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?