Starting to write


Pulling your creation out of the void.

The hardest part of any job is breaking the force of inertia and getting started. For any writer, having to create something on that white piece of paper or that blank computer screen can be a terrifying experience. The black folk artist Dilmus Hall, one of West Virginia's awesome works of nature, shouts with hellfire fervor at anyone within earshot, "You listening to me? You listening to me? God is the creator, yes; he created us in his image, so each and every one of us got the power to create!" Think of him creating works of art out of trash and scrap metal other people tossed aside the next time you find yourself staring into the terrifying white abyss of an empty sheet of paper. Here is a clue to the terror Melville saw in the whiteness of the whale. But if he overcame that terror and produced Moby Dick, then surely you can produce a decent college paper.

Do I Really Need an Outline?

Once you have your topic and your argument, you can begin to write. An outline is helpful, but it does not have to be explicit. Melville may have begun Moby Dick with little more than a plan to tell the story of a doomed trip to find something that, when we find it, will destroy us. An adequate outline might be no more than three phrases suggesting a beginning, a middle, and an end. At its absolute minimum, your final paper will need only:

  • A title
  • A topic paragraph with a topic sentence that proclaims the argument
  • An explanation of the argument
  • Some evidence from the text or texts for the explanation of the argument
  • A counterargument of the larger significance of your theme
  • Perhaps some sense of the larger significance of your theme
  • And then a conclusion reasserting the truth of the argument you proclaimd in your opening paragraph.

Outside material such as scholarly articles, book reviews, and other books on the same topic certainly add to the quality of the argument and should be included. But you might survive without them. This is your most basic outline. Other models certainly suffice.

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