As I promised yesterday, I wanted to post on how the writing process is messier than the prewriting, drafting, revision, proofreading, and review rubrics may make it seem at first glance. As I noted in the last post, the theory of process writing was developed out of the process taught by Greek and Roman rhetoricians to would be rhetors--that is, those who wanted to learn to use rhetoric. As it came into being in the 1970s and 1980s, process writing was seen as the panacea for all writing ills. While it can help you solve a host of writing problems and improve the efficiency of your writing process, it turned out that few writers actually follow the step-by-step process folks were taught to teach. This is especially true of successful, professional writers.
When folks began actually studying the processes used by profession writers, here's what we found:
1) Professional writers write regularly, usually on a daily basis. They set up a schedule to write and usually try to go for production of a set number of publishable words per day. Often, they draft for one to two hours a day, and they reserve the rest of their time for other aspects of the writing process. Indeed, many writers will get antsy if they don't follow their writing schedule.
2) Professional writers consider the most difficult aspect of the writing process the drafting stage. When they set up a writing schedule, they reserve their most productive time--my time is early in the morning, but many folks draft best late at night--for getting words on paper. When they do this work many strive to find a time will little or no distraction. I know more than a few blog writers, for instance, who draft early in the morning before spouses and kids wake up.
3) Professional writers spend a lot of time on revision, but their final prose is often governed by the prose they write during the drafting stage. In other words, they often revise and even proofread during the drafting stage. That is, as they find themselves stuck, some writers will move on from the section where they are stuck to a section of a text with which they feel more confident. Some writers will get stuck and move into review of what they've already written as a means of getting further ideas; and, as they move through what they've written, they'll often take the time to spell or grammar check. In any event, the movement from drafting, to getting stuck, to review or revision, and then back to the section on which they are stuck is part of a set, conscious process which is followed with almost a religious fervor.
4) Many of new ideas "flow" from areas already written, and many writers will start or end a writing session by reviewing (re-reading) what they have just written. Often this review dredges up new ideas to add into the writing.
5) Professional writers aren't afraid to cut. One motto which comes up again and again is: "The most powerful end of the pencil isn't the lead; it's the eraser."
6) Another motto which one hears again and again is: "Good writing is re-writing." However, this rewriting is usually set into a session at a time different from drafting.
6) Professional writers aren't afraid to move text around. If a section of a text isn't "working" where it is, writers often cut, paste, and smooth out the transitions rather than discard. They look for opportunities to improve their text by moving a section or by incorporating a section written for another project.
7) Professional writers try to have a plan for each writing session. They end one day's writing session with a review and try make a plan for where they'll start the next session. Most write down where they'll start. Some don't. In either case, they're trying to limit the time spent fumbling for a starting point.
8) Professional writers schedule in specific times (sessions) for research, blocking out new projects (texts), and playing with angles and different approaches. They will do the same for proofreading, but often they don't schedule different sessions for revision, considering revision part of the drafting stage.
9) Professional writers write, and they know how they write. They study how others write, and they work to pick up tricks to make their own process easier. This sounds trite, but one of the things which was found when folks began studying how successful writers write is that successful writers don't by necessity like writing, but they do write regularly and often and in various genres. They practice the craft.
10) Professional writers let their subconscious do work for them. Rather than trying to force a creative session, many successful writers will often just move on to another aspect of the writing process and let their sub-conscious work on the problem which has them stuck. They'll schedule enough time that they can sleep on a problem, let their subconscious come up with a solution, and implement the solution in the next writing session.
11) Most professional writers keep several projects going at once, and they move between these projects as they get stuck on one.
Student writers can learn a lot about process from these "post process" studies of successful writers. Think about the following hints:
1) Pay attention to your own writing process. Learn how you write and develop a process which plays to your streghts.
2) Break large writing projects down into smaller writing sessions. In doing your WPA outcomes inventory, for example, you'll be writing and revising on a regular basis, but you'll be paying attention to writing on individual bullets. Over the course, you'll end up writing a tremendous amount, and the writing will be pretty solid. Why? Because you'll have thought about, revised, and proofread each bullet several times. This same process will work for your senior portfolio, the one which will help you get a job.
3) Figure out when you're at your most productive, and schedule drafting of new material for your most productive and creative.
4) At the end of each writing session, review what you've done and figure out a specific job for the next session.
5) Keep your writing sessions short. Rather than try to finish a paper in one evening, start earlier and give yourself the chance to work in one and two hour increments.
6) If you start earlier and write in shorter sessions, you can give your unconscious a chance to do much of the creative work for you; but, you have to allow time for such incubation to work.
7) Focus on one aspect of writing at a time. Recent work on productivity has proven that multitasking results in less and worse work than does uni-tasking. I'm firmly convienced, though I don't have the research to back it up, that writer's block, particularly among students, comes from trying to cram too many of the steps of writing into drafting.
Finally, I wanted to take a moment and point out how many of the things we found out about successful writers apply to other folks who create a given product on a regular basis. Many of you program, design games, impliment network security protocals, etc., and you can speak to how productive work in these area carry over (or dosen't) into your own experience. I encourage you to start a thread on the Q&A where you can discuss how you write, work, and maintain productivity.