Some parts of the writing process require free-form creativity. Other parts need organization and strategy. And some need good old fashioned nose-to-the-grindstone determination to just get the job done.
The secret to making writing easier is shifting into the mental state appropriate for each part of the writing process.
To shift, you have to trust. If you don't trust your writing process, you won't be able to stay within it, doing one kind of thinking at a time.
You know this intuitively, right? If you were working on an assembly line and you didn't trust the people farther down the line, odds are you'd try to do their jobs for them. You might even leave your own station to micromanage the other workers, causing chaos!
In writing, if you try to edit as you brainstorm or revise while you draft, you'll pull your brain in conflicting directions, becoming ineffective and stressed out.
When you know and trust every worker on the line, you'll trust the whole process. And that means you'll focus on the job at hand, completing it effectively and efficiently.
Ready to get to know all the writing workers in your brain so you can really use your writing process?
#1 The Mad Scientist (Brainstorming)
This part of your brain is energized and excited. Its favorite activity is thinking of ideas, regardless of whether those ideas are practical.
The Mad Scientist is the perfect brainstormer. It doesn't judge, it doesn't care about correct grammar or spelling, and it never met a typo it didn't like. The most effective brainstorming happens when the Mad Scientist feels completely free to shout out all of its ideas without embarrassment.
Due to a total lack of caring about what anyone thinks about its ideas (or its hair!), the Mad Scientist has total freedom. It makes associations, draws connections, goes off on tangents, and follows rabbits down holes.
It is wildly curious and is constantly asking How? Why? and What then? If your Mad Scientist feels more like a timid lab assistant, it’s worthwhile to train it to be more comfortable. Practice brainstorming with a friend and challenge each other to come up with the wildest ideas you can!
#2 The Organizer (Outlining)
The Organizer is a natural observer. It scans the brainstorm looking for patterns and possibilities. It moves ideas around based on the connections it sees. Like a jigsaw puzzle expert, it's not afraid to pick up a piece and try putting it into multiple spots until it fits somewhere.
The Organizer finds logical connections and groups details into bigger categories. Like any avid organizer, your Writing Brain Organizer loves labeling! It sticks labels on the categories it finds so that it can remember what its organizational system is—and also so that other parts of the Writing Brain can find what they need.
Once it finds the patterns it wants, the Organizer makes sure it has all the elements it needs to complete the structure it envisions. If it doesn’t see what it needs, it calls up the Mad Scientist and asks for more pieces: “Get me one more reason why dogs are great pets!”
The Organizer also starts grabbing the resources it needs. “Where are my outlines? I need an outline for a compare and contrast essay! Stat!” It scours the Writing Toolbox for strategies and tactics it can use to construct a plan—an outline.
The Organizer knows the recipe for creating a strong thesis, or, at least, it knows where to find the recipes in its Writing Toolbox. It makes sure that all its labels and all its jigsaw pieces work with that thesis. When they don't, the Organizer will either change the categories and the details or change the thesis.
Logical, forceful, and demanding, the Organizer makes things happen! It pays attention to details, but it always keeps an eye on the Big Picture.
The most successful Organizers change what's easiest to change. Sometimes this means keeping the details (the evidence) and switching the category (the topic sentence). Sometimes it even means chucking out the thesis itself and replacing it with one that matches the rest of the outline.
#3 The Ant (Drafting)
The Ant is a hardworking, no-nonsense doer. Its job is to take the outline and turn it into complete sentences as quickly as possible. The Ant has the hardest writing job. But don’t worry: your Ant is powerful.
In nature, an ant can carry up to 100 times its body weight. Your Ant can also handle really big jobs—like writing an entire rough draft all the way through from start to finish.
Your Ant ignores spelling, grammar, style, and judgments about what word would sound best in a sentence. Your Ant simply doesn't care how beautiful your draft is. It knows that a completed rough draft is far more valuable than one fantastic sentence.
Remember, an Ant never works alone. It has the whole rest of its colony supporting it. In this case, the colony is all the other parts of your Writing Brain.
The Ant takes its job seriously and doesn’t like to lose any time. But it does like to communicate with the rest of the colony. If it runs into any problems or snags, it leaves little markers to alert the other parts of the Writing Brain. It might leave a comment in the margin, or it might put brackets around words that aren’t its first choice. But it never stops or slows down to think of something new or better to write!
The Ant only moves in one direction: forward. If it turns around and tries to go back and change parts of its draft, or if it stops to try and think of the perfect word, it causes a huge traffic jam in the line of ants.
The Ant sees only what's in front of it and keeps its mind on its work. It doesn’t get distracted by the Big Picture of an essay, or by fantasies of the perfect adjective. The Ant is industrious and determined to finish its tasks as quickly as possible. When you’ve got a boring, thankless writing task, like completing an entire rough draft, the Ant is just the brain part for you!
