Monday, August 18, 2008

Finding Your Writing Process

“One hasn’t become a writer until one has distilled writing into a habit, and that habit has been forced into an obsession. Writing has to be an obsession. It has to be something as organic, physiological and psychological as speaking or sleeping or eating.”—Niyi Osundare

Are you aware of your writing process? How does understanding the steps it takes from idea to final draft improve your writing? It is an efficient aid to
* Organize your ideas.
* Sidestep writer’s block and procrastination.
* Employ your writing time productively and creatively.

My Process
Idea: When a topic pops into my mind, I write it down. Often the idea ends up in my “Writing Ideas” file. When I feel dry, I enjoy flipping through my ideas to jump start creativity. Once I decide to pursue a certain topic, I move onto research.

Research: Research is how I brainstorm with myself. I enjoy exploring the idea, other people’s opinions, the target audience, and the publication. This includes googling the topic and buying books or magazines on the subject or checking them out from the library. I use amazon.com to buy used books. With the cost of gas, $3.99 shipping is a bargain. If I target a particular publishing house, I review their website and read the descriptions of the books they routinely publish.

For example, I’m writing a Bible study on the book of Esther. I’ve bought every scholarly book and commentary, plus books for the everyday person. First, I read the book of Esther myself, then note parts of the text that catch my interest or reveal fascinating, repeated ideas. I highlight out of the ordinary, generally unknown information, or statements or ideas that grab me in the scholarly and general books. Why write the same old yadda, yadda?

Organize: As I write, I keep all my research books at arm’s length and organize all my research into paper and computer files broken down by topic. Often my research overwhelms me, so I outline what to cover in the article or chapter. Sometimes this is the hardest part for me, finding the creative framework to drop in all my inspired thoughts, plus the supporting research. Once I’ve decided how to present the information, this pattern often reveals what research to leave out.

First Draft: I begin serious writing, following my outline, incorporating my ideas and research, plus keeping my target audience in mind. I try to give myself ample time to work on my article or chapter. I have a number of comfortable places where I write to avoid distractions. I focus, but also take breaks.

Re-vision: When I was a beginning writer, I felt emotionally chained to every word I wrote. Now I see every draft as evolving, subject to change. My critique group provides objective feedback. They help me re-vision, see the article or chapter from a fresh point of view. Besides reviewing the editorial mechanics, they ask me questions, “Tell me more,” or they help me sort out all the fascinating research by telling me things like, “You’re losing me here, Scoti. Put this information in a sidebar.”

Final Draft: I trust my critique group members and take their comments seriously. Writing a final draft is recursive—it often requires going back and forth between the previous steps. Revising involves changes such as clarifying a point, reorganizing paragraphs, deleting superfluous information, adding details, or strengthening the opening hook, subtitles, sidebars, or the final paragraph. Finally, I love a word count. It helps determine the most important ideas I want to present to the reader.


nd said...

My process is rather less structured. Research and outlining rarely make a significant impact before the first draft. First draft for me is the spilling of everything out from the mess that's in my head. It is invariably hand written and very much an elongated stream of consciousness. I rarely reference it as I move to the second draft - within which research is weaved as and where necessary. For me, being too prepared before the actual writing takes the adventure out of the journey!

I suppose this is a process, and one that took me quite some time to come to terms with as one so often reads about the "proper" way to reach a writing project's conclusion.

Scoti Springfield Domeij said...

I love research and have been dubbed a researchaholic. After doing the research, I let all the research compost ferment a while inside my head, then spill it out on the paper.