As stated previously, there are many different writing processes. While the stages of a writing process that are described previously (pre-writing; drafting; and getting feedback) are appropriate for some writing situations, you might find they aren’t necessary or practical for every piece of writing you want to produce. Here are some alternate ways to think about your writing process:
If you don’t know what to do, do something.
That is, if you find yourself faced with a writing situation that intimidates you or that makes you feel stuck, know that you can start writing in whatever way feels most comfortable.
- Maybe that involves pre-writing by summarizing and then responding to an article written by an expert on the subject you want to discuss. The couple of paragraphs you generate might not appear in your finished essay, but they could be enough to turn into a rough outline.
- Alternately, you can set yourself the task of writing a to do list. What are all the pieces you need to create for this piece of writing? What actions do you need to take to complete each of these pieces (for example, reading your assignment sheet, re-reading the article assigned in class, looking up that term you don’t understand, visiting the library to get advice from a librarian about sources, etc.)? Then start tackling items on your list in an order that makes sense to you.
There are lots of ways to get started and keep going.
Keep looping back
In some cases it will make sense for you to move through a series of steps — but always keep in mind that it’s okay (and sometimes necessary!) to return to and repeat an earlier step. You might be in the drafting stage and discover that you should probably include an additional section that provides your readers with important background information — and that new section will require a bit or research and maybe even some outlining before you can go back to drafting. As you carry out this research, you could come across an example that’s perfect for your conclusion, which you now want to revise. And changing that conclusion makes you see that you need to rework your thesis to make the significance of your argument clear. And so on. Moving between and back to different stages of a writing process is perfectly normal — it’s sometimes called “iterative,” something that repeats and builds upon earlier repetition. This type of writing process is particularly appropriate when you are discovering new ideas and learning new things while writing — something that is likely to happen when you tackle complex assignments for upper-level classes.
In a hurry
That said, there are other types of writing situations when it’s normal to skip entire stages of what might have once been presented to you as a complete writing process. For instance, when you write an essay as part of a timed exam, you don’t have time for pre-writing and planning, much less for getting feedback, revising, and polishing. In such cases, you might spend a few minutes jotting down a list of ideas that functions as a combination between brainstorming and a rough outline. Then you start to write. And you try to catch and correct sentence-level errors as you go along.
This approach makes a lot of sense when you are being asked to write something you know a lot about (such as during an exam). And it can work well when you start with a strong sense of both the content you want to communicate and the form it needs to take — such as when you are writing an email to a professor explaining why you could benefit from an extended deadline for an assignment.
One way to get a better sense of the forms you might follow in academic writing situations is to learn more about genre — and that’s the topic of the next chapter.