Writers Choices

The reason, I think, I wait until the night before the paper is due, is that then I don't have any choice and the problem goes away. I mean, I stop thinking about all the choices I could make, about where to start and what to say, and I just start writing. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

The number of choices writers must make in composing even short papers is sometimes daunting—no wonder Sarah wants to write and not choose. But in truth, I think she's fooling herself: All writing, whether started early or late, teacher-assigned or self-assigned, involves making choices—an infinite number of choices—about topics, approaches, stances, claims, evidence, order, words, sentences, paragraphs, tone, voice, style, titles, beginnings, middles, endings, what to include, what to omit, and the list goes on.

There are, however, some things you can do to simplify this choice-making process and make it less daunting, more approachable. Whenever you sit down to write, ask yourself three basic questions: Why am I writing? Under what conditions and constraints? To whom? In other words, your purpose, situation, and audience determine the tone, style, and form of your writing.

If you're ever stuck for how to approach a writing assignment, or if you're blocked about what next to do, stop and reconsider which condition seems to be the sticking point:

Is your purpose for doing the writing clear? Can you explain it in a sentence or two?

What are the circumstances in which this writing is taking place? Can you identify the social or cultural milieu in which the writing takes place?

Do you know and understand your audience? Can you articulate what your audience wants or expects?

The remainder of this chapter will examine each of these questions in more detail.

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