I just finished a set of conferences with my students which inspired me to write about the most important rule of writing — writing is a process.
So many difficulties struggling writers face occurring when they ignore this simple rule. Once you embrace the fact that writing is a process rather than an event, once you recognize that the more time you give the process to work the better, then not only will writing be easier you will also write better.
Writing is a process. While that process varies somewhat based on the task and the individual writer, the basic steps it includes are the same no matter what.
First is the initial brainstorming process.
No actual writing takes place in this step although there may be some note-taking or non-stop writing exercises. The more time you give yourself for this process then the easier the next step will be. Experiment with various forms of brainstorming and prewriting to determine which works best for you and your various writing tasks. What may work in one type of writing may not work as well with another. The more you experiment then the more likely you will find the optimum brainstorming process for you.
Second is the drafting process.
That first rough draft should be a quick and painless draft. Your main goal at this point is simply to capture the fruits of your brainstorming in one document. Just write until you have tapped your brain. Do not hold yourself back by rewriting, revising, or editing. Do not pause to worry about spelling, grammar, punctuation, or word choice. If you are conscious that you will need to fill in gaps then simply hit return twice (my usual technique) or write in all caps MORE LATER then move on. The important goal at this point is simply to capture your ideas in one place as quickly as possible. It does not have to be pretty and likely it will not be pretty, but it will be done.
Third is the revision process.
This should take more than one draft to accomplish. Again, do not spend time worrying about spelling, grammar, punctuation, revising, or editing. Fix the obvious errors that are distracting to you as you rework but that is not your main goal. Your main goal with this part of the process is to look at the big picture. Is your thesis clear and well supported? Are your ideas well organized and fully developed? Are there any gaps in the writing or logic? Do your ideas transition well from one to another?
Fourth is the editing process.
Now is the time to worry about spelling, grammar, punctuation, and word choice. Zoom in your focus from the big picture to the sentence and paragraph level. This effort may take one or more drafts to polish your writing to the desired level.
If you are creating a more in-depth project then you may also need to add a step between brainstorming and drafting that includes research and organization which would make the writing process include five steps.
The most important part of creating your own individual writing process is to let it evolve as your skill grows. The more you refine and polish your process then the better the work you produce. The key to developing a successful writing process is to give yourself time — time to let your process evolve and time to let your writing develop. This means not to rush the development of your writing process. Let it evolve over many different projects. This also means not to rush your actual writing. Allow days to pass between various stages and drafts. The more time you allow to pass then the more work your subconscious will do for you and the fresher eyes you will be able to bring to the project.
I promise that if you remember the most important rule of writing then you will improve as a writer. Developing your own individual creative process and giving it time to work will make you a better writer.