For this installment of Literary Fridays I’m covering the writing process. Forever I’ll be grateful to David Jolliffe, a favorite, challenging grad school professor. His Composition Theory course successfully afforded its students with a profound understanding of their individual writing styles. The course was as difficult as any calculus class I’d ever taken. Its metacognitive content incorporated writing about writing about writing (yes, I did intentionally write that thrice). Honestly, it was such a bloody difficult course that I could no longer write what I was thinking; I turned somehow to repeatedly drawing a symbol everywhere. Once I interpreted that symbol, I had the blimmin’ thing tattooed on my thigh! From the course, however, I discovered that three major stages comprise my writing process: prewriting, writing, and editing.
Prewriting. This phase begins with an idea. Writers are inherently observant. A mere sight, sound, smell, or thought can trigger an idea. It’s as if I have antennae that capture this nugget, which I marinate in the prewriting phase. My mind starts building upon this nugget in layers, stringing words along it, a tone, a format. Does this growing feeling manifest as a poem, an essay, a book, an article, a blog post? I start by brainstorming thoughts and feelings, sometime in snippets, sometimes in full-blown prose. I gather information I believe necessary for the piece, determine a likely length, its audience. Toward the end, usually with pages of notes at hand, I devise an outline. (Outlines have become an imperative part of each piece I write, thanks to the focus gleaned through experience and maturity.)
For instance, I realized about the time of grad school that writing in composition books was losing its luster. I watched my life taking a direction that defied my penchant for Italian stationary. Instead I began composing virtually everything by computer and watched stationary I’d purchased in Florence collect dust. Because I cared so much about the quality of paper and pens, this had a heartening effect. The more I wrote with blind composition, the more I realized this piece wanted to be a poem, one told from the perspective of paper that felt its impending obsolescence. I later entitled the poem “86-pound Weight.”
Writing. At this point I write a very simple outline atop the page of my actual composition. I know it will likely change. From this outline I may determine more information is needed. I do more research, talk to sources, begin stringing words, phrases, and larger parts together. I write at length to determine how I feel and think about the topic. This is an essential time to put down thoughts and research through blind composition, failing to derail the piece by worrying about punctuation and misspelled words, emptying myself into the piece. Generating more content determines how to order the major components of the piece, keeping the outline in mind.
Here “86-pound Weight” kept growing and growing. Paper became personified with a feminine voice. She seemed to think that the more she talked, the more she could thwart her fate. The damned thing became epic. It grew to pages and pages like I was competing with a Homerian classic.
Editing. All good writers know this alone is a multi-stage process. This is the time to ensure that my notes about tone, audience, and other elements are present. Is all the info there? I read the piece to find where sentences and grafs should break. Did I shift from third to first person or verb tenses? Are words spelled correctly, punctuation placed properly? Finally, I read the piece aloud. We hear things differently than we read them. This part of the editing process helps us get closer to the reader’s perspective. It will reveal run-on sentences or erroneous syntax or grammar. Afterward, get away from the piece. The longer the piece, the more time is necessary to remove yourself from it. This aids exponentially in clearing our ears, mind, and eyes from mistakes we might otherwise overlook. There are most always tiny or sometimes glaring errors found after returning to a piece renewed.
Here, “86-pound Weight” shed some of her heft. Her length still wouldn’t likely be published in a traditional literary publication, but it lightened up enough to at least make more sense.
Every writer has an individual writing process.
Professional writer and writing coach Ali Luke says writes well on the subject of the writing process on her blog, Aliventures.
The benefits of discovering your writing process is multi-fold. It grants structure to your work. It also reveals problems that may plague your work. For both of these, I am eternally grateful. I’ve discovered especially more purpose in the writing process stages as I’ve written longer and longer piece, such as a travel book I’m working on. May you too find pleasure in discovering your own process.
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