Step 1: Explore
Exploration is more than just a stage in the writing process. It’s a way of life. The writer is a curious person who must discover topics to write about and, over time, come to see the world as a storehouse of story ideas. Just as your dog goes out into the yard to sniff for signs of other animals, so the writer is ignited by the hint of something in the air, a thought, a theory, an emotion, a story, a character worth attention, a problem to be solved.
Step 2: Gather
No writer writes well from thin air – or a chair. The productive writer is a hunter and gatherer, collecting data, information from interviews, online research, narrative elements such as scenes and dialogue, memories and personal observations, key words and interesting language. Francis X. Clines always knew he could find a story, “If I could just get out of the office.”
Step 3: Organize
Enter the offices or workplaces of some writers and you find yourself in the space of some crazed hoarder, notepads stacked up for years, files on the floor, last week’s paper cups filled with stale coffee. No wonder they can’t get their arms around the story. Before a writer can plan a story, that writer must organize the material: cleaning, stacking, collating, compiling, tossing, filing, and indexing. The bigger the meal to be served, the more carefully the table must be set.
Step 4: Focus
The central act of writing is finding a focus for the work, resulting in a keen knowledge of what the story is about, an insight often reflected in titles, theme statements, captions, summaries, conclusions, “nut” paragraphs, and the like. The writer looks for this defining idea or language from the beginning of the process, but it is often found late, too late for the writer to do it justice.
Step 5: Select
Inexperienced writers often use in their stories most of the material they have collected. The best, most experienced writers use a small percentage of the research, a process of selection that supports the focus of the work. If the writer is unable to select between the “good” and the “pretty good,” it may because the focus is still … out of focus. The writer may have to go back a step or two, gathering new material that leads to a clearer understanding of the purpose of the work.
Step 6: Order
Even when the best material is selected, it is not always clear what the order of the major elements should be, so the writer searches for the building blocks of the work, as well as an efficient blueprint for the whole. The writer can select a genre, form, or format that already exists – a sonnet, a business letter, a Tweet, an epic poem – or can create a new one. Whatever the architecture of the final work, it will be judged by three of its parts: the beginning, the middle, and the end.
Step 7: Draft
Look at all the work that can come before the writer begins a formal draft, a step that can always be frustrated by procrastination. The writer tries to struggle against bad inertia, the force that keeps you static, and find good inertia, the energy that keeps you going. One of the most useful strategies is to rehearse the story before drafting, that is, to accomplish some of the work in your head, especially a good opening or introduction. Replacing procrastination as rehearsal gets the daydreaming writer off the hook, and turns a negative force into something useful.
Step 8: Revise
Productive and effective writers leave time and reserve energy for revision, a step that includes everything from story reconstruction to proof reading. Showing a draft to a test audience – editor, teacher, friend – can help, but the writer’s task is to create a final draft that works for the reader and satisfies the standards of the writer. A teacher or editor can help the writer see the unfulfilled potential in an early draft and help the writer make the work better and better.
Learn more about these steps and other tips for writing in NewsU's Help! for Writers course.
10 Resources for Writers
This course covers everything you need to improve your writing through the craft of revision. Using fun, interactive activities, you’ll explore why writers face an uphill battle making time to revise their work and how they can overcome thinking their first draft is their best draft, how to review your work with fresh eyes (and ears) to catch mistakes and fine-tune awkward passages, how to make a great piece even better by removing unnecessary words, and more.
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