Whether you know it or not, there’s a process to writing – which many writers follow naturally.
I’m going to explain what each stage of the writing process involves, and I’ll offer some tips for each section that will help out if you’re still feeling stuck!
Have you ever sat staring at a blank piece of paper or a blank document on your computer screen? You might have skipped the vital first stage of the writing process: prewriting. This covers everything you do before starting your rough draft. As a minimum, prewriting means coming up with an idea!
Ideas and Inspiration
Ideas are all around you. If you want to write but you don’t have any ideas, try:
- Using a writing prompt to get you started.
- Writing about incidents from your daily life, or childhood.
- Keeping a notebook of ideas – jotting down those thoughts that occur throughout the day.
- Creating a vivid character, and then writing about him/her.
Building on Your Idea
These are a couple of popular methods you can use to add flesh to the bones of your idea:
- Free writing: Open a new document or start a new page, and write everything that comes into your head about your chosen topic. Don’t stop to edit, even if you make mistakes.
- Brainstorming: Write the idea or topic in the center of your page. Jot down ideas that arise from it – sub-topics or directions you could take with the article.
Once you’ve done one or both of these, you need to select what’s going into your first draft.
Planning and Structure
Some pieces of writing will require more planning than others. Typically, longer pieces and academic papers need a lot of thought at this stage.
First, decide which ideas you’ll use. During your free writing and brainstorming, you’ll have come up with lots of thoughts. Some belong in this piece of writing: others can be kept for another time.
Then, decide how to order those ideas. Try to have a logical progression.
Sit down with your plan beside you, and start your first draft (also known as the rough draft or rough copy). At this stage, don’t think about word-count, grammar, spelling and punctuation. Don’t worry if you’ve gone off-topic, or if some sections of your plan don’t fit too well.
Some things that many writers find helpful when working on the first draft include:
- Setting aside at least thirty minutes to concentrate: it’s hard to establish a writing flow if you’re just snatching a few minutes here and there.
- Going somewhere without interruptions: a library or coffee shop can work well, if you don’t have anywhere quiet to write at home.
- Switching off distracting programs: if you write your first draft onto a computer, you might find that turning off your Internet connection does wonders for your concentration levels!
You might write several drafts. Your subsequent drafts will probably merge elements of the writing stage and the revising stage.
Revising your work is about making “big picture” changes. You might remove whole sections, rewrite entire paragraphs, and add in information which you’ve realized the reader will need.
The revision stage is sometimes summed up with the A.R.R.R. (Adding, Rearranging, Removing, Replacing) approach:
What else does the reader need to know? If you haven’t met the required word-count, what areas could you expand on?
Even when you’ve planned your piece, sections may need rearranging. Perhaps as you wrote your essay, you found that the argument would flow better if you reordered your paragraphs.
Sometimes, one of your ideas doesn’t work out. Perhaps you’ve gone over the word count, and you need to take out a few paragraphs.
Would more vivid details help bring your piece to life? If a particular paragraph isn’t working, try rewriting it.
The editing stage is distinct from revision, and needs to be done after revising. Editing involves the close-up view of individual sentences and words. It needs to be done after you’ve made revisions on a big scale.
When editing, go through your piece line by line, and make sure that each sentence, phrase and word is as strong as possible. Some things to check for are:
- Have you used the same word too many times in one sentence or paragraph? Use a thesaurus to find alternatives.
- Are any of your sentences hard to understand? Rewrite them to make your thoughts clear.
- Which words could you cut to make a sentence stronger? Words like “just” “quite”, “very”, “really” and “generally”
- Are your sentences grammatically correct? Keep a careful look out for problems like subject-verb agreement and staying consistent in your use of the past, present or future tense.
- Is everything spelt correctly? Don’t trust your spell-checker – it won’t pick up every mistake. Proofread as many times as necessary.
- Have you used punctuation marks correctly? Commas often cause difficulties. You might want to check out the Daily Writing Tips articles onpunctuation.
The final step of the writing process is publishing. This means different things depending on the piece you’re working on.