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The process of writing

I wish I could tell you we’ve discovered some secret to making writing easy. We haven’t. Whenever you sit down to write, be ready for a challenge. Writing is hard work.

One reason writing is so difficult is that it involves different kinds of thinking. The only way to keep our little brains from overloading while writing is to break up the work into steps. In other words, we need to view writing as a process.

Even the world’s greatest writers didn’t wake up one morning with the words of a classic novel in their brains. The books of Shakespeare, Milton, Dickens and Hemingway came by hard work with lots of crumpled sheets filling the wastebasket and empty ink bottles scattered about the room. 

Wise writers break down the writing process into five steps:

Prewriting: Getting It Together

This step involves everything you do to prepare for writing.  Sometimes — and probably too often — prewriting consists of nothing more than thinking about what to write. Prewriting, however, can involve lots of different activities--everything from conducting an interview, doing library research, surfing the web, and studying literature, to watching a film. It might involve creating an outline or putting note cards in order. For less confident writers, it may also involve praying.

The idea is that most people write better if they take their time and prepare for it. Athletes stretch and warm up before hitting the field for competition. Muscles need this kind of preparation to avoid injury. The brain, remember, is a muscle too. If you don’t warm it up sufficiently before the strenuous thinking that writing demands, you might end up with a very painful brain cramp.

Okay, that’s not likely, but prewriting really can help relieve the tension that results from staring at a blank sheet of paper with a deadline approaching.

First Draft: Getting It Down

The second step is composing a first draft, sometimes called a “rough draft.” This can be difficult if you don’t keep the process in mind. Most of us want to get it right the first time. We have difficulty getting words out because we want them to sound perfect on the first try. But it’s better to get something out now and work on it again later. That’s why it’s called the first draft. 

At WriteAtHome we don’t mind really rough rough drafts.  Don’t worry about impressing your writing coach with your first effort. We’re always more pleased with a paper that improves dramatically from first to final draft than with a paper that looked pretty good in the beginning but doesn’t improve much upon revision. If you’ve had a hard time with an assignment, let us know. Make sure you give a good effort and follow instructions, but don’t be ashamed to turn in a first draft needing lots of work. That’s what writing as a process is all about.

Revision: Getting It Right

During the revision stage of the writing process, you ask the big questions: Does this paper accomplish its purpose? Is it clear? Is it coherent? Is it appropriate for its audience? Your writing coach will help you answer these questions. During the revision stage, look at the whole paper. Revising may require making big changes. You might alter your point of view or the tone of the paper. You might change the order of your paragraphs or eliminate some completely. You might add a whole new idea or change your mind about your conclusion.

None of these things is necessary, but a wise writer is willing to make whatever changes are needed to make his or her work more effective.

Proofreading & Final Draft: Getting It Perfect

Okay, nobody’s perfect, but in this fourth step, that’s at least what you’re aiming for. Proofreading is different from revision because you are confident that the paper is generally on target. At this point you go over it with a magnifying glass, looking for the little things that spoil an otherwise excellent piece of writing. Now is the time to check spelling, usage and mechanics. Proofreading is where you look for ways to tighten sloppy sentences or replace a barely acceptable word with exactly the right one.

The result of  conscientious proofreading is a final draft — the finished product.

Publishing: Getting it read

People often forget this, but writing is supposed to be for a reason. Of course when you are taking a writing class, the purpose tends to be only to impress your teacher. But learning to write should prepare you for writing effectively in the real world. One day you will write real things for real situations: A memo to folks in your office, a thank you note to your Aunt Zelda, a letter of complaint to a manufacturer, an essay to the college admissions office, and so on.

The publishing step of the writing process doesn’t necessarily mean your work ends up in the local paper or a national magazine, but simply that it gets to those it was written for.  

Wow, five steps. The writing process can sound intimidating. If following these steps looks like more work than you expected, you’ve misunderstood. Writing is already work, remember. Breaking it up into manageable steps is a way to make it simpler, easier, and in the end, more successful.