A Writing Process Makes Your Writing Better
When I was in sixth grade, I wrote my first term paper. It was a research paper (on ghosts, in case you were wondering), and my class spent several months on it.
This wasn’t like the book reports and other, shorter papers we had written. The requirements included a number of short assignments that led to the big climax: a lengthy, fully researched and annotated essay.
We had to read The Elements of Style. Then, we conducted research on our topic and turned in a bibliography (a list of works to be cited). We wrote notes from our research materials on index cards and turned those in. Next, we wrote outlines. After that came the rough drafts. Finally, we turned in the final, polished copy.
This was before every household had a computer and before any household had the Internet. So it was all done by hand. I’m sure some of my classmates found it tedious or boring but I enjoyed the assignment, although it wasn’t until years later that I fully appreciated the gift (and it was just one of many) that my sixth grade teachers had given me: a writing process.
Better writing doesn’t happen spontaneously. We have to work at it. Years after I wrote that paper in sixth grade, in a college course on composition, I had to do a similar assignment. There weren’t as many steps, but I did have to write an annotated bibliography, an outline, a rough draft, and a final draft. I realized that each of these steps made the entire writing process smoother and easier.
Since that first term paper, I had attacked most of my writing assignments haphazardly, in a disorganized manner, and usually a day or two before they were due. When I was required, once again, to go through all the steps and when I realized how much better my writing experience and finished paper were, I decided to pay a little more attention to my writing process.
By then, I was old enough to know that I was becoming a writer. I didn’t know where my writing path would lead, but I knew that I wanted to write, to always write. That meant I needed to start applying what I was learning about writing and using it to make my writing better. I needed to think about my writing process and figure out how I could improve it.
Finding Your Best Writing Process
Based on everything I’ve heard from all the writers I’ve encountered, we each have our own writing process. Some of us use note cards and outlines. Others use mind maps and storyboards. Some need a detailed plan while others prefer discovery writing. Some edit as they go; others polish after they’ve unscrambled all their ideas.
One thing does seem to be consistent — successful writers are acutely aware of their writing processes.
One of my favorite podcasts, which is aptly called Writers on Writing, features interviews with published authors (there are also tons of great interviews with agents, editors, and other professionals in the literary world). One of the most common questions that the authors are asked is what is your writing process? Interestingly, they all have solid answers. Different, but solid.
What’s Your Writing Process?
From everything I’ve learned by watching and listening to other writers and from my own experiences, I’ve learned that understanding and honing your own process is instrumental to developing better writing. Before I ask you tell me about your writing process, I thought I’d tell you a bit about my own.
As it turns out, I don’t have one writing process. I have different processes for different types of projects:
- When I’m writing blog posts, I type out a simple outline with the main points I want to cover. I edit each paragraph as I write, unless I’m on a fast roll. I proofread several times.
- For fiction, I like to sketch the characters and develop the setting. I identify major milestones in my story and then I use discovery writing to let the tale unfold organically.
- For copywriting projects, I create a file of research notes, compile an outline and fill it with details, flesh out a rough draft, rewrite, edit several times, then proofread several times.
- For my first nonfiction book, 101 Creative Writing Exercises, I started with a simple outline, then I used notecards to outline each chapter. I wrote then rewrote each chapter, then edited the entire manuscript a few times. Finally, I proofread it multiple times both on screen and in print.
- With poems (oh how I love writing poems), I just write. When I’m ready (or rather, when the poem is ready), I revise and polish.
Now tell us about your writing process. Do you have one? Have you ever thought about it? Do you think that a clear, coherent process would help you produce better writing? Leave a comment and let’s talk about it.