The Writing Process
by Laura Yeager
A famous 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 writing.
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 night outdoors.
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 versa.
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 quickly.
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 WRITING PROCESS.
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.