Thursday, April 28, 2016

Writing Process

Is there a single most efficient way to write? Almost certainly not, but for each individual, there’s likely a more efficient way than what they’re currently doing. The following post will be primarily on my own writing process, but perhaps some of this may be relatable or instructive. My current process can be broken down into four common parts: choosing a topic, deliberating on that topic, writing, and editing.

Choosing a topic is something I might go into more detail on another day, but for now, the basics. My better ideas and “Aha” moments come into existence when I’m not trying so hard to think of a topic. That can be when I’m doing some low-effort task such as cooking, traveling, or any number of relaxation-based activities. Reading is particularly useful since it sometimes leads to what I’ll call the “I never thought of it like that” experience and subsequent questions that arise from it. Another way I come up with topics is through collaboration and discussion which has been the case for the last several posts.

Deliberation on a topic, unlike selecting one, is more productive when I actively focused on it. Otherwise, this step can easily take up long lengths of time. It tends to expand and contract in length between topic-discovery and, if I let it, the deadline. This doesn’t mean more thinking. It means the same amount of thinking spread out over a longer time period.

Writing begins when I’ve exhausted all possible excuses for delaying the process. I sit down in my desk chair, open up a new document rather than working directly in Blogger (Just a preference; I do the same for professional emails), and begin with the first body paragraph. I skip writing the introduction until later. If I run into an issue while writing, I make sure to mark the problematic section for later editing. Admittedly, I try to finish the rough draft as quickly as possible, but it’s not always a bad thing. When I work quickly, I become immersed. I become focused on what I’m writing. It’s when I sit back to smell the roses that my mind wanders off the task.

The editing process is where my work really starts to take shape. I reread the sections that I previously struggled with, I shift things around, I look for grammatical errors, and I take another look at the issues I’ve marked. Once I’ve taken care of these major issues, I go to the beginning and start reading. Every time I reach an issue, such as something that doesn’t flow very well or something that doesn’t work in the big picture, I change it. Then I reread the paragraph and make any more necessary changes. If I finish the paragraph without any more issues, I move on to the next one. When I finish the first run through the post, assuming I’ve made a few errors, I go back to the top of the post and start the whole process over. It’s not until I can read the entire piece without issue that I consider my work done. I honestly find this to be a tedious thing to do, especially for longer work, but it’s effective for me.

On the other hand, my ideal process can be broken down into five common parts: choosing a topic, deliberating on that topic, prewriting, writing, and editing.

I’m not entirely satisfied with my current writing strategy. It’s served me well through college, but now it’s time to find a better, more consistent way. You may have noticed that prewriting wasn’t included in my current process. In the past, I’ve utilized the tried-and-true outlining method countless times as often required for class essays. For something so common and obvious, you’d think I’d already be doing this for blogging. I’m not. At first glance, it doesn’t take much to explain why; four steps to my process is less than five.

Of course, that’s hardly a sufficient reason, but here’s the problem. In the past, when an assignment called for an outline, I would obviously do it and even overdo it. I’d format, underline, italicize, write in bold, and line up all the bullet points. I’d use all the recommended sections and follow essentially the right formula, but then I’d start the writing step and the whole process would fall apart. For me, outlines would end in only one of two ways: either I would end up ignoring my own outline throughout the writing process, or I would follow through but see negligible changes in quality and time spent. Perhaps the problem is that I haven’t committed enough to improving my prewriting skills. Eventually, proper prewriting will likely save time. It may make the five-step approach easier and faster than the four-step process.

I’m a little more okay with the other steps of my process. I’d like to further explore choosing a topic. The inclusion of prewriting may radically change my writing process, but I’m pretty comfortable with my editing process. A few tweaks might help, though.

As it turns out, my attempt at prewriting for this very blog post was, in a lot of ways, a failure. I fell into my first result category of outlining: prewriting occurred, but I had trouble utilizing my own outline once writing began. It wasn’t a total loss, though, because I stuck to certain elements of my outline. Therefore, next week, I am committing to prewriting.

I hope readers can identify with what I’ve written here and analyze their own process. Maybe it’s better than mine (in fact, I’m confident it is), but one of the things I’ve learned lately is that everything in life, not just writing, is a process. Regardless of where you’re at or where you started, you can always end up at a far higher level of performance through practice. That being said, I’ll try and update my writing strategy. It could use some work.

1 comment:

  1. Here are a few snips, followed by a longer comment.

    "This doesn’t mean more thinking. It means the same amount of thinking spread out over a longer time period." Why is that?

    I wonder why you think deliberating on a topic and prewriting are two different things.

    There is an Eisenhower quote that I like very much, which might help you in thinking about the prewriting.
    "In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable."

    Your process discussion didn't get at the fundamental question - is writing a rehash of thinking that happened before or is thinking happening right through the writing activity? You did talk about sometimes realizing that you never thought about it that way before, but you said that in reference to your reading. Does that ever happen with the writing as well?

    Writing where there is some discovery has to allow for that in the process. So it is worth asking, what might one do to facilitate coming up with something novel in the process? You talked about getting distracted and trying to block that out but not succeeding. Might the distractions actually be a way to find something new in your subject matter?

    An experiment to try, perhaps a few times to see if there is anything to it, is to try to chronicle your distractions as well writing on your topic. Then you might ask whether any connection can be made between the two, apart from the sense that you are procrastinating.

    If one goal is to build connections you need practice in doing that. You may not see the writing or prewriting in that way, but talking about connecting disjoint things perhaps make discovery more concrete. (The connection is what you discover.) If you haven't previously been conscious about trying that, then as with any new skill it will take practice to do it with some proficiency.

    Now let me take on your very first sentence, where you used the expression "efficient way to write." The phrase seems to bias the writing task in the direction of rehashing prior thinking. Efficiency then might mean - least time to produce an adequate discussion. I am not sure whether efficiency is a useful concept when talking about making discovery, but I fear that often the problem is to expect immediate results and not put in sufficient time to work through the ideas.

    When things are new to you, if you try to make conclusions, you will do so without fully understanding your subject. As things get more familiar it is easier to make connections because you can then begin to see possibilities. Part of the writing process then may be on making new ideas more familiar. Writing and reading then become parts of something bigger. Conversation may help here too. It would be good for you to think through your own process for familiarizing yourself with something new when done outside of a course setting. Then ask yourself whether that is like your process with writing.