Planning, planning, and more planning!
Have you ever had to travel somewhere last minute? It’s stressful. Really stressful. You have no time to think about what you’re going to need, so you end up wherever you’re going with only your left socks, more t-shirts than you’ll ever use, no charger cables or adapters for anything, and toothpaste but no toothbrush. That’s why planning is a good thing – you bring exactly what you need, without dragging around a whole bunch of junk you’re never going to use.
All metaphors aside, essay planning is, in my experience, the most underrated stage of the writing process. Not only does it give you time to think through your ideas a few times, to move arguments around to see what order makes the most sense, and to adjust your thesis as new ideas pop into your mind, but it also helps to ensure that you’re doing the right work. With the kind of workload most of us at university are dealing with, not to mention managing class with extra-curricular responsibilities and commitments like clubs and jobs, planning effectively is essential. If you plan your paper really well before you start writing anything, then you don’t waste time writing versions of your paper that weren’t going to work anyway.
Now, when I say, “planning,” I don’t mean just writing really vague things on a piece of paper you’re going to lose in ten minutes. I mean having a working thesis, and then outlining each of your arguments with a topic sentence, bullet points of your evidence (if you have page numbers, quotes, statistics, whatever you’re citing – put it down!), and a connection to that elusive “so what?” question of your thesis. If you have a really good outline, then writing the paper becomes a matter of filling in the blanks. Remember, the more time you put into your writing before you start the first sentence of your introduction, the faster (and usually better!) the writing goes.
P.S. If you’re looking for a good outline model, check out this handout offered by the Writing Centre: Creating Outlines