Every writer can benefit from a study of the effectiveness of their individual writing process. You can write more, and you can write better by making some adjustments to your writing strategy.
Recently one of my writer friends complained about their declining word output.
“I spend more time at the computer than I ever did before, and I’m just not producing like I used to,” she griped.
After spending a day in writing conferences coaching my struggling novice writers, my response came without conscious thought on my part: “Tell me about your writing process.”
“My what?” She asked.
I regularly coach my beginning writers about developing their own personal writing strategies or process. As a teacher of writing, I think about mine quite often. Still, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that experienced, professional writers rarely discuss this critical element.
What a mistake!
It is easy to understand why. Many of us are too busy writing to think too much about the actual process. We have deadlines to meet, assignments to pursue, and pitches to create. When we do spend time with other writers, our interactions typically fall into three categories–seeking admiration for our success, input for our end product, or escape from writing.
Many writers also take their writing process for granted and follow the old adage–if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But what happens when it does break down as it did with my friend? If you don’t understand your own writing process, then you can’t fix it. And just like many of the machines in your life, regular maintenance checks might prevent a major breakdown in the future.
My friend’s problem was easily identified and solved once we actually studied her writing process and writing life. Yes, she was spending more time in front of the computer, but she had lost a big chunk of her prewriting time due to changes in her home life. Once she understood that problem, she adjusted her schedule, and she is seeing her daily word count rise back to her old levels.
So how is your writing process?
Many writers shy away from the term as it brings back fearful memories of a rigid structure forced on them in school. That is not what I want to talk about at all. Frankly, I always teach my students that there is no such thing as the writing process.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe we each have our own individual writing process, I don’t believe in the one-size-fits-all type strategy that many writers were force-fed. Just think about it. How could there be just one writing process–every writer I know is an individual with various strengths and weaknesses, and personality traits. Every writer is wired differently from every other writer. That is one of the things that makes reading such a pleasure. It follows very logically, then, that every writing process should differ just as every writer differs.
Having said that, I should point out that although the actual shape and form of each writing process is individual to the unique writer, there are certain constants:
- Generating ideas and choosing a focus
- Organizing those ideas
The amount of time you spend on each stage of the writing process varies according to the writer and the task, and this is especially true for me. Many writing tasks are so familiar to me that I spend very little time choosing a focus or organizing my ideas so I can leap write into writing. On the other hand, I often generate four or more pages of fiction in about an hour at the computer because I spend a lot of time generating and organizing my ideas before I sit down.
I have spent years honing my personal writing process and know that the step I actually spend the least amount of time in writing. I have learned to let my creative juices flow and not to worry about such petty concerns as grammar, sentence structure, and word choice. I rarely waste a moment on organization or paragraphing. I just let the words flow through my fingertips until I have emptied my budget. Then I hit save and print, tidy up my papers, and set them aside.
Revision is usually the lion’s share of my writing process. It may take me two or three drafts to reorganize and shape a piece until I am willing to share it with others. Depending on how difficult and/or complex the subject then, I may need to loop back through brainstorming, organizing, and writing to improve my project. I may make a few minor adjustments to grammar or spelling, or sentence structure, but primarily I concentrate on the larger issues of focus and development, and organization.
When I am finally satisfied my article, chapter, or essay is working as a whole then, I begin the actual editing process of cleaning up word choice and sentence structure and any other stray problems that have been overlooked. I usually spend only one draft on this actual process.
If you are serious about improving your writing quality and productivity, then you need to spend time analyzing your personal writing process. You might be surprised by what you learn–and I know you can put the knowledge to good use.