Discovery Drafts and Drafting Discoveries

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This is a post about discovery drafts and WHY discovery drafts matter. When writing is viewed as a product and not a process, the benefits of discovery might easily be lost. Instead, writing becomes a matter of filling in blanks for the 5 W's + H: basic questions for fulfilling the writing prompt. 

Who is the audience? 

What is the prompt? 

Where can information be found for correct citation style? 

When is the writing due? 

How long must it be?

 

WHY must I do this writing?

The first found W’s do not include pronouns and the responses are generally straightforward. WHY is the existential question that leads to other questions: Because I said so? Because the course syllabus requires this writing? Because the department or program or school requires this writing? Because the workforce requires this writing? But WHY is this writing required–here and now? 

Because writing is a means of discovering what is on my mind. As a writer with ADHD, WHY causes fireworks to explode in my brain, and the fireworks explode so fast that my prefrontal cortex can’t keep up, try as I might. I might try and try and try, but the sound of explosions fill  my ears, the fast-moving colors flood the tear ducts of my eyes. My mind is overloaded with anxiety about the polluted air that follows the fireworks, and I remember the orange sky choked with Canadian wildfire smoke a month earlier and that caused another air pollution alert. I lose focus. I don’t know where to begin.

Fireworks exploding over apartment buildings near the East River with the NYC skyline in the background. Photo by Susan Bernstein, July 4, 2023Fireworks exploding over apartment buildings near the East River with the NYC skyline in the background. Photo by Susan Bernstein, July 4, 2023

 

Orange sky over apartment buildings near the East River in NYC at 1:58 pm, June 7, 2023. Photo by Susan BernsteinOrange sky over apartment buildings near the East River in NYC at 1:58 pm, June 7, 2023. Photo by Susan Bernstein

 

But those events happened months ago. Isn’t it time to move on? Isn’t time for normal, or at least a new normal, and maybe even the status quo? But must climate change be accepted as the status quo? WHY

Enter the Discovery Draft–also called a Zero Draft or a Brain Dump–where the writer writes down whatever is in their head. In grad school, I remember being told that discovery drafts meant “just putting down anything to get started.” But, as an ADHD writer teaching students actively questioning WHY, I have since learned that focus remains crucial for getting started. 

These revelations came at Halloween, a day of tricks and treats. On public transit, my co-commuters were in costume and so was I. My hair was green. I wore a witch button and a #FundCUNYnow rubber bracelet. I had candy and pretzels in my backpack for sustenance to nourish the writing process. I stopped at the campus gate to take a selfie and later noticed in the photo that the wall) holding up the gate was missing a brick. Below the missing brick was a “Do Not Enter” sign. 

The purpose of the sign was to keep vehicular traffic from using an exit on campus that looked like a campus entrance. There were other entrances across the Boulevard and, since the end of random testing requirements for students, staff, and faculty, we no longer needed to show our IDs at the entrance. 

Nevertheless, I began deconstructing the implications of that sign for people in the neighborhood, or those riding by in cars and buses along the busy boulevard. What was the impact of seeing “Do Not Enter” posted on a college gate? My brain felt feverish.  It was time to start writing–and it was time to share the Halloween Extra Credit Assignment.

Halloween selfie by the campus gate in front of a Do Not Enter sign posted on a white brick wall. One of the bricks above the sign has noticeably deteriorated. Photo by Susan Bernstein, October 31, 2023Halloween selfie by the campus gate in front of a Do Not Enter sign posted on a white brick wall. One of the bricks above the sign has noticeably deteriorated. Photo by Susan Bernstein, October 31, 2023

Halloween Extra Credit Assignment projected on a classroom smart board. The last line is whited out to protect instructor's email address and submission platform information. The assignment follows. Photo by Susan Bernstein October 31, 2023Halloween Extra Credit Assignment projected on a classroom smart board. The last line is whited out to protect instructor's email address and submission platform information. The assignment follows. Photo by Susan Bernstein October 31, 2023

 

 

🎃📝🎃 Halloween Extra Credit Assignment 🎃📝🎃

Write a discovery draft for WP 2. This is a preliminary rough draft that is separate from the more formal rough draft due later this week, and can be written in class. You can use the Discovery Draft for your WP 2 rough draft and for your WP 2 final copy.

Your discovery draft should:

  • Respond to the following prompt: Where do you find your inspiration for writing in English 110?: the Baldwin readings? Everyday life? The museum field trip? Another artist or artistic creation (including music)? All, some, one, or none of the above? Something else?Provide evidence from analysis of texts and artwork, everyday life, Use your intellect and imagination.
  • Take risks with what you say and how you say it, which can include (optional and as appropriate): 
    • Examples from personal experience. This is NOT required. You can make up fictional experiences if you would like.
    • Figurative Language and/or Creative Genres (fan fiction,science fiction, metaphors, similes, and other poetic, spoken word, and other lyrical language).  
  • Write at least 500 words in 2 hours– but try for 800-1000 words. Don’t worry about grammar, punctuation or spelling!
  • Submit your discovery draft to your e-journal.

 

While they chose not to compose in experimental genres, students wrote about a variety of inspirations, in school and out of school: reading James Baldwin, the museum tour and workshop, social justice concerns, mental health considerations, and more that could be revised for their second writing project of the term. As is my aspirational practice, I wrote in-class with the students. I wrote to shift ADHD executive function overload to hyper focus on the present: the intersections of Halloween and pedagogical theory and practice.

 

My writing turned out to be the discovery draft for this Bits post about discovery drafts and why they matter. Discovery drafts matter because process matters, and process allows writers to find focus. I’m not talking about lockstep drafting of intro, body, conclusion. In a discovery draft, a potential introduction might be written at the very end. Potential body paragraphs might appear out of sequence. What I mean instead is writing out of order to discover and disentangle ideas, and taking what is found to create something new. 

 

In other words, I still want to read and create writing that goes beyond 5 W’s+H, writing that focuses on recognizing the world not only as it is, but as it could be, writing that doesn’t sit in a writing that spurs me to action, and lifts me from despair–writing that attempts to discover a conclusion, but cannot find one, and reaches out for hope instead.

 

“The Possible’s slow fuse is lit By the imagination.” –Emily Dickinson. Photo by Susan Bernstein, October 3, 2023.“The Possible’s slow fuse is lit By the imagination.” –Emily Dickinson. Photo by Susan Bernstein, October 3, 2023.

 

 

About the Author
Susan Naomi Bernstein (she/they) writes, teaches, and quilts, in Queens, NY. She blogs for Bedford Bits, and her recent publications include “The Body Cannot Sustain an Insurrection” in the Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics and “After Basic Writing” in TETYC. Her book is Teaching Developmental Writing. Other publications include “Theory in Practice: Halloween Write-In,” with Ian James, William F. Martin, and Meghan Kelsey in Basic Writing eJournal 16.1, “An Unconventional Education: Letter to Basic Writing Practicum Students in Journal of Basic Writing 37.1, “Occupy Basic Writing: Pedagogy in the Wake of Austerity,” in Nancy Welch and Tony Scott’s collection Composition in the Age of Austerity. Susan also has published on Louisa May Alcott, and has exhibited her quilts in Phoenix, Arizona and Brooklyn, NY.