As I said in my last post, if you want to see how well you write, you have to disentangle your writing competence from your knowledge competence. You do this by picking something to write about that you know well. Decide to define a concept, describe a fact, or tell a story that is familiar to you. Make this decision the day before in the form of a simple declarative sentence you know to be true. Then get up the next morning resolved to compose the best paragraph you can muster within 18 or 27 minutes. The time limit is important because you want to set yourself a goal within reasonable limits. The whole point is to appreciate your finitude and then set about expanding your domain of mastery.
Start on time. That is, start at exactly the time you said you would when you made the decision the day before. If you said 9:00 start at 9:00, not a few minutes early or late; then keep at it until 9:18 or 9:27, not whenever you feel you’re done. Produce the best paragraph of prose you’re capable of within the time limit you have set yourself.
Think of your reader, a knowledgeable peer. Ask yourself what difficulty the key sentence poses for them. Do they find it hard to believe, or to understand, or to agree with? Support, elaborate or defend accordingly. (You might want to consider the case of the elephant in the lobby, perhaps also the fourth difficulty.) Spend the first half of your session writing as many sentences as you can. Then spend the rest making them sharper, more precise. You want to end up with at least six sentences and at most two-hundred words. Three or four minutes from the end, read your paragraph out loud, fixing minor mistakes as you go. When the time is up, stop.
Make a little note of how you feel, but don’t evaluate the product. Take a three minute break and get on with your day. Put the paragraph out of your mind for at least a day. Then give yourself nine minutes to look at it carefully. Read it out load again. Mark any errors of style or grammar or reasoning. Ask yourself whether it supports, elaborates or defends your key sentence as well as you had hoped. Don’t overthink this. Confine the experience of self-criticism to those nine-minutes. When you’re done compare it the feeling you had when you finished writing. (It’s good to test the accuracy of that emotional response.) Then take a one minute break and, once again, get on with your day. Repeat this whole process — of deciding what to write at the end of the day, writing it the next day, and critiquing it a day after that — a few times. You are facing the difficulty of writing from the center of your strength. You will learn something about how to improve. But also remember to enjoy it.