The Writing Process: A Practical Walkthrough
February 23rd, 2008
Good writing, like many things in life, requires hard work and dedication. A person could possess an enormous vocabulary, have perfect spelling, and know every grammatical rule in the book. But if that person is unwilling to put in the necessary time and effort, he or she will be unable to produce much material, let alone anything of high quality.
In this article, I'm going to share various strategies that have worked for me in producing my articles and stories. By taking you through the entire writing process that goes into almost every piece posted on this website, I hope to show exactly how much work and effort is often required to produce a quality piece of writing. However, it is important to remember that what works for one person does not necessarily work for another. If you are serious about writing, it is essential that you learn about as many writing techniques and strategies as possible and try them out for yourself in order to discover what works best for you.
I’ve broken down my writing process into three basic parts and have provided tips for completing each.
Part I: Coming up with Ideas
Every great piece of content, regardless of its medium, begins with an idea. An idea can take many forms, such as an image in your mind, an opinion you are passionate about, or a funny story you thought of.
Sometimes, you can get lucky and receive an idea seemingly out of nowhere. But for every other time, you need to take the initiative and actively pursue ideas within your mind. Thinking creatively isn't always easy to do, but there is a bright side. This happens to be the most convenient part of the writing process, since you can use your mind anywhere. Whether you’re at work, at school, watching TV, or laying in bed in the middle of the night, you can brainstorm and generate ideas whenever and wherever you like.
2.) Immerse yourself in the world as much as possible
The more knowledge and experience that you gather from the world, the more writing material you will be able to generate. This includes common tasks such as mingling with people at parties and keeping up with current events. For example, that uptight librarian you met at a recent social gathering could provide the inspiration for a brand new fictional character. Also, if you wish to write commentary about relevant social issues, you must first keep up to date about how those issues are being covered in the news.
3.) Be prepared to record every idea
You never know when a good idea may strike, so you should always be ready to write it down for future use. Try to keep yourself close to writing supplies at all times. For example, you could keep a small notebook in your glove compartment.
Seriously, always be prepared.
Part II: Fleshing It Out
Possessing what you believe to be a great idea is an accomplishment in itself, but that is only the beginning. Now comes the actual writing where you craft your idea into an article or story that others will want to read.
1.) Cut off all worldly distractions
Immersing yourself in the world is great for coming up with ideas, but bad for fleshing them out. Developing an idea requires concentration and all the worries, concerns, and interests of the world will only detract from your ability to concentrate. You must do everything you can to block out as much of this as possible while writing. Then and only then can you give your writing the focus and attention that it deserves.
2.) Consider writing the first draft with pen and paper
Many consider the paper notebook to be old-fashioned in this age of computers, but they still hold several important advantages over their electronic competitors. First, they are far more convenient for jotting down quick notes. Opening up a notebook takes less time than booting up a computer and opening up the appropriate word processing application. Second, they are more portable than even the lightest of laptops. Third, they allow you to write in the most comfortable positions possible. Writing while laying in bed is far easier with a paper notebook than with a laptop and there’s no annoying motor sounds to put up with.
This is part of the original draft of a short story I wrote called “Crazy Old Man’s Night Out”. The paper notebook was a convenient way for me to capture the basic vision of my story.
Part III: Revising + Editing
All too often, editing is overlooked by inexperienced or just plain lazy writers. Make no mistake about it, editing is just as important as the first two parts of the writing process.
1.) Transfer your notebook text to the computer screen
This is the final reason why I recommend doing first drafts by hand whenever possible. By copying your handwritten text into a word processing document, you force yourself to read your own writing back to yourself. As a result, you will end up editing your writing as you go along. Once you finish copying your text, you will now have your second draft, which in all likelihood, will already be a major improvement over the first.
2.) Print out a copy of your rough draft
A hardcopy of a writing piece will always be easier to read then the same piece on a computer screen. Remember, paper does not have a source of light that can wear out your eyes. Also, a hardcopy makes it easier to compare and contrast different sections of your piece since you will not have to deal with scrolling up and down the screen.
Here is a hardcopy of the second draft of the same short story. After I was finished writing revisions all over it, the story was much better than it was before.
3.) Walk away from your piece
Once you feel you are finished or close to being finished with your editing, temporarily stop working on your piece. Ideally, refrain from working on your piece for one night. Go ahead and “sleep on it,” as the old saying goes. This allows you to take a fresh look at your piece upon returning to it and increases the chances of discovering more errors to be fixed or generating other ideas on how to improve the piece.
4.) Get someone else to look at it
One major advantage that most professional writers enjoy is an editor who can quickly catch mistakes and make suggestions. If you happen to know an editor, then by all means, bug him or her until they agree to take a look at your piece. The rest of you, however, can do the next best thing and get an intelligent friend or family member whom you trust to read over your piece. In many cases, a new set of eyes can catch something that the original writer has continually overlooked for some reason. Afterwards, you, the writer can evaluate the other person’s suggestions and make changes accordingly.
5.) Read your piece one last time
When you are sure that your piece is finished, make it a point to read it one last time, just for the sake of thorough copyediting. Even when you are firmly convinced that your piece is as polished as it is going to get, there may still be one or two typos lurking that need to be caught and fixed, or you may have forgotten to place a comma somewhere. I admit, this step is borderline-tedious, but it’s worth it in the long run! Remember, you want your piece to be as good as it can possibly be.
6.) Never slack on editing
The fact that the editing section made up the largest portion of this article should give you one final indication of how important it truly is. Always make it a priority to edit.
Part IV: You’re Done!
Congratulations! You now have a piece of writing that is well polished and will be easy and (hopefully) amusing for others to read. Go celebrate and enjoy the fruits of your labor.
* Click here to view the completed "Crazy Old Man's Night Out" short story.
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