I can’t speak for other essayists, but what follows is my writing process. Depending on the length and complexity of the essay, the stages can take anywhere from two weeks to years.
1. Just get it on paper. It’s just all one big “data dump” at this point. Everything I can remember, everything that I can think of that relates to the topic goes on the page. Here it’s pretty much “outer story”: the who, what, when, where. It’s quite expository, the writing rudimentary. You’re going to find few clever turns of a phrase here. I try to write through until “the end” in one sitting.
2. I wait a day or two, then go back to what I wrote in Stage 1. A whole lot doesn’t change, but I am taking a closer look at wording. I’m editing for clarity and for word choice. I try in this draft to be a little more lyrical with the writing. I’ll add detail when warranted and try to provide more specific, concrete details. It’s still mostly outer story at this point.
3. I print it. I write and edit most everything on the computer. But at this stage, I’m looking for connections and places where there’s some potential for deeper meaning and universal themes.
4. Figure out what’s wrong with it. Sure, there’s some stuff I like, whether it be a word, phrase, metaphor, etc. But generally there’s a lot I don’t like. And it’s never obvious. So here, I mull over what’s bothering me. Why isn’t the essay working? What does it need? I can spend infinite amounts of time here. I have probably a dozen essays that are slumbering through this stage right now. Not every essay idea is going to come to fruition. Sometimes there’s just nothing there, and I have to move on and start a different one.
5. If I get here, this is the fix-it stage. I’ve identified the problem and I work on correcting it.
6. Print it again. The edits, theoretically, should be fewer this time around. I’m looking for word choice, organization, grammar, spelling, etc.
7. Send it to trusted readers. I’ve been part of a lovely writing group for nearly eight years. I trust these ladies, many of whom are published authors, to give me constructive feedback. If it works, they tell me, but if it doesn’t they will tell me that, too.
8. Based on the comments from Stage 7, I do another edit.
9. Print it again. Ideally, this is the final printing, the final thorough read-through.
10. Make any last changes. Close the file on the computer, and submit away!
What does your writing process look like?
Leslie Absher said:
I agree. The sculpture says it all. Says more even. My essay writing process is similar but yours sounds more ordered! I do the big data dump and then come back to it and change a lot, gasp at what I wrote initially. Then it’s a matter of revise, put down, revise, put down, show to others, put down. Basically, I keep doing this until I feel that click and know I can exhale because it has arrived. But there’s a lot of fussing involved before that can happen. Thanks for writing!
I should have made it clear that I can circle back to any of the steps at any time 🙂 I’m doing a revision now, and I’m pretty sure I will be sending it back to my writing group.
Leslie Absher said:
Writing’s never linear damnit.
Lisa Simons said:
My writing process depends on what the work or assignment is. But there is always a lot of editing. I, too, like the visual with the sculpture. I also agree with Audrey that is that a key piece is allowing the writing to sit in order to come back to it with fresh eyes.
Sammy D said:
Beautiful sculpture. Thanks for sharing your writing process. Mine has similarities but I’m also switching to more visual mapping and that has triggered a plethora of posting material !!
I love the idea of visual mapping! I sometimes will sketch out ideas but would like to do that more.
Minnesota Prairie Roots said:
That photo of the sculpture certainly is fitting for this piece.
I don’t go through all of the stages you do. When I’m writing poetry, I often have lines already written in my head before I sit down at the computer. An idea begins to take shape from a single line or two and then I build on that, sometimes around it. I find myself immersing myself in whatever I’m writing, engaging all of my senses.
The key thing for me is allowing my writing to sit for a day, a week, and then return. With that lapse of time, I return with a fresh eye on my writing. I can then clearly see what needs deletion or improvement.
And you’re right. Sometimes a writing project isn’t working and needs to be junked.