Creating a Writing Process

Posted: January 10, 2014 in Pedagogy, Writing Advice
Tags: ,

Sources

  • Help! For Writers (Roy Peter Clark)
  • The Old Editor Says (John E. McIntyre)
  • The Writing Life (Annie Dillard)
  • The Little Black Book of Writers’ Advice (Steven D. Price)

These are resources abound for writers in need of advice, encouragement, inspiration, and guidance. Typically these manuals provide tidbits and maxims for how to write, but rarely touch upon the process of the writing task. Writing is recursive. Putting words on a page is a repetitive action with three parts: envisioning, re-visioning, and editing.

Envisioning

Envisioning consists of brainstorming, which could be anything from making a list or outline, talking to a friend, free writing, doing research, mind-mapping, etc. The list for envision is extensive, but the point is to find a strategy that works for you. What prewriting task energizes you? Once you find, exercise that strategy over and over again until its use becomes easy and natural.

When first getting started, it’s important to remember these questions when considering the content you’re gathering.

  1. Is the information important?
  2. Is the information interesting?
  3. Does it support the focus of the piece?

For me, I envision what I’m going to write by taking a walk to the store or to the library, which gives me time to muse things over and play with words and phrases in my head. The beauty of this strategy is that I’m not cognizant that I’m prewriting until I return from my walk and put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. If I’m really stuck with coming up with a new topic to write about, I crack open a book. As Samuel Johnson advises,

The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading; in order to write, a man will turn over half a library to make a book.

 

Re-visioning

Re-visioning means sitting down and writing. There are onerous deadlines to be met. There are ideas to prune. Having a mission and steps to accomplish a daily writing goal is important. I like to use a spreadsheet or calendar to keep track of my progress (and food is an excellent motivator). Re-visioning takes time, so be sure you schedule a block of your day that way you are uninterrupted.  In the morning after a cup of coffee, in the afternoon after lunch, in the evening after the kids are asleep–the time could be any time; just as long as the writing gets done.

If you fear the blank page or struggle with coming up with the right words, be comforted by these authors’ words:

The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, brain surgery.~Robert Cormier

All the words I use in my stories can be found in the dictionary–it’s just a matter of arranging them in the right sentences.~W. Somerset Maugham

One easy way to get yourself motivated to create a draft is to write down ten  of your most important ideas and then narrow the ten down to five ideas and then cut the list down to three. Work on developing your top three that day, and you’ll be sure to feel productive. The next day create a 10-word lead, a 1-sentence summary, or a 6-word theme statement, for your chapter, introduction, conclusion, character sketch, or whatever you might have been working on the day before. This will allow you to revise as you write, which will make the next step in the process much easier.

Editing

Your writing at this stage should be ready to be pruned and polished. Your goal is to, as Matthew Arnold puts it, “have something to say and say it as clearly as you can. That is the only secret.” You’ll want to consider what your piece is really about, and what feeling you want to leave when the reader is finished. You can accomplish this via sensory details and rhetorical devices. Consider compressing your ideas for conciseness. You’ll keep your ideas, but say them in fewer words, which will eliminate awkward language and will devise a more active sentence structure. Also consider changing your beginning so you start in medias res (dropping the reader in the middle of the story) so the reader is instantly engaged. Capturing the reader’s attention is vital, but difficult. Annie Dillard claims the challenges comes from the simple fact that written word isn’t like experiencing life no matter how much verisimilitude it possesses. She states:

This writing that you do, that so thrills you, that so rocks and exhilarates you, as if you were dancing next to the band, is barely audible to anyone else. The reader’s ear must adjust down from loud life to the most subtle, imaginary sounds of the written word.

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