For some writers, the idea of a writing process feels very constraining. They want to skip straight to the exciting part: having a finished piece of writing.
Sometimes that jump is actually a good idea. Providing really reluctant writers with a shortcut, such as a writing frame, can help motivate them to get started.
But as students are ready to move into a more in-depth study of writing, helping them embrace rather than dread the writing process will yield far greater results. The writing process is what sustains writers once we—invariably—use up the initial excitement that comes from beginning a new project.
If you need some reinforcements to convince a student—or yourself—that using the writing process is beneficial, here it is.
What's so great about the writing process is that It is…
Each person writes differently. Some of my students love creating mind maps. Others need to talk through their ideas. Still others need to formulate complete sentences in order to know what they think about a topic. They might freewrite or write out sentences in a bullet point brainstorm. No two writers gather, organize, and evaluate their ideas and their language in exactly the same way. Just because the writing process is a process, it doesn't have to be one-size-fits-all.
Each part of the writing process requires a different part of your Writing Brain. The right kind of thinking is immensely important. We need to be open and expansive when we first come up with ideas, but we should be more narrow and analytical when we edit. Once we know about these different kinds of thinking, we can practice the skill of shifting into the most effective kind of mindset for the writing task we’re facing. Mentally preparing for a task helps us start acting faster and with more focus. Just like choosing what you'll wear each day cues your brain that it's time to go to a meeting or slouch on the couch. When your brain knows what you want it to do, it can jump into a task faster.
Talking to students about the six different modes of thinking involved in writing is hugely valuable. It gives them more awareness about how their minds are working. A student of mine recently told me that his Ant (the drafting-without-worrying-about-perfection part of the Writing Brain) wasn’t working so well. His awareness of this helps me devise more focused activities that will train his drafting skills. But it also gives him the opportunity to see that he has writing strengths. His Organizer and Reflector are doing great! Instead of believing that he's struggling with the whole subject of writing, he’s aware that his difficulty is with certain parts of it. That likely feels a lot less intimidating for him.
Focusing on just one stage of the process lessens our commitment: we’re not planning the entire project at once. Instead, we’re agreeing to work on one activity at a time. This means that at any stage of the writing process we can change our minds. If the details we used in our brainstorm aren’t shaping up into a compelling outline, we scrap them. On the other hand, if the details are strong but don’t make the argument we thought they would, we modify the thesis. The writing process allows us to change our minds and to move in the direction of least resistance.
The writing process isn’t linear. In fact, each step is often a microcosm of the whole process, spiraling fractal-like among inspiration, preparation, execution, and evaluation. Like scientists in a writing experiment, we devise small trials, gather results, and decide which direction to move in next. I encourage my students to call up their Mad Scientists for more brainstorming when faced with blank spots in an outline, or to call up their drafting Ants when they’re deciding among different ways to revise a particularly tricky sentence. This is where knowledge of their Writing Brains becomes vital as it helps them move smoothly and efficiently among different types of thinking.
Using the writing process breaks up a mammoth task into manageable steps. At the same time, it trains us to be flexible and resilient with our ideas. It strengthens our adaptive muscles, and it makes us more astute observers.
To be able to write well and communicate effectively is surely the goal we all have for our children or ourselves. When we embrace the writing process, we not only get this; we also learn how to think more clearly. We become the masters of our own minds.