A Bookshelf of Writing Books

How I Teach Drafting Papers

On the first day of the semester in my University Writing class, I ask my students to generate a research question and to ask as many of their fellow students the question before the class ends. The question can be anything: best place for pizza in town, favorite ice cream flavor, what to watch on Netflix. My question is the same every year: “What’s the hardest part of writing?” And the most frequent answer is, “Getting started.”

It’s hard to write. No one ever said it was easy, but many college students are only presented with perfect, completed pieces of writing. This leads to the feeling that their own writing needs to be perfect after a single draft. And then writing paralysis sets in. Staring at the blank page, unable to come up with any ideas, frustration. Or writing a sentence, erasing it, rewriting the sentence making only minute changes. And two hours later, the student has maybe a page completed.

This doesn’t work. Getting started shouldn’t be that hard.

So I teach a 4 stage drafting process. I heard about this process after observing another college intro writing professor teach this method to her own students. It was created by composition instructor Betty Flowers, after having very similar experiences as my own. Here it is:

4 stages of drafting

1. Madman: The crazy idea draft. Write crazily, write sloppily, and go on tangents. This is a discovery process. You don’t know everything you have to say unless you let yourself explore.
2. Architect: The designer draft. Narrow your ideas into a single focus and then shape your paper by grouping similar ideas together around that focus. This draft seeks to organize your thoughts around one point by choosing what ideas your paper will be about. Not everything can stay. If you’re an outliner, then this is when you’ll outline your paper.
3. Carpenter: The builder draft. Build up the paper by filling in the spaces your architect draft has outlined (with transitions, more evidence, etc.), combining your madman ideas into a logical, cohesive home.
4. Judge: The critic draft. Edits spelling and grammar errors. Edit as a reader instead of as the writer.

Most writers believe revising means editing for grammar. They don’t realize that grammar and mechanics should be one of the last things a writer looks at. That’s because what you’re going to write about has to come before how your sentences work.

In conjunction with teaching this drafting process, I also assign a chapter from Anne Lamott’s fantastic writing how-to book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life — “Shitty First Drafts.” In this chapter, Lamott describes a similar revising process, though she calls the first draft the ‘child’s’ draft, where you let yourself romp and play on the page. Giving students this chapter shows them that ‘shitty first drafts’ is normal. That’s how writing works. And they get to cuss in class.

I also tell students that this is a recursive process. Maybe you start your carpenter draft and realize you need a lot more about a point. Then you can go back to being a madman, and do a freewrite and see where it leads you.

A few students always object to the madman drafts. They like to outline, but what I’ve noticed about the students who love outlining is that their outlines are sprawling, wild things. They essentially work as madman drafts — freewriting ideas, listing points and quotes beneath those ideas, testing out topics. If that’s how the student likes to begin, I usually let them do so. As long as they’re still letting themselves freewrite and explore ideas and concepts, I don’t care what it looks like.

But most students find writing a madman draft freeing. They tell me they finish papers much faster, despite going through multiple drafts. And they like their papers better. That’s because it didn’t hurt to write it. They let themselves ‘play’ on the page, gave themselves permission to be imperfect. And all writers need that permission.

Here are more notes I give concerning these 4 stages:

Strategies for the Madman Draft
• List ideas, start freewriting. No editing sentences as you type.
• Be specific with details, tell stories, think about the stories and write out those thoughts.
• Can be stream-of-consciousness, in response to questions or ideas, and/or full paragraph meanderings.
• Ignore word count at first. If you run out of things to say, move on to another aspect of the topic, or reread without making changes and add to what you’ve written.

Strategies for the Architect Draft
• Reread madman draft, and choose a focus for your paper.
– Write focus in 1-2 sentences. This works as your thesis statement.
• Delete writing that doesn’t relate to focus.
• Organize into paragraphs around similar points.
– Suggestions:
o Make an outline
o Highlight similar ideas in different colors
o Print off a copy and cut out each paragraph and try rearranging it

Strategies for the Carpenter Draft
• Reread Architect Draft. Add evidence and details where needed.
• Write or rewrite the Introduction.
– Start specific, not broad.
o An anecdote/memory.
o An elaboration of your specific focus.
o Highlighting your research question and results.
• Write or rewrite the Conclusion.
– Point to broader implications. Why is the focus of this paper important to your audience?
– Propose a course of action, a solution to an issue, or questions for further study.
– If you begin by describing an anecdote or memory, you can end with the same anecdote or memory as proof that your paper is helpful in creating a new understanding
o Avoid saying “To conclude” or “In conclusion”
• Add transitions.
– Bridges between paragraphs
– Go at the beginning of paragraphs and connect the information from the previous paragraph to the new paragraph
– Usually phrases. Avoid 1 word transitions like “Next,” “Finally,” “Secondly,” etc., unless they add to the meaning of the sentence
– Example: “Though I failed my first paper in tenth grade English, I aced the research paper in History class.”

Strategies for the Judge Draft
• Make a list of the paper’s strengths and weaknesses.
• Reread and try to correct weaknesses.
• Read sentence by sentence from the END to the beginning, making spelling and grammar corrections.
• Read aloud, making corrections as you see them.
• Have someone else read it to you, making notes when you hear something off.

