The Writing Process
Writing, the kind we want to read and share and read again, is not the essay that was written the night before or worse yet hours before it was due. Students often claim that is when they do their best writing . . . Ahem . . . well, thoughtful, expressive writing is a process that takes time since thinking and expressing your thoughts, and considering and developing your ideas takes time. Please keep in mind that writing is recursive, so one that does not necessarily follow the steps laid out below in a linear order, but may move from drafting to prewriting or revising, and back to drafting.
Rather than looking at writing as a dreadful act that inspires you to want to clean out your refrigerator, creating a solid writing process, one that takes time to move through, as all processes do, you may feel the dread fade because you will know which steps to take and understand how each step leads you to your final destination, a piece of writing that you want to share and even read, and maybe even, post on the front of your refrigerator.
Keep in mind, whatever discipline your major is in or the profession you choose, you will need to write, well. Communicating through writing does not go away at a certain point in life. So your ability to express your ideas clearly and to understand your audience, your purpose for writing, and your responsibilities as a writer will make writing more enjoyable not only for you as you write but also for your audience as they read your work.
Our overall goal for writing something—whether an essay, an email, a text message, a cover letter, or a proposal—is for our audience to read and understand it, and value us and our ideas. And if we are lucky, they will enjoy reading it.
Helpful Hints for Moving through Your Writing Process:
- Take breaks to avoid being overwhelmed and losing focus.
- Break each step down into smaller steps to complete over a few hours, days, or weeks, depending on how much time you have.
- Keep in mind the process is recursive so you may need to move back and forth between steps as you follow your writing process.
- Be open to new ideas and deeper understandings of the topic that you generate from working on your writing in steps.
“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”Louis L’Amour
Step One: Idea Generating
The first step, the biggest one is just getting started by collecting your ideas. How do you know what you will write if you do not know what you think? In this step, read through your notes, review your annotations about texts, examine the assignment by underlining, and make note of the task and expectations of the assignment; this allows you to understand the purpose for your writing. Consider who your audience (your professor, your peers, and you!) and your intended audience are for your assignment, which will help you determine what you need to share with them based on the assignment and their knowledge about the topic.
One way to break into your thoughts and/or opinion about a writing assignment is to turn the assignment task into a question. Then, answer that question; your answer will give you an idea about your ideas regarding the topic and maybe provide you with a tentative thesis statement.
“I think the hard work of writing is just how long a book is terrible before it’s good.”Leigh Bardugo
Step Two: Discovery Draft
In Bird by Bird by Bay Area writer Anne Lamott, she describes this draft as her “Shitty First Draft.” That’s right, published writers have a writing process when they write too and the first (few) drafts aren’t great. The secret to their success is that they keep working on their writing and they follow a process to get from the beginning through the middle and to the end.
For this step, use the information from step one, set a timer for 30 minutes, remove all distractions (the phone with the alarm on it?!) and write continuously. Keep writing even if you feel you run out of things to write or if each minute feels like an hour, write anything. Free yourself from concern of staying on topic or making sense. You are writing simply to discover, and this discovery will become the fodder for your paper. Your goal is to discover what you think about the topic and to begin to articulate your ideas in writing. As you write, do not concern yourself with mechanics, grammar, spelling, punctuation, or organization.
Step Three: Hunting for Treasure
Now, read through the assignment’s task and expectations, and with consideration of these, the rhetorical triangle, and the purpose of your essay, sift through your Discovery Draft to find the hidden bits of information that are valuable to you.
Keep in mind the TEA (Topic Sentence, Evidence, and Analysis) Paragraphing Structure to see if you can find those particular bits or get ideas from what you have written that might lead to these components. Mark them on your draft. Below are some things to consider:
- Where do you share your opinion about the topic? This could be a working thesis statement and/or topics for topic sentences. Or you might consider, from your Discovery Draft, what is the dominant impression you are giving your audience about the topic?
- What point do you want to make about the topic and share with your audience?
- Where do you share the reasons or evidence of your opinion? This information may be evidence or analysis or a combination of them.
- Are there questions you asked when writing and if so, what are your answers to them? Often we ask questions when are contemplating a topic, and if you answer the questions you pose, you might find some valuable and usable insights to the topic.
- Where do you specifically address the expectations of the assignment? Or does something you wrote give you an idea to expand upon?
As you are culling through your discovery draft looking for the gems that are valuable to you about the topic, jot down any new ideas that come to mind. From reading and working with our writing, we continue to see the topic from different perspectives, angles, and depths.
Step Four: Writing Plan
With the information you have collected from your Discovery Draft, you can organize it to create a writing plan. Think of this plan (the word for map in French) as the map to your essay that will guide you along your journey to completion. There are many types of writing plans, so find one that works for you or try a new one for different writing assignments.
Since your writing plan is the map of your essay, try to make it detailed enough so a peer would know the topics you will address in your essay and your overall stance on the topics. Including detailed evidence will help you see what support you have and need as you move to carve your path along completing the assignment. You will not get all of the information you need for your Writing Plan from your Discovery Draft, so create as you organize.
Helpful Hints that stem from the Rhetorical Triangle:
- Consider your purpose for the assignment. Why are you writing this paper? What is the task?
- Consider who is your intended audience. What do they know about the topic? What do they need to know about the topic?
- Consider your role as the writer. How will you show your opinion and ideas are valid? Consider how you would like to organize your topics and evidence and what order you will address each topic so to give your audience a clear understanding of how the topics support each other and in turn your thesis statement. How will you build your credibility in consideration of the topic and your intended audience?
At this point, do not worry yourself with your introduction or conclusion. If you have ideas for them or can pull information from your Discovery Draft that will address them, add that information to your writing plan. Otherwise, you may wait to determine what to include in your introduction and conclusion after you have drafted the body of your essay.
Keep in mind the examples of writing plans is not an exhaustive list and if you use a particular style of writing plan that is not listed and works for you, please use it. However, trying new types of writing plans for different writing assignments can be helpful to organize and develop your ideas. So why not give one or more a try this semester.