ENGL 101
English Composition I
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The Writing Process - Invention - Organization - Drafting - Revision - Editing - Writer's Block - Non-Linear Process

The Writing Process is the method by which every writer takes their ideas and words from their heads and puts them down on paper. Many writers think that writing is some sort of mystical, half-understood process that just happens. Some people can do it easily, while most struggle and suffer through it. The truth is that writing can become easier for EVERYONE if they simply understand WHAT they are doing when they sit down to write.

Most people, at least up through my generation, were taught to write with the sink or swim method: the teacher taught grammar and punctuation, had the students read some well-written examples, and then simply told the students to write. The writer was expected to figure out how the parts all fit together and became his/her ideas on that paper reading as nicely as the well-written examples. Not surprisingly, most writers don't learn very well with this method, and they begin to learn the lesson that they are bad writers, that writing is simply a skill that they don't have. That's simply not true. Writing is simply a skill that most writers haven't actually been taught.

Every piece of writing is accomplished using the same 5 step process. Some writers emphasize one step over the others, but they all use these same 5 steps:

Understanding what each of these 5 steps is and what each one brings to the writing process is essential if the writer want to become a better writer. top of page

Invention simply means coming up with the content, the ideas that you are going to write. Every writer begins with a blank piece of paper or an empty screen. The writers who appear to be able to fill that emptiness quickly are actually the writers who have already begun the writing process before they sit down to write. There's no magic to the process, just work and thought. Before you can write anything, you have to think about your topic (or even find a topic to think about). A writer needs to determine what s/he knows or how s/he feels about the topic at the time of writing. Don't worry about how you used to feel about the topic, or what you might feel in the future. Each piece of writing is a record of the here and now, and you should focus on the here and now. Force yourself to really think about the subject. Don't stick with the cliche or the stereotypical answer. Your readers want to know what YOU have to say. If they wanted the standard, typical answer, they could get that anywhere. They want YOUR perspective and views on the subject. top of page

Organization is the next step after you've determined what you have to say. It's not enough to have good ideas if the reader can't understand what you are trying to say. Rambling, incoherent writing is often full of interesting ideas that the writer simply didn't organize. At the very least, the writer needs to have a clear introduction and conclusion that focus the reader properly. The introduction should give the necessary background on the topic/subject and make it very clear what subject of the essay is going to be. The introduction DOES NOT have to include the thesis or a step-by-step guide to the argument in the body paragraphs. The Conclusion, on the other hand, SHOULD include a clear statement of the thesis. By the time the reader reaches the conclusion, you want to make sure that they see how your main arguments all fit together, as well as the thesis that they fit together into.

Organization of the body paragraphs mainly consists of identifying the sub-arguments, making sure that each one is a coherent and fully explained paragraph/series of paragraphs, and putting them in the proper order so that the build on one another to create your overall argument. This sounds more complicated than it is. The writer should understand how his/her arguments fit together. It's the readers who don't. Taking a few minutes and looking at the essay and its arguments from the perspective of the reader rather than the writer will help make sure that the essay communicates what it is supposed to communicate. Thinking of the essay in terms of how the information fits together almost always makes for a better writing experience as well. When the writer doesn't have to organize while trying to write, s/he can write more efficiently. The writer DOES NOT have to produce a formal outline in order to organize their ideas. However, the writer will want to write down their organization ideas in some form so that they are not forgotten or easily ignored in the next step. top of page

Drafting is the actual physical act of writing, whether that be using a pen/pencil, typewriter or word processor. Most writers confuse drafting with the concept of writing, but drafting is just a single step. In fact, if the writer understands and is in control of the writing process, it's often the easiest step. After all, you've already thought of and organized the ideas, now the writer just has to put them down on paper. The writer should check the organization plan that was created in the last step. Each paragraph should focus on and develop one of the elements organized and invented before drafting. This is a good time for most writers to take advantage of the fact that their oral communication skills are more practiced than their written communication skills. Talk out loud to yourself. Think about what you are trying to say, say it out loud, and invariably what you say will be the sentence you want to write. You will probably have to adjust a little bit in the next few steps, but you should be 80% or more there. The key to the drafting stage of the writing process is that you are producing a product. You are getting words on the page. The essay isn't just in your head anymore or in some vague notes or outlines. top of page

Revision is a difficult concept for many writers. Revising should be thought of as re-visioning, or re-thinking your draft. After the drafting stage, you have an essay, or at least something that looks like an essay. Revision is where you make sure that it is the best you can do at this time. The Revision stage consists of going back over every single decision that you made while inventing, organizing and drafting, and making sure that they were the right decisions. EVERYTHING needs to be questioned and changed if necessary. Since most writers don't like or feel comfortable with writing, they don't trust their own judgment about the quality of writing. At the same time, they are also readers, and they know what makes sense and what doesn't. The trick to revision is to give yourself time and to be objective. Few, if any, writers can accurately or efficiently revise right away after finishing a draft. There needs to be some downtime so that a level of objectivity can develop. Once the writer can be objective, then they can go back and begin the revision process.

The key to understanding the revision process is to understand that just because something CAN be changed doesn't mean that it SHOULD be changed. The vast majority of what was said in the original draft is what should still be said in the final draft. Revision is about cleaning up and clarifying. Revision is about realizing that you didn't define a term the first time you used it, or that those two sentences work better if you reverse them. Revision is about realizing that your last body paragraph is actually the background information that should go in the first body paragraph. Revision is not about the small stuff; it's about the big stuff. top of page

Editing is about the small stuff. Editing is what most people think revision is. Editing is going through and polishing the essay up so that it's fit for company. Editing is worrying about grammar and punctuation and spelling and margin lengths. EVERY step of the writing process before editing is for the writer only. Editing is what makes the essay ready for the public, for the reader. Each writer has certain problem areas that they will need to focus on in the editing stage. Some writers have spelling problems, some have verb tense problems, while others might write too many fragments. Each writer has to learn what her/his problems are and come up with solutions for those problems. A writer shouldn't spend a lot of time editing for problems they don't have. top of page

Most writers who have Writers Block think they have problems with the drafting stage, "I just can't get the words on the page!" However, they really have problems with understanding the different steps of the process. Trying to come up with ideas, organize, draft, revise and edit your ideas all at once is simply too much for most brains. They freeze and nothing happens. If the writer slows down a little and takes the process step by step, they find that writer's block almost never happens. top of page

This is not to say that writing is a strictly linear process. I have presented it here in a straight chronological order because that's the easiest way to present it. However, writing is actually a recursive process. While the writer is organizing, they are also revising, adding ideas, tossing others away. While drafting, most writers are also engaging in certain amounts of editing and revision as well (Not too much or drafting becomes too difficult, but it still happens). The key is to understand that while the writer might be doing several stages at the same time, ONE stage is always dominant. Writers who understand that and can prioritize become writers in control of the process. Writers who can't prioritize the stages get writer's block and end up producing material that doesn't communicate very clearly. top of page