by Laura Yeager
myth is that novels and stories just appear one day in finished
form. The reality is that they take time. Most writers go through a
process of pre-writing, writing and revising to produce wonderful
products. Let's look at the WRITING PROCESS.
Pre-writing is everything a writer does before he actually writes
the first draft. This may include numerous pre-writing rituals
involving writer tools, writing locations, writing times and various
writing activities (such as eating, drinking or listening to music.)
These PRE-WRITING RITUALS are highly idiosyncratic. Some have the
feel of magic; lucky charms are often touched or rubbed. There are
no right or wrong pre-writing rituals; the only thing that matters
is that they help the writer write his first draft.
Pre-writing might also consist of brainstorming, list making,
outline creation or plain old drawing or doodling. Writers might
like to discuss their future creations with others.
This stage is the period in which the writer composes his first
draft. Below are some tips for this stage of the writing process:
1. Write quickly, not stopping to be too critical of what you're
2. Leave spaces for information you don't have at the moment. You
can get this information later.
3. Don't question what comes out; write it down even if it seems
stupid. These "stupid" parts may connect to something you haven't
even realized yet.
4. Don't worry too much about spelling and grammar. You can fix
these things later.
5. Take short breaks. Oftentimes, ideas come together when you're,
say, fixing yourself some coffee, or when you're not focusing on
story issues directly.
6. Try to do a whole section of the piece in one sitting. It may be
a chapter of a novel or a section of a story or the whole story.
This ensures continuity and ease in the writing.
Rewriting is what happens after writing the first draft. Rewriting
for me consists of ADDING more to what's there, TAKING AWAY some
when there's too much and ENHANCING what's already there. Rewriting
is also the time that I work on pulling out the THEME, figuring out
what's really going on in the story and then tweaking the work until
what's at stake is clear. This is often accomplished by KEY WORD
REPETITION. Sometimes, rewriting is just making things more
specific. Unclear pronoun reference is fixed by adding the more
specific nouns. Sometimes, rewriting is taking out too many
adjectives and adverbs. Rewriting may involve a trusted reader who
puts in her two cents. Below are some tips for REWRITING:
1. Wait a while before you rewrite.
2. At some point, read the draft aloud to be sure it "sounds" right.
3. Save drafts. You may decide the old way was better.
4. Use a spell checker and, if needed, a grammar checker.
5. Don't send a piece out too soon. WAIT as long as possible.
6. Be sure to proofread and perfect the prose.
7. Buy a good dictionary, thesaurus and grammar handbook.
Sometimes, a writer simply can't write. There may be many reasons
for this. You may be tired, or maybe you're being too much of a
perfectionist. Most experts on WRITER'S BLOCK say that if you can
just get yourself writing anything on any subject, you should be
able to get over the block. Allow what you write to be terrible. You
can fix it later. Just put the pen to paper or put your fingers on
your keyboard and write anything in an uncritical state of mind
(brainstorming). And if nothing comes, it may be possible that
you're "written out," in which case, you need to recharge your
battery. Take some time to collect more ideas. Journalize. Read. Go
to a play.
The writing process is not really mysterious. It's reassuring. And
only you can discover how your process goes.
Below are a few story ideas to get you started when you're stalled.
They were given to the students of my writers' class taught by Allan
Gurganus, in Iowa City, years ago. I've kept them since then, and I
believe they may jump-start you when you're blocked:
Write a comic story about a funeral.
Write a tragic story about a wedding.
Write a story about an angel visitation or a visit from God.
Write a story about a person who must spend at least one winter
Write a story in the voice of a person of the opposite sex.
Write a story about an obsession.
Write a story in the form of a found journal or diary.
Write a story in which a character leaves a place and comes back to
the same place in an altered condition.
Write, if you are a homosexual, a heterosexual love story, or vice
Write a story that occurs only on the job.
Write a story about an act of prediction and its consequences.
Write a story called "The Happiest I've Been."
Write a ten-page story that takes one character from birth to death
Write a story about a person missing one of their five senses.
Write a complex story in the voice of someone who's mildly retarded.
The Exception to the Rule
There are isolated times in a writer's life when he writes a piece
and gets EVERYTHING right the first time around; i.e. no pre-writing
or rewriting needs to be done. The work is perfect, born whole and
healthy. These occurrences should be taken as the exception, not the
rule. We can only PRAY for perfect products that don't involve much
process. But until they drop down from above, we're stuck with THE
Long may it live.
Laura Yeager writes literary fiction and nonfiction for many kinds
of markets. Her nonfiction frequently appears in The Writer
Magazine, bp Magazine, and at authormagazine.org. She also works as
a professional blogger and speechwriter. She teaches online fiction
writing at Gotham Writers' Workshop. Laura is currently looking for
an agent for a middle-grade novel series.