The Free Writer's Workshop Wednesday: The Writing Process

“I think that writers are made, not born or created out of dreams of childhood trauma—that becoming a writer (or a painter, actor, director, dancer, and so on) is a direct result of conscious will. Of course there has to be some talent involved, but talent is a dreadfully cheap commodity, cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work and study; a constant process of honing

Stephen King

Writing is a process. A series of steps and progressions that can be learned, developed, and crafted. To write well, all it takes is time, hard work, and knowledge of the process to develop your writing ability.

To understand that process let’s take a look at the steps of the writing process, and how you can best apply them.

Prewriting

The first step in the writing process is probably the most fun. In this step, you allow your mind to explore ideas and thoughts that you can turn into written pieces. Whether you’re writing fictions or nonfiction, a short story or a research paper, prewriting is a necessary tool.

First, identify the purpose of your writing, whether fiction or nonfiction. Writing a short story has a lot more freedom than a research paper, but both can be creative outlets.

Then, sit down with a notebook and start writing ideas down. Start asking questions about what you want to know, or who you want to write about. Thoughts about characters or plots, or questions about a certain historical event can be written down and thought through.

Journaling is a great way to prewrite. Explore topics, develop characters, or construct scenes through journaling. In the classroom, I often have my students journal. Sometime they get a crazy topic they have to write about, sometimes it’s more serious, but it allows their minds to get creative as they explore different ideas.

Researching

Next in the process is researching. Depending on the writing assignment or project, researching could take no more than a few minutes or up to a few weeks or even months.

For something like fiction, you need to research anything that enhances you’re story. Obviously, things like historical fiction will require quite a bit of research, and contemporary would need much less.

For a research paper or nonfiction article, research makes up a large bulk of the assignment. Find a system to take notes that works for you, keep track of your sources, and organize your research to help you construct your piece.

Drafting

If you properly did your research and prewriting, drafting can be simple. Of course, even great and published authors still struggle with writer’s block, so let me share some tips about drafting.

It doesn’t have to be good

You will fix it later. Just get it down. It it MUCH easier to revise and edit a terrible first draft then it is to create a beautiful and perfect first draft.

Don’t worry about spelling and grammar… yet

You will go back and fix all those little details later, but just get the draft down without worrying about little mistakes.

Leave yourself little notes

It is perfectly fine to notice, while you are drafting, that a certain paragraph needs more information or a certain scene needs sharpening. Leave yourself a note within brackets, e.g. [like this] to come back and fix the problem.

Revising

Unlike editing, revising does not look at all the grammar mistakes. Rather, revising takes a look at the writing piece as a whole. This is where you add more information, or delete paragraphs that have no reason to be there. This is rewriting a terrible sentence to sound better.

Things to look for when revising:

  • Organization: Does your writing progress in a thoughtful and organized way?
  • Flow: Does it transition well from thought to thought? Do you use a variety of sentences?
  • Tone: Does the “sound” of the paper match the purpose? (Formal for a research assignment or nonfiction article, conversational for dialogue, inquisitive for a science fiction story, etc…)
  • Clarity: Are your sentences clear or convoluted? Is your message easy to understand or messy?
  • Good writing: Do you use any literary devices to enhance your message? How is your word choice?
  • Character development: Are your character’s round and dynamic? Do they go through a process of change? Are they “real” with strengths and flaws?

Editing

Editing and proofreading is the step where you go through your piece with a fine-tooth comb and find all the little mistakes. Look at every comma, period, and apostrophe and make sure everything is used correctly. Check spelling. Don’t just use spell check! Sometimes you have correctly spelled a word, but used it’s homonym instead of the correct form.

In the publishing world, words are literally money. When magazines and journals are paying per word, they are going to want the clearest message possible. You need to thoroughly edit a piece of writing. Condense three paragraphs down to one. Be incredibly thoughtful and stingy with your words.

Publishing

Congratulations! Publishing is the final step in the writing process. After you’ve corrected any errors and made all changes, you print and submit your final, polished piece. Whether you’re handing in a paper for an assignment, sharing on a personal blog, or even submitting a story for publication in a magazine, publishing your piece is sharing it with others. It’s a scary step, but after all your hard work, it’s a rewarding feeling.

The writing process is a fantastic tool to learn and practice. Follow the steps of the process and you can learn to write well!

-Cathryn

(*Psst! Hey teachers! I have a great resource that takes this information and includes action steps to use in the classroom! You can find my ebook, The Writing Process here!)

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