If you’re a teacher, feel free to use my notes. And even if you’re not a teacher, I find these methods aid in my own writing. It’s easy to forgot that drafting is a part of writing.

Fairytale Syllabus


This semester I taught my very first fairytale themed college course. I’ve had lots of requests for the reading list, so here it is, all free online if you follow the links. (I’m so thankful places like Surlalune exist, making fairy tales readily accessible. It’s also where I found all the images in this post.) The class is an Intro to the University course, so sometimes I had to base the readings off of guest university speakers, thus it doesn’t follow the typical fairytale class setup, where you read a different tale-type each week. Instead, I grouped stories by relevant themes, with a few tale-type weeks to enforce the idea that there is no single version of a fairy tale. The course also needed to be multicultural, so I intentionally had my students read tales from around the world instead of only Grimm and Perrault, though they still read many of those. My goal for next year is to include even more non-European tales.

Week 1: Introduction

On Fairy-Stories by J.R.R. Tolkien

Gustave Doré

Week 2: Little Red Riding Hood

The Story of Grandmother, Italian

Little Red Riding Hood, Perrault, French

Little Red Cap, Grimms, German

The Company of Wolves by Angela Carter

The Little Girl and the Wolf by James Thurber

Little Red Riding Hood has a Gun by Amelia Hamilton


Kay Nielsen
Kay Nielsen

Week 3: Animal Bridegrooms

Beauty and the Beast by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont, French

East of the Sun, West of the Moon by Asbjornsen and Möe, Norwegian

The Monkey Prince collected by Stokes, Indian





Edmund Dulac
Edmund Dulac

Week 4: Cinderella

Yeh-hsien, Chinese

Donkeyskin, Perrault, French

Cinderella, or Aschenputtel, Grimms, German

The Poor Turkey Girl, Zuni

Little Burnt Face, Micmac

Introduction to The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales by Bruno Bettelheim


H.J. Ford
H.J. Ford

Week 5: The Necessities

Hansel and Gretel, Grimms, German

Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp, Persian

Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen, Danish

The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde, British



A.W. Bayes
A.W. Bayes

Week 6: Stress and Sorrow

The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen, Danish

Marwe in the Underworld, Kenyan

The Juniper Tree, Grimms, German

The Bamboo-cutter and the Moon-child collected by Ozaki, Japanese



Anne Anderson
Anne Anderson

Week 7: Villains

Bluebeard, Perrault, French

Rumpelstiltskin, Grimms, German

Vasilissa the Beautiful, Russian

Handout: “Breaking the Disney Spell” by Jack Zipes.



Milo Winter
Milo Winter

Week 8: Working Hard for the Money

Six Swans, Grimms, German

Puss in Boots, Perrault, French

The Stonecutter, Japanese





Halloween Reading

You can find everything I had them read for Halloween on a previous post.

And that’s what I had them read! I could’ve easily picked double the amount. It was so hard to be choosy, and I’ll definitely make some changes next time I teach it, though it will be hard to cut some of these!


Halloween Reading — Ghost Stories


This semester, I’m teaching a fairytale-themed seminar class, and my students requested we read ghost stories for Halloween. Though I’m no ghost story expert, I’m still happy to oblige! One of the class’s course goals is to introduce students to different cultures, so I’ve made it a point to include tales from around the world in every week’s reading. I’ve also made it a point to have only free readings; students pay too much for textbooks already! But I ran into a surprising difficulty — almost everything I could find summarized a ghost story rather than told a story. I try to stick to original source material in this class versus summaries or retellings, but I wasn’t completely successful this time around.

With these things in mind, here are the ghost-related readings I’ve chosen for my students.

The Medieval Origins of Halloween by Michael Livingston. But wait, this isn’t a ghost story! Nope. I wanted my students to learn a little about the origins of Halloween. It’s a quick, interesting read, and you get to find out how Samhain is pronounced. Okay, not the most important information from it, but I’ve been mispronouncing it!


No discussion of international ghost stories would be complete without the Japanese yurei. The image of the footless ghost haunts pop culture, but that image has an interesting history, which is discussed in Japanese Folklore: Maruyama Ōkyo and the Ghost of Oyuki. Electric Lit also published an interesting piece on yurei — Yūrei: the Ghosts of Japan by Zack Davisson.





If you hear a banshee scream, then you know a death is soon to follow. Banshees hail from Irish folklore, and I found this great chapter from True Irish Ghost Stories, which contains lots of micro-stories about banshees, among other Irish death-warnings. I’m only requiring my students to read the section on banshees, but the entire chapter is interesting.

Mural by Juana Alicia

The last ghost story my students will be reading is La Llorona, a Hispanic tale, also known as The Weeping Woman. It’s one of my favorite ghost stories. The image comes from a mural by Juana Alicia in San Francisco.



While these are the stories I’m having my students read, I plan on reading The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury, which I’ve never read before. It’s on sale for the kindle for only $1.99 right now, if you want to grab it. I forgot to mention that I’m offering extra credit if my students dress up for Halloween and can connect their outfit to a culture outside of their own. Fun, right? I’m dressing up too, as a character from one of the fairy tales I’ve had them read. I’ll post pictures of the class after!

What are you reading for Halloween?