Writer’s Block is very often your Ant looking up and getting terrified by the Big Picture. The Ant can't deal with the Big Picture, so as soon as it tries, it gets overwhelmed and scared. It starts making objections and excuses and panicking. When this happens, just reassure your Ant that it’s not alone! The rest of the Writing Brain is there to support it. If you feel like you have Writer's Block, take a short break and give your Ant a few minutes to breathe and refocus.
#4 The Reflector (Revising)
The Reflector is great at looking back. This part of the brain is the perfect reviser. It sees the Big Picture as well as details of language and flow. It adds logical transitions to help the reader stay focused and interested.
The Reflector revisits the rough draft and checks the structure, order, word choice, and voice. It reads all the notes from the Ant and improves any rough patches. It makes improvements in clarity and style so that both the ideas and the language are compelling.
The Reflector works well with others, especially the Ant and the Mad Scientist. When the three of them join forces as a relay team, they create fantastic introductions and conclusions using the recipes from their Writing Toolbox.
Patient but efficient, the Reflector doesn't waste time dabbling or revising aimlessly. Instead, it uses checklists, word lists, and other resources to work systematically.
It has strong creative tendencies but also knows how to communicate its vision. This makes it a great manager, delegating tasks to the other parts of the Writing Brain as needed.
#5 The Crazy Fan (Editing)
The Crazy fan eagerly awaits each new piece of your writing because it can't get enough of the franchise. It soaks up tiny details and remembers everything. The Crazy Fan will point out that there was supposed to be a very in the second quote in the third paragraph, or that you shouldn't use a comma before a because.
Although it's often annoying, the Crazy Fan has a good heart. It’s not mean. It doesn’t delight in failure. But it does feel satisfied when it spots errors or inconsistencies. The Crazy Fan makes a great editor because it wants everything to be in the right place so that your readers will love your work as much as it does. Its job is to go through writing with a fine-toothed comb. It's great at finding what's unclear, awkward, repetitive, or incorrect.
The Crazy Fan has watched every episode and read every guide, so it knows your writing habits and pitfalls. It also knows lots of rules and has access to even more resources. It regularly checks your Writing Toolbox, as well as its favorite reference sites for spelling, meaning, grammatical usage, and MLA format.
The Crazy Fan isn’t shy: if it sees something, it says something! It has no social graces, but this makes it exactly the friend you want in your corner when being correct counts. It will never sacrifice your essay to spare your feelings or save you from work.
Never let your Crazy Fan see anything but your revised draft! If it catches a glimpse of your brainstorm, outline, or rough draft, it will drive you bonkers trying to correct your spelling and grammar or telling you that you used boring words. Lock up the Crazy Fan until your writing is nearly finished, or it will annoy you so much you won't want to continue writing!
#6 The Robot (Proofreading)
The Robot is perfect for proofreading because it's a machine. It reads exactly what it sees, nothing more, nothing less. The Robot doesn’t know what you mean; it only knows what you wrote. This part of the brain shows you what the reader will see.
Completely lacking in imagination, the Robot reads words, not meanings, so it will help you find places where you wrote a instead of an, or there instead of their. It finds extra words and the spaces where missing words should be. The Robot can see tiny inconsistencies that even the Crazy Fan misses because the Robot skips past the meaning to the mechanics.
Working Together (Your Writing Process)
The most effective writers balance all the parts of their Writing Brains. They know that the writing process is rarely a straight line. They aren't shy about letting the Reflector hand things off to the Mad Scientist to get more ideas, or having the Crazy Fan leave notes for the Organizer to change the structure of your writing.
Even though you need them all, some parts of your Writing Brain are likely stronger than others. If your Mad Scientist is a little shy, allow yourself more time for brainstorming. If your Reflector never gets a chance to do its job, schedule more time for revising.
Feel like you don't have a Crazy Fan? Invest in a guide to grammar and spelling. I highly recommend Write Source, which publishes writing handbooks that are clear and concise but also creative and quirky. There are 12 books in the series to match every level of writing. Having one of these in your writing space makes editing and proofreading much less intimidating.
Pay attention to which parts of the writing process tend to trip you up the most, and work on them. Do drills and practice activities. Work with a writing coach to build your Writing Toolbox so that you have more resources and tactics to use at each stage of writing.
The more you can separate the parts of your writing process into these diverse strengths, the faster and more effectively you’ll brainstorm, outline, draft, revise, edit, and proofread.
Which of your Writing Brain Personalities is strongest? How do you use that to your advantage? Join the conversation by telling me about it in the comments below!