This week: The (Recursive) Writing Process Edited by: Jeff
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"You never know what you can do until you try,
and very few try unless they have to."
-- C.S. Lewis
About The Editor: Greetings! My name is Jeff and I'm one of your regular editors for the Noticing Newbies Official Newsletter! I've been a member of Writing.com since 2003, and have edited more than 400 newsletters across the site during that time. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me via email or the handy feedback field at the bottom of this newsletter!
The (Recursive) Writing Process
According to many creative writing programs, the writing process is broken down into the following four steps:
Prewriting is the step where all of the writing preparation is done. This step is sometimes divided into smaller components like brainstorming, researching, and/or outlining. Even for writers who consider themselves "pantsers" (those who write without formally outlining first), a significant amount of work goes into the prewriting step, because it's where writers come up with their ideas and organize their thoughts.
Drafting is the step where the actual words go on the page, where all the ideas and research and planning come together into an initial execution.
Revising is the step where the originally drafted execution is refined. Depending on the state of the original material, revisions could be anything from a complete "page one rewrite" (basically starting over because the original didn't work at all) to more minor revisions like updates to specific scenes, or bits of dialogue, further developing character, or improving specific genre elements.
Editing is the step where the narrative and characters have been figured out, and it's time to fine-tune the specifics of the writing itself by looking at grammar, spelling, diction, syntax, etc. Depending on the state of the manuscript up to this point, it could be as simple as a quick proofread or a more detailed overhaul of the mechanics of the piece.
What most writers inherently understand (or come to learn) is that the writing process isn't equally divided among those four steps of the process. Some writers may spend much more time prewriting than others. Other writers might write their draft quickly and spend considerably more time revising than a writer who takes more time with their first draft in order to spend less time figuring out the revisions. Each writer is different.
Each project is different too. If you ask any writer with a back catalogue of work, they'll likely tell you that some stories and some projects took more time than others. Many writers will tell stories of ideas they've had for months, or even years, until they cracked it and figured out what the story should be, while also mentioning that other stories just seemed to fall into place without much effort. Some projects need to be revised several times, while others need very little in the way of major revisions.
The thing about writing that's often not discussed is the fact that it's also a recursive process, which means it's characterized by recurrence or repetition. Not just in the sense that you might do more than one revision, or more than one editing pass, but also in the sense that each part in the process can inform the other parts, and a talented writer recognizes the appropriate time to jump between the steps in the process.
Have you ever had the experience of prewriting, drafting, and revising a piece of writing and - in the process of revising - you realize that you have a better idea that causes you to completely rethink the story and go back to the prewriting stage? Have you ever been in the editing stage and realized that you just can't get the mechanics of what you're trying to accomplish to work out, so you have to go back and revise some things to make it work? That's recursion, just as much as doing multiple outlines before you start your draft.
As writers, we each have parts of the writing process we prefer to others. Personally, I dislike revisions; there's something about just throwing out the words I've written that I really struggle with. So I invest a lot more in the prewriting and draft steps of the process to make sure that what I'm going into the revisions step with requires a lot less overhauling than it would if I were to just crank out a very rough first draft and then try to make sense of it later. I prefer to do a lot of prewriting, create a solid draft, do a minimum or revising, and then give it a really strong edit to complete the process. That's just me though; your mileage may vary. A screenwriter friend of mine, for example, hates staring at a blank page, so he cranks out pages as fast as he can (sometimes writing an entire feature-length screenplay in only a week) and then goes back and heavily revises the work repeatedly, over and over again, until he's happy with it. Because he hates prewriting, but loves putting words on the page.
It's important to figure out the specific writing process that works for you. The thing to keep in mind when you're trying things out and refining your own specific process is to remember the steps themselves, as well as the recursive nature of those steps. You aren't limited to how much time to invest in each step of the process; you can also figure out which order to complete the steps in, and if it's helpful for you to revisit some of the steps along the way as you discover your story. For some writers, a simple four-step process in that order might work fine. For other writers, it might be an eight-step process where you do limited prewriting, crank out a draft, revise, then go back and prewrite some more, write another draft, revise, revise, and finally edit.
Both processes are valid because, at the end of the day, it really isn't even about the process at all. It's about getting the best possible final product, however you're individually able to accomplish that.
Until next time,
If you're interested in checking out my work:
"New & Noteworthy Things" | "Blogocentric Formulations"
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EXCERPT: Nobody is going to be surprised to learn that a woman invented the first disposable diaper and the dishwasher. Who but a woman would notice these were needs that should be met in a more efficient manner? But did you know it was a woman who invented the bullet-stopping fabric, Kevlar? A woman invented the first commercial computer language, and another invented the windshield wiper.
EXCERPT: My fascination with the slithery kind has been a constant in my life, since my earliest memories. If it slithered, crawled, secreted slime or other noxious fluids, had suitably disgusting table/terrarium manners, I wanted to waylay it and bring it home. From my first checkered garter snake (Thamnophis marcianus), captured by myself at age five and resulting in my very first snake bite experience, to the black-tailed rattlesnakes (Crotalus molossus) in the dresser drawer and Gila monsters (Heloderma suspectum) in the bathtub, I loved them one and all.
EXCERPT: I’m the groundhog of the moment. The humans, partially concealed by the bushes, are looking in my direction. One of them sets up a tripod with a big mechanical eye, pointing it at me. Can’t they leave me alone? All I want is to kick back in my hole for a little February R and R.
A true life story of a young man, who struggles with forgiveness due to childhood trauma
EXCERPT: An old neighbour came visiting to see my mom. In his words; Each time I pull off my jersey in the field and see the scar on my belly, I always remember the woman that saved my life.
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Feedback from "Noticing Newbies Newsletter (January 10, 2024)" about writing for multiple WdC activities/contests at a time:
I've never actually aimed at more than one contest while writing a piece. Quite often contests allow older pieces to be entered and, in that case, I have a look though what I've done to see if there's anything that would fit the requirements of the later contest. Although there was one prompt in which Lilli asked paticipants of her Promptly Poetry Challenge to write something for Solace's Express It In Eight activity. So that was an instance where Lilli did the aiming for me!
How often to you write material here on WdC with the intention of entering multiple activities?
Every minute of every day! That's the most challenging and fun filled way I know how to maximize my time here. If I could live here, then I would. Since that is not possible, by entering multiple activities at the same time feels like living several lifetimes in a single moment. The trick is to find activities you love, and get creative with the solutions. Then try to make them all fit. The keyword is TRY because FAILURE is unavoidable.
When we participate in activities that we love, the effort won't feel like work. Also, the synergy that comes from the effort is unrivaled. For each activity that's added to the mix, it will inspire and generate creativity for the other activities. Another way to look at the energy resulting from smashing these atoms together is to view each activity as a writing prompt for another activity loosely connected by association. By meeting all of these back of the mind prompts, the resulting creation will be richer and deeper than what could be dreamed up with a single prompt.
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