The Myth of "Just Do It" and the Real Way to Score a Writing Victory

Just do it.

This familiar refrain is so enticing! We'd all love to be just like the athletes in the Nike commercials who jump into action and take life by the horns. 

When it comes to school work in general and writing in particular, trying to "just do it" is one of the most frustrating experiences ever. 

Instead of scoring us more points, jumping into writing without a plan (or with a plan that doesn't work) leads to essay disaster! 

So what's up with that? Is it bad to be bold? Should we "just sit out" instead? Not quite. There's definitely a time to get our heads out of the clouds and actually sit down to write. But before we do that, we've got to do the stuff the Nike commercials leave out. 

Here's why "Just Do It" is a myth, plus the three truths that can lead you to a writing victory.

Truth #1: Athletes Plan Ahead

Athletes spend a lot of time practicing. During those practices, they drill skills and learn strategies. Before the big games, they review the game plan so they know exactly what their objectives are. In addition, many athletes visualize plays or moves before executing them. They mentally prepare for the game setting.

Writing requires strategic planning as well.  The best kind of strategic plan for a writer is an outline. This tells you exactly what you plan to discuss in each paragraph. A great outline lets you focus on crafting sentences since you’ve already put in the heavy lifting coming up with good ideas.

Unfortunately, though, the best laid plans of mice and men (and students who have to write about Of Mice and Men) so often go awry. Do any of these happen to you?

  • You made an outline, but as you started writing, you discovered your argument just didn’t add up
  • You made an outline, but as you were writing, your original argument morphed into something else
  • When you try to follow your outline you realize there aren't enough details, the details overlap, or maybe they even conflict
  • You don’t have enough evidence to support your argument
  • You had the best of intentions to make an outline, but you ran out of time!

If you’ve been in any of these situations when an essay deadline was looming, chances are you didn’t want to stop writing and go a step backwards to make an outline. And I totally get it. Your teacher would probably accept an essay without an outline, but an outline without an essay? You’d completely fail, right?

Isn’t it better to just cut your losses and keep moving forward? NO WAY, JOSE! This would be like an athlete scrapping the game plan and just running in a random direction on the football field. He'd never receive the pass in order to score the touchdown.

I do get it; it’s not reasonable to go back to the beginning and craft a full outline from top to bottom. This would be like a batter deciding to go back to spring training when it’s the bottom of the ninth and he just has to get one more hit.

But you don’t have to go all the way back to the beginning in order to make a good plan. All you have to do is pause.

Truth #2: The Less Time You Have, the More You Need a Plan

If you watch basketball or hockey, you’ve probably seen a game that was really tight up to the last few minutes of the game. With only seconds on the score clock, do you know what those athletes do? They call a timeout so they can huddle up with their coaches and plan a strategy for how to use the teensy eensy amount of time they still have.

They don’t try to yell out plays to one another while the game is in motion. This would be disastrous because they would split their focus between playing and planning.

You need to take a page from athletes. Pause in your frantic drafting and make a plan. Try one of these strategies:

Stopping to make a plan is what saves you time. [Tweet that]

Truth #3: You Don't Have to Do It Alone

But there’s another ingredient you need: those athletes don’t just take a timeout to think about the game; they take it to talk to their teammates and coaches. Coaches offer encouragement, accountability, and a plan! And that’s why I’m here, ready to help you get your essay back on track and moving again.

Because I’ve totally been there.

I’ve been up in the wee hours of the morning, frantically typing English essays that were going nowhere fast. I’ve pulled all-nighters and turned in papers that I knew didn’t make sense! Instead of stopping to re-plan and strategize how to use the time left, I “just did it,” and I hated the feeling (and the grades!) that resulted.

I understand: when the clock is ticking, stopping writing and talking about your essay feels like exactly the wrong plan. Every fiber of your being is screaming at you to write more and write faster. But I promise you that you won’t get the results you want by writing without a plan. Instead, just stop. (That you can just do!) Make a plan. Get support. Make a to-do list. And meet your deadline with the best essay you have inside you, not just a frantic frenzy of freewriting.

Ready to take a timeout and huddle up with your own personal writing coach so that you can write your best?