, which may look something like this:

[[INTRODUCTION

-Begin with quote from Source 1

-Relate to theme of subjectivity in experiencing art

-Introduce the following arguments:

Viewing art is a deeply personal experience related to affect and emotions. However, social expectations mediate experiences of viewing art.

  1. Viewing art is a deeply personal experience related to affect and emotions. However, social expectations mediate experiences of viewing art.
  2. During the Renaissance, people began to experience art in a new way.]]

Alternatively, it’s okay if your placeholder just says something like, “introduction goes here.” The important part is that you’re giving your work scaffolding even as you consciously decide to write out of order for purposes of getting something down on paper.

I find it helpful to make placeholders for all sections that I plan to write, not just the introduction. Some of these sections may later merge, or be dropped altogether, but doing this allows me to situate each part of writing within a larger organization. I usually outline the entire chapter within Scrivener before writing anything.

Then, if I want to, I start writing in the middle.

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