Writing. We love it. We hate it. We have brilliant ideas. We get stuck. We get up to get a snack. We try to think for five minutes. We take a break to check Facebook. We wonder why we have been working for an hour only to have a blank screen to show for it?
Before we get into all the locks and keys of how to begin to write and how to write so people want to read what you write, let’s set the scene. Go grab a cup of coffee or your favorite snack. Make sure you have a clear working space, a good notebook, and perhaps a computer. Take a deep breath. Beginning always seems daunting, but once you get moving, you will feel much better.
Now, let’s take a look at this thing called the writing process. These five steps may be just what you need to get the ball rolling.
What do you typically do when you prepare to host a party or gathering? Do you go to the store and just start buying stuff? Some of us can do that and come home with just what we need. Done. For a lot of us, though, this is not so easy. Instead, we need to sit down and ask ourselves questions. How many people are coming? What am I making? What ingredients will I need to make that? What do the guests want to eat? Is there a theme? Have you done this? Do you feel better afterwards? Do you feel like you have a plan of attack after taking a few minutes to sketch out your plan?
Planning your writing is the same thing. A little pre-planning makes writing oh so much more approachable. Prewriting can include any of several activities including:
Jotting ideas in a notebook, on your computer, or on your phone (I have just started using Trello it is so convenient!)
Mind mapping (thinking of every possible idea related to a topic)
Scratching a preliminary outline of what you plan to write
Gathering ideas from various resources (texts, interviews, and / or research materials)
Give yourself time. Your complete writing process may take anywhere from a few minutes, such as for an email, to several months, such as in a novel or E-book. If you know your topic ahead of time, brainstorm over the course of a few days, a week, or longer. Keep your notebook with you, so you can write down ideas while you are waiting for a dentist appointment or making dinncer. put ideas into phone app while you are on the elliptical, etc. There is a great tool called Trello. I would like to write a post on this soon. It is an amazing resource, not just for writing but for any situation requiring organizing or planning.
Set a timer. You may have a limited time frame in which to complete your product. In this case, you can set a timer for two, five, or ten minutes. You will be surprised how much you can accomplish when you focus.
Steer free from censoring. Brainstorming is unedited. You will have plenty of time for that later. For now, pour out the ideas! Write whatever comes to your mind. (I am doing this as we speak). Censoring your ideas can cause frustration and possible writer’s block. Allowing your thoughts to flow, on the other hand, greases you engine and builds our confidence. Now, you have a platform from which to choose what to write.
Have fun. I got carried away planning favors for my wedding several years ago. I had a binder filled with clip outs from magazines and DIY websites. I tried making my own homemade heart-shaped maple sugar (it turned out big sandy colored globs, although it tasted delicious). I finally decided on homemade chocolate covered pretzels. This project added days and sleepless nights and infinite trips to Michaels to the preparation process, but that’s another story for another day! The process was so fun! When planning to write, as when planning anything, you will only pick some ideas to for your focus, but it is still enjoyable to entertain all of them. Think of the bank of growing ideas you will have for the next time.
Avoid skipping this step. It is tempting to skip this step. This is understandable, as it does take time you feel you could be writing. You just want to get the job done! Ironically, however, this step can save time later because now you have a pool of ideas to pick from, a place to start. It prevents the “I have nothing to say,” feeling that is all too familiar when you sit down to write. Typically brainstorming comes first, but order isn’t everything. The goal of pre-writing is to generate ideas. So, if your words are flowing and you are on a role, go with it. If you get to a sticky point later, stop to jot down a few words to get your restarted.
Paint the scene. You have an essay due tomorrow morning, and you are ready to tackle it. The computer desk is clear of clutter. A cup of steaming coffee is in your hands. All other chores are done. Nothing stands between you and getting this assignment done. You even have your outline ready. Here you go! There is a problem, though. You don’t know how to start the first sentence. You sit at the computer. You check Facebook. You take a break. You growl. Perhaps you panic. We have all had bouts of this writer’s block.
Luckily, the technology available today allows us to can rearrange, cut and paste, and erase unnecessary material. So, if you aren’t feeling the first sentence now, start where you have something to say. This is a draft. As with pre-writing, I am a big advocate of unedited and uncensored writing during this drafting phase. It is indeed rough. Later you can make all the changes.
Templates are useful tools during this stage. A template is a visual organizer you can use to help place you organize your ideas. You can find templates online or you can create your own. Here is a great place to start.
