Writing is about more than just finished work. You don’t start an essay and then magically finish it. In fact, the “writing” started long before you began choosing words, and it will continue on long after, too.
Writing is as much about process as it is about a completed story or blog post. It’s about taking ideas and shaking them until the truth falls out. It’s about collecting facts, and transforming them into something fresh and new. It’s about shining up stories until they glimmer and dazzle in the light.
“Process is one of those things that in many parts of life I consider hopelessly boring and mind-numbing. LIke peeling the skins off raw tomatoes. Or scrubbing dirt from beets,” writes Ann Handley in Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content. “But in writing, process is necessary, because you need a road map to get you to where you need to be.”
For Handley, the writing process is a neatly scripted 12-step formula that she follows for almost everything she writes. She starts with a goal, reframes it for readers, and then find sources, organizes thoughts, produces a first draft, and so on until she arrives at the final step: Publish. Maybe your process is structured and linear like that?
Mine isn’t. If I had to describe my writing process, it would go something like this: idea, obsession, resources, chaos, more ideas, words, organization, more resources, more chaos, rewrite the words, edit, publish.
Could it be that your process is just as circular and messy as mine? If it’s working for you, great! But if something feels off, or if you just want to take your writing to the next level, maybe it’s time for a change. But that doesn’t mean you should scrap your whole process and start over.
See, any discussion about the writing process should be less about formulas and strategies and more about paying attention and handling with care, so you can celebrate what’s working and tweak what’s not.
Perhaps you need a better method for capturing ideas, or maybe you need to build in more time at the end for revision and editing. A lot of us would probably do well to remember Handley’s “The Ugly First Draft” phase, and not worry so much when our words aren’t hatched perfectly.
When we struggle to write or feel poised for improvement, recognizing our writing as a process and then working to identify the steps where breakdown occurs can help us make the changes we need.
“Having a big-picture view of the process … is useful,” Handley says. Now would be as good a time as any to take a look at your own.
For the next few weeks, I’m writing my Resources for Writers based on principles from Ann Handley’s Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content. If you’d like to read along with me, pick up a copy of Ann’s book at your local library or bookstore. Or, if you’d like to support what I do here, order a copy using my Amazon affiliate link.