Trusting the Writing Process
Trusting the writing process is an ongoing practice. Once you’ve learned to trust enough to complete a draft of whatever you set out to write, you then have to practice trusting the revision process, which includes several stages. Most important here, is to remember that a writer is never responsible for all the elements of the writing at once. Once you’ve created an initial draft, you can review what you’ve created element by element to bring the draft to the next level.
First, read over this draft for its flesh and muscle. Often our initial drafts are skeletal, containing primarily the bones of the story, chapter or essay. That means that this time around, you should be thinking about feeding your creation. Which of the characters need more description to come alive for the reader? Where in the dialogue do you need more iteration (or perhaps less would pack more of a wallop)? What about your ideas—both the major idea itself, as well as related or ancillary concepts? Which ones would benefit from elaboration and further development?
I find that many writers greatly underfeed their initial drafts, which means that the second time around, they need to “fatten up” what they’ve already written. Happily, this fattening up is the very opposite of preparing their piece for slaughter; in this case, the writer is providing the necessary weight for their writing come fully alive in the world.
After the feeding stage, the writer should read over this second draft to check for order and logic. Do all the plot points (including insights) take place in the best progression? Are the ideas presented in the most compelling succession? Perhaps it would be better to present one of the sub-points earlier than you in the first draft. Or maybe a sub-idea that now finds itself on the second page would support the argument better on a later page.
When I read over my client’s essays, I often find myself writing “earlier” or “later” before several paragraphs. Because I am not the writer, I easily have the distance necessary to “see” the whole sooner than does the person who only recently wrote the piece.
At this point in the drafting process, writers often become discouraged and conclude that the “writing itself is just awful.” If I had to make a guess, I’d say that 25% of the writers I work with reach this conclusion, at this stage–and if it weren’t for me, would throw away whatever they’d already written.
“Take a deep breath and stop wringing your hands,” I tell them. “It’s too early to judge the prose; you haven’t worked on it yet.”
Refining and upgrading your prose is a delightful process. After all, you’ve already done the hard work of completing a first draft. And polishing the prose offers immediate results.
First, read through your piece and notice the overall sentence structure. Are there too many long complicated sentences? Or too many short declarative sentences? No problem. You can easily correct this by separating the overly complex sentences into several shorter ones. Or you can begin combining some of your short, declarative sentences. After a paragraph or two, the prose will begin to feel much more graceful.
Then, once you’ve attended to the prose, it’s time to focus on word choice. Are your verbs all as strong as they can be? Strong verbs convey action without needing modifiers. What about your nouns? Particular and specific nouns don’t often require adjectives to boost them. Without any modification, strong nouns create an image in the reader’s mind.
Some writers automatically choose strong verbs and concrete nouns as they draft a piece. Others don’t worry about word choice in the initial stages of writing, and attend to it later, once they’ve got a draft in shape. As for me, I do a little of both. After practicing revision throughout the writing process for some years, I now find it easier to capture strong verbs and nouns the first time around. But that doesn’t mean I don’t spend time during subsequent revisions on boosting many of my initial choices.
I hope you’re starting to understand the writing process more deeply. And that you see why trust is essential if you are to complete any piece of writing, from those first words to the conclusion. Writers need to trust, both that each stage is separate and unique. And that at each stage, they’ll be able to improve what they’ve already created.
Copyediting is the last stage in completing a piece of writing. Now—and not earlier—is the time to check your punctuation. And if you don’t feel confident about just where a semi-colon is required, or the difference between a colon and a dash, find somebody who does, and ask that person if they wouldn’t mind doing a final read through of your work.
Whether you’re been aware of this or not, writing involves an intimate relationship between the writer and the page. Trust is an essential ingredient in any relationship. Without trust, a relationship cannot grow or evolve. The same is true for writing. Learning to trust in the writing process itself helps nurture the intimacy necessary between a writer and her words. And this trust is what makes writing possible.