This post is not so much about blogging, as it is about writing. Of course, if you are a blogger, then you obviously write, so this post is for you. My aim here is to provide some insight into what we call the ‘writing process’. I’m sure you will agree it’s a creative process that sometimes turns chaotic, but there are ways of going about taming it, if you will. Mind you, although I tend to be a chaotic person, I’m also a teacher of English (when I’m not wearing a cape that is), so I can at least pass along what I ‘preach’ to my students.
Now to be honest, I wish there were an exact science as to how I write and develop content. Ideas come to me in chunks. Sentences form at random. Coherence and cohesion come hard. Therefore, one of the reasons I love blogging is that ‘writing’ on the computer has always come naturally for me. You see I’m not a very linear thinker, and as such it’s amazingly helpful for me to type up some ideas up, move them around, tryout different permutations of words and sentences, and then sort of fill-in the blanks between said sentences and ideas. Pencils and pens have become as useful to me as an extra pair of thumbs might be … on my feet. Yes, writing the old manual way is very frustrating for me, unless I’m writing song lyrics, ‘scat poetry’, a to-do list, or a shopping list.
Ok, let’s get on with it. As a teacher of English for non-native speakers, I spend a lot of time working on developing writing skills with students. Moreover, since the majority of these students are focused on taking ‘proficiency’ exams to obtain a certificate in English, they need to know how to write an essay, article, or story – from start to finish as quick as they can. For advanced level students, this means writing a composition of about 300 to 350 words in 60-minutes, or for another exam 30-minutes or less! In terms of size, what they write is pretty much equivalent to an average size blog post. Still, I wonder how many bloggers actually write posts of this length in such a short period of time! I know I don’t.
Teacher’s of writing composition usually divide the ‘writing process’ into different stages. In fact, I’d say that most bloggers usually do the same to one degree or another. It’s funny but when I started writing this blog, I really didn’t want to get into heavy editing. This was because one idea for the blog, as a writing experiment, was to develop more of a ‘stream of consciousness’ type style of writing that precludes self-censoring my thoughts. As I’ve mentioned in other posts on creativity, this was important to me. Nevertheless, keep in mind that the following suggested stages of writing are considered ‘best practices’ among professional writers. So here they are, along with some of my comments:
This is where you develop the ideas on what to write about. You do some research, make some notes and actually start planning and organizing your content. This is also where I start copying and pasting into my document any bits and pieces of content, or website links, for future reference. This really helps me keep organized and remember items I want to comment on later. By the way, I usually do my writing offline, in a word processor document and not directly into WordPress for different reasons.
Here’s where you start throwing ideas down onto paper, or in a blogger’s case, throwing those ideas up onto the screen, to save in your document. Your composition or post also starts to take form here as you really start writing and crafting your ideas. A good idea at this stage is to keep things simple and not get overly caught up in ‘getting it perfect’. Just write what’s on your mind and get all of your thoughts down ‘on paper’ in some organized or semi-organized way. The idea here would be to focus on content, not form.
For me this stage is really important because I try really hard to create an archive of any related thoughts I might have. I’ll be honest in that I’m a better improviser than organizer, and so by the time my mind is working on one thing, I’ve usually forgotten two other things! So getting it all out of my head and into print is vital to my creative process.
In another post I’ve written about overcoming writers block so I won’t get into here. However, in this regard I want to mention that when I do get stuck the last thing I’m concerned about is putting all my ideas together into an organized and coherent form. Therefore, just emptying my mind into a document allows me to save my ideas, sleep on them, and then re-attack them the next morning. I’m always amazed at how quickly things come together in the morning light following a good night’s sleep! Really, it works for me.
One last tip for this stage is that while I’m drafting my work, I also include any possible titles for the post, as well as tags, in the document. I’m flexible with titles and don’t usually finalize this until I’m ready to post.
Incidentally, when I come up with a clever title before I actually write related content, I usually add a new post in WordPress with the title and then save it as a draft. Sometimes, I end up writing a completely different idea from what I had originally intended. In fact, that actually happens a lot to me. I get ideas on a whim, some of them ill-conceived I’ll admit. Yet, snappy titles I usually make use of one way or another.
For example, this post was originally supposed to be on overcoming writer’s block! Half way through, I thought I would add in a bit about the stages of writing. Obviously, this ‘afterthought’ took on a life if its own. So, I say never interfere with where your creativity and mind takes you! Saving your original work and ideas is like leaving yourself a trail of breadcrumbs so that you can find your way back later from wherever it is you ended up at! This is especially useful if you are distracted easily, as I am.
