Iceberg Ahead!: Understanding The Writing Process, Part 2

Last week, we started to build our writing process iceberg:

  1. Bam! You get an idea.
  2. Brainstorm your idea.
  3. Research and develop your idea.

In “Marital Differences in Style” on THE OCD DIARIES, my husband Bill responded to each of my steps with how he approaches the beginning stages of writing. Bill’s style is much looser than mine, his bull in a writing shop to my technician, but he still has a process, and it isn’t so far removed from mine. Today we continue our look at two writing processes and see how they compare. When you’re finished here, head over THE OCD DIARIES for Bill’s response.

4. Outline your idea.

Yes, I know, outlines are tedious. Outlines are what your sixth grade English teacher made you do for your essay assignment. At this point, though, you should have tons of notes on your idea. If you start writing now, you might quickly get lost in the process: Which idea is most important? What do you think about this point or that argument? What do I really think about what I’ve learned?

Writing this way works for some writers, but it can be painful. Somehow or other, you’ve got to organize your thoughts, and outlines are made to order. My favorite English professor in college taught us that if you have a good, detailed outline, your essay will write itself. This has proven true for me time and again.

Outline your main points and the evidence supporting it. If you’re writing fiction, outline the main story and basic plot. You’ll likely not use everything in your notes. That’s fine; this should be a paring down.

I’m pretty sure Bill would say he doesn’t use outlines. Writing one or more stories a day, you train yourself to organize your ideas quickly in your head. It may not be something he writes down, but you’d better believe he’s got some idea of how he’s going to tell his story before he starts writing it.

Be sure to review your outline. Play with the order of the details until you’ve got something that holds together. Add details as you go. Add quotes and their sources. Once you start crafting sentences, you don’t want to stop to run down a small fact or source.

5. Write your first draft.

If you’ve been following this process so far, you’ll actually be writing the fifth draft of your idea. See how far you’ve come in your writing already?

The more work you put into the first four steps, the easier this step will be. Again, you may not use everything in your outline. You may go back and grab something from your notes. You may discover a hole you hadn’t seen before, and do more research. All of that is fine. Writing can be circular sometimes.

For me, once I’m writing a draft, I try to write it all at once, making notes of where I need to go back if necessary. Everything’s fresh in my mind, ready to jump onto the page. This is where I get really irritated if I’m interrupted. Yet if I’ve got a good outline and I do have to break away from the writing, I’m fine. It might take me a little bit to reorient myself, but I’ve got the road map to get me where I’m going.

6. Read through and rewrite.

Don’t think that because you now have sentences and paragraphs that you’re done. If you can let your draft sit for a day or even an hour, do so. Taking a break will help you see your draft with fresh eyes.

Read through your draft, and then start rewriting. This is where the art comes is and is what most people think of as writing. Sharpen your focus, tighten copy, play with word choices, question whether you need a comma here or there, think about sentence breaks. Put your words into their best clothes, wash their faces, comb their hair.

How much should you rewrite? Until you’re satisfied with it or until you run out of time. Deadlines can be a great motivator for getting the work done, and they can also tell you when you’re done.

Although I’d like to write these posts a week or more in advance, giving me time to revise to my heart’s content, the fact is I usually write them, start to finish, the day before I post them. That leaves me little time for revisions, but when I stick to my process, I find that I create cleaner copy that needs less revising.

Writing is a lot of work, and what most people think of as writing is just a small part of it. If you go straight from the idea to rewriting, you’ll end up frustrated and with nothing to show for it. Dig in and do the work, and you’ll be much happier with the results.

Don’t forget to head over to THE OCD DIARIES to read Bill’s response to my writing process.

What’s your writing process? What do you find painful or pleasant? Let us know in the comments section below!

About Erin Brenner

With a BA and an MA in English, Erin has been an editing professional for 15 years, working on a variety of media, especially online. Her niche is business/marketing and online. In addition, she has experience teaching editing to non-editors and coaching writers. In 2008, Erin was bitten by the social media bug...hard. Follow her on Twitter, @ebrenner, and get a daily vocabulary word, a link to the article of the day, and much more. You can also find her on Facebook and LinkedIn.
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