Imagine the stereotypical writer surrounded by wads of crumpled up paper, hands buried in his or her hair. Before the age of word processing and computers, drafting must have been a daunting task. People handwrote notes and rough drafts. Cross outs and scribbles marked up papers. The final draft had to be perfect, and if the writer made a mistake, he would have to start over again. Ugh!
When tasked with writing senior papers and college essays during my senior year of high school, this newer technology was right on the edge. I owned a combination word processor and type writer, which took three minutes per page to print. (I know this because when a final paper was due at noon, and I finished writing it at 11:50 with ten minutes to spare to run across campus, every minute was of the essence!) I could either word process on a three-inch screen, or I could type and change every.single.error with eraser tape. I had many an aggravating evening trying to perfect, and my final product rarely was perfect.
Today, we are fortunate to have the technology we have now to cut, paste, spell check, see how things look, and create fun designs. Revision can be fun! It is like interior decorating. You can try a look, and if you don’t like it, switch it around!
Play with sentence structure. How does your writing sound? Are your sentences smooth and cohesive? Are they choppy? Try combining sentences to add variety and complexity.
Organize your ideas. Put your ideas together. See where different pieces fit into place to make them most effective. Play around as much as you need until it has the vibe you are looking for. It’s kind of like a puzzle. You are looking for a logical sequence of events or ideas.
Tighten your sentences to make them more concise. Which evokes more emotion? “Boo!” or “I’m going to scare you.” Less is best when it comes to words. You can simplify by using strong active verbs and avoiding extraneous words. Trim the excess fat. I am a big culprit of throwing in a bunch of extra words that do nothing to add to my writing. I am constantly reducing when I revise.
Add transition words and phrases to help your paper flow. Transition words link your sentences and thoughts together to help your reader follow your train of thought. Some examples include, “For instance,” “moreover,” “thus,” “in conclusion,” “additionally,” and “subsequently.” Stay tuned for a comprehensive list of transitions when to use them in a future post.
Elaborate. Specific is typically more effective than general. When you revise, go back and try to add even more detail than you already did. You can do this by giving a play by play or telling a story that illustrates your example. Let’s say, for example, you are writing about why it is hard to move when you have little kids. You may give the following supporting detail: “The kids want attention when I am trying to pack.” You can elaborate by discussing how as you moving heavy furniture out of the house, they are begging you for snacks and asking you to play with them. Here is an elaboration of a detail: “As we were blindly carrying a queen size mattress down a narrow stair case, little voices chirped, ‘I want goldfish.’”
Show not tell. Show not tell piggy backs on the concept of elaboration. Adding more “showing” is an entertaining exercise in livening up your written piece. “John was mad,” tells the reader how the boy feels. Instead, let’s try, “’I will never EVER talk to you again!’, he yelled, his face red as a beet, as he ran upstairs, and slammed the door behind him. Can you visualize the scene? Dialogue, actions, and expressions allow us to picture just how mad this character truly is.
Use a thesaurus to use word variety. On my third revision of this blog post, I popped onto the thesaurus to eliminate the umpteen number of times I used “idea,” “thought,” “write,” and “allow.”
I once co-taught with a high school English teacher who explained that if drafting and revising are the construction of a car, editing is the aesthetics. Editing, therefore, is most efficient if the structure of you piece is intact. Would you paint a car that was falling apart at the seams? When you are ready to edit, look for for errors in several aspects of your writing.
Correct punctuation. Do you have periods at the end of sentence? Do you have commas in lists, after dates, and after long introductory clauses?
Complete sentences (avoid fragments and run-on sentences). A complete sentence is one complete thought. For example, “I went for a long run this morning,” is a complete thought with a subject, I, and a verb, went.” An example of a fragment is “Went for a long run this morning.” There is no subject. An example of a run-on sentence is “I went for a long run this morning, it was still really dark.” This example contains two subjects (I and it) and to predicates (went and was).
Spelling. Use your friend Spell Check, and do a read over anyways. Spell Check does not catch everything.
Consistent verb tense. I love this resource
It’s nice to have at least one extra set of eyes edit your work. I find new editing errors every time I check my writing. Employ a friend, a teacher, or a spouse, or enroll in our editing services.
You’ve put the blood, sweat, and tears into your piece. You have generated ideas. You’ve molded and shifted and degutted. You have made your writing sound pretty or professional or however you want it to be. Now it’s time to show your stuff. Let us others see it.
Publishing wears different masks. You are ready to publish when you are ready to present, whether you are presenting you college application, your final thesis, your novel, or your first grade poetry booklet, or an email to your boss that you have sweated over for an hour. Here are just a few other examples of publication:
So, there you have it. The writing process. Try using this. Be patient.