To put it simply, here’s where you take another look at what you’ve already written up. The focus here is still on content and not on form, so this is where you might decide to ‘cut down’ on your number of words, scratch out or tweak some ideas, or just add something new. When I get to this stage, I usually work on a copy of my draft, because I might end up cutting out something that later I will want to re-include.
Tip: always save your drafts! Hard drives are cheap these days! Don’t sweat the megabytes!
Now being brutally honest here, it’s at this stage where I would say that things really start to come together for me, more so than in the next stage (editing). As an English teacher, I tend to start checking my work for errors on the fly, and as an artist, I start crafting my work fairly quickly while the ideas are still fresh in my mind.
Nevertheless, at times it’s also a ‘frustrating as all hell’ stage for me, because I have to rethink my thoughts considerably and fight with myself over how much or little I want to censor my ideas. I really wrestle with myself here, especially if I have to cut down on content because I tend to ‘overwrite’ things. Yes, I can be wordy, verbose, and long-winded ad nauseum! However, by the same token, sometimes I get lucky because it’s at this stage where I might decide that one long post I’ve written, with two related ideas, might end up as two separate posts.
Anyway, as I mentioned I hate cutting down on content! It’s painful for me as an artist to create and then compromise my artistic integrity by whittling away at my art just to make it more digestible to the masses. Still, there are times when a writer has to decide whether he is writing for himself or for others. As a rule, I treat each post or article differently. I suggest you do the same!
Ideally, this is where you really start to focus on the form of your composition. At this stage, ideas and sentences are woven together coherently, and focus is given to spelling, grammar and punctuation. This is not the final draft, but it’s pretty darn close!
As I mentioned above, I tend to do a lot of editing in the previous stage and then quickly jump over to the next stage for the final proofreading. This is really a personal thing. I think it’s important to remember that as much as I’m suggesting here what ‘academically’ might be considered ‘best practices’, it’s really up to you to decide what works best for you. I tend to be more of a pig-headed non-conformist when it comes to creativity, because that’s just who I am and it works for me. You can call me a hypocrite, but at least you can’t say I didn’t warn you!
Final draft stage:
This is where proofreading for errors come in. You might think it’s a superfluous stage, given the fact that today we have spellcheckers and grammar checkers and so forth. But to be honest, you really shouldn’t rely on them, especially ones that auto-correct or predict-text as you type. To be honest, I turn all auto-correct features off in my word processor, as I was advised to do so many years ago by professional editors I worked with. When your mind is really cooking and your fingers are flying across the keyboard, you tend not to notice every word that actually ends up on the screen. When you let your computer have its way with your content, it will occasionally throw in words of its own. This is why it’s important you give your content a good-looking over, and even better, let someone else give it a good ‘once over’ for good measure.
Other tips for the proofreading stage include the following:
– Read your content to yourself (or someone else) out loud. Reading quietly tends to be boring and you end up glossing over words to speed things up. Pretend you are giving speech.
– Before proofreading your work, distance yourself from it. Go have a bite to eat, read some other material, or go take a walk. Starbucks. Think Starbucks! Seriously, the idea here is to empty your mind of what you’ve written. When you write something of an extended length, and then try to immediately proofread it, your ideas of what you’ve written are still fresh in your mind, and you are more likely to speed-read your work and end up missing typos and sentence structure errors. It’s true! You sort of end up reading what you think you wrote as opposed to really paying attention to what you actually wrote.
– It’s also useful to keep track of the usual kinds of grammar or spelling mistakes you make. You will most likely find that despite you best efforts, these ‘boners’ tend to pop up, over and over again.
– Getting someone else to read through and comment on your work is very useful, because if you are really writing for others, as opposed to for yourself, then you need to know what they think! And, I’m not talking about your content and ideas here, I’m talking about your ‘prose’ and sentence structure. After all, you want your readers to be able to read through your posts, without having to stop, back up and re-read parts that just didn’t go down or roll off their tongues very well. So, getting some friendly feedback is always useful. What you decide to do with the information, however, is totally up to you as an artist!
I hope this look at the stages of the writing process has been helpful to you in some way. If you agree or disagree with any of the above, or have some other tips to share, please comment below.