A Method for Dealing with Chaotic Writing Drafts

Sometimes blank pages are daunting. In other instances, pages filled with chaotic notes, thoughts, and semi-formed paragraphs can be just as overwhelming. I want to share a method that I used when my dissertation chapters started to fill up as I got deeper into writing. It’s fairly simple, but it was really effective and helped me to continue writing at a steady pace. This post will explain my method for dealing with chaotic writing drafts.

A Bit of Background

As I wrote my dissertation, I created a separate word document for each chapter. In a recent post, I discussed how to start filling in dissertation chapters and sections. Filling in chapters made me feel like I wasn’t starting from scratch. That was great!

Unfortunately, these filled in pages quickly turned chaotic. Various notes and initial writings were everywhere. As I tried to make progress in one section, I would get distracted by another.

A blank page didn’t seem like the worst thing.

The Method

I decided to give myself that blank page. I created a word document called the “Working Sheet”.

The rules of the Working Sheet are pretty simple:

Write your section or paragraph in the Working Sheet and when you’re finished, paste the writing into the main document.

I often split my computer screen with the Working Sheet taking up the right half and my chapter word document in the left half. This allowed me to easily access my notes, while still making progress with my writing.

In other instances, I needed a complete break from the chaos in my chapter and I kept the chapter document minimized. Having a blank page to work on really helped me focus.

On days when I couldn’t finish writing a certain section in my Working Sheet, I simply saved it in the Working Sheet document. It made it easier to start quickly the next day.

Perhaps the most gratifying part of this method is to copy text from the Working Sheet and paste it into dissertation chapter.

An Example

Let me walk you through how I use the Working Sheet.

Step 1: Prepare my screen

The Working Sheet is on the right side of my screen and the chapter that I am working on is on the left.

Even though my chapter is fairly structured, on this page alone I had notes from other writings, reminders to myself, and a paragraph that was fairly well-formed. I had different types of writing and to keep me focused, I appreciated working on a blank page.

Step 2: Write in the Working Sheet document

On the right side, I have written the text for my target section in the Working Sheet.

Sometimes I highlight the section I am working on in my main document to help me stay focused and know where I am in the document. This way, even if I move around and check other sections in my document, I can easily navigate to my target section.

Step 3: Copy text from Working Sheet and paste into the main document

The gratifying part of the process!

Closing Thoughts

The Working Sheet is a pretty simple method. I debated whether to even write a post about it because it might seem too simple. However, the goal of my productivity posts is to share what has worked for me and this method definitely has been super useful. It fulfills my need of having all my notes and writing in one place (the chapter word document), but working on my current writing in a less chaotic space (The Working Sheet). The Working Sheet document was a mainstay in my dissertation writing folder and I will likely use this method again when I encounter chaotic writing drafts for large pieces of work.

What do you do with a chaotic writing draft? Will you try the Working Sheet out? Do you have a similar method? Let me know in the comments below! 

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Smiti Nathan

I’m an archaeologist that travels around the world for both work and pleasure. I have a penchant for exploring ancient and modern places and the people, plants, and foods entangled in them. I write about archaeology, travel, and productivity.



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