The Writing Process, Again

Apparently I'm more of a creature of habit than I thought.  Every year about this time I write a post about going back to the basics.  These pithy thoughts may be disguised in several different ways, but basically what I end up writing about is the writing process.

And that's what I'm going to write about again today.

Actually, this is the first in a whole series of posts on the writing process, that will continue throughout next week.  Each post will focus on one aspect of the writing process, as I see it,  including glumping it on the page, rewriting, and revising.  Oh, and on Monday there's a bonus post about critiquing and the writing process. I've written about the parameters of the writing process so much I'm not going to do it here again today, so if you need a refresher go here or here.

Today I want to talk about why I'm such a fervent believer in the writing process.

Because any other manner of writing makes me into a crazy person.

Say I set out to write an article about, hmmm,  pugs.  And since I know a fair amount about pugs, I decide that I should be able to write this baby up right quick.  And so I make up an outline and then take each step of the outline and write about it.  Piece of cake.  Except what comes out is tight and boring and constricted.


Because I'm imposing perfection on my article.  I'm assuming I know so much that I don't need to write a rough draft and then another draft and then another and another.  Because I know so much that the rought draft, my first pass, will be perfect. 

But the opposite is true.  In bypassing the writing process, I've bypassed all the places where the magic happens.  The first place is in the glumping phase, when you just let it all hang out on the page, every single damn bit of it, in a glorious unorganized way.  Sometimes in this phase you learn stuff you didn't even know you knew, or fresh ideas appear unbidden.  Which is why this step is sometimes called the discovery draft.

And magic happens further down the line, too.  It occurs when you go back to that discovery draft with fresh eyes, seeing it as beautiful, raw treasure.  And then you get to shape it into a thing of even more beauty, a thing that your readers will love.

The first draft is for the writer to figure out the story.  The second draft is for the writer to figure out how best to present the story to her readers.

And that's just all there is to it.  Of course, as far am I'm concerned, the best rules of writing are the ones that work for you, so if you've found a better way, feel free to share in the comments.  And come back on Monday when I discuss the role of critiquing in the rough draft.


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14 Responses to The Writing Process, Again

  1. Jessica 02/19/2010 at 18:49 #

    Ah, the old adage ‘writing is rewriting.’ But as you say, having a messy, free and random first draft is just as important.

    There’s a great article in the Writer’s Digest February 2009 on page 30 called ‘Rough It Up’ by Elizabeth Sims. It’s all about the advantages of having a messy and ‘unfettered’ first draft. The article made me realise that my first drafts were probably too slow and too perfect. I need to let fly, don’t worry too much about transitions and consistency in plot. That’ll come later. Just get the stuff down on paper.

    Unfortunately, I still need to feel like I’ve spelled everything correctly and have strong transitions (which goes against the advice in the article) but it’s necessary for my peace of mind.

    So, I agree, ‘glump’ vigorously and freely in your first draft! Then you can come back and polish later. And polish, and polish, and polish.

  2. Derek 02/20/2010 at 00:46 #

    Yes, I certainly do the “get it all down phase”, but I need to set myself a firm commitment to a schedule after that, because my mind goes into what I call my “completion mode” – that is… I’ve got it all down, so the story is told…. period.

    But for the most part I “feel the pain and do it anyway”. The “pain” though is transient. It is like diving into a cold swimming pool. You hesitate on the side of the pool, but once you are in, it is great fun. :-)

  3. Charlotte Dixon 02/20/2010 at 07:58 #

    Jessica, I love the use of the word “unfettered” in relationship to the first draft. It is perfect. I confess, I correct spelling, too, but not much else.

    Derek, I run into many students who feel that same way, that once the first draft is done, it is done. But so much of the beauty of the work comes in rewriting. And I actually now like rewriting better, because to me, that is where the true meaning and shape emerges.

  4. Wilma Ham 02/21/2010 at 15:56 #

    Hi Charlotte
    Although I am writing all day on my blog and others, I never considered myself a writer. I even refused to call myself a writer until I could no longer deny it.
    I find writing a cumbersome process, it takes a long time to write something that doesn’t resemble a ramble of thought but reads like a well formed piece.
    I have learned with difficulty to limit my blog posts to one point only. I hated to scrap all the other (good :)) thoughts that were meandering through the post.
    Being Dutch and English not my mother tongue didn’t make it easier either. I miss not being able to use English slang as I can in Dutch.
    Love Wilma

  5. don 02/21/2010 at 20:09 #

    I never really gave it a name, as such, but ‘wallpaper’ is something that I can certainly identify with.

    The four steps in ‘the writing process’ is also something that I’m familiar with from writing class as well, and as far as the writing process goes, it can certainly be hard and difficult at times, but after you go through it, in the end, once you’ve gotten it just right, or mostly so, the pain associated with the writing process is more than worth it all, especially after seeing the joy that it can bring to your readers!

    In conclusion: the GAIN from your PAIN, in the whole writing process, is definitely worth it all, and for me, simply knowing that the whole writing process was appreciated by my readers is worth even more than any monetary gain that the writing process might generate, but I also must admit…. that is kind of nice too!

  6. Charlotte Dixon 02/21/2010 at 21:16 #

    Hi Wilma, I like to say that nothing is ever wasted in writing, so perhaps you can take some of those ramblings that you’ve cut and use them in other blog posts? And I do hope that you are routinely calling yourself a writer now!

    Don, I do think that once you go through the writing process several times you get the hang of it and won’t ever go back to anything else. And yes, the end result–communication–is vital!

  7. Patty - Why Not Start Now? 02/22/2010 at 01:37 #

    Hi Charlotte – This is very helpful to me. I’ve always loved the shitty first drafts line, but you know, I don’t think I’m too good at that. There’s a freedom to that, to just go and get it out. So I’ve got to loosen the hold a little. I also love the Wallpaper Effect. I do that all the time!

  8. Charlotte Dixon 02/22/2010 at 09:22 #

    Patty, even for as schooled as I am in the writing process, sometimes I still find myself agonizing over word choices and so forth..and when I remind myself to let it rip, writing is much better!

  9. Christi Corbett 02/04/2011 at 07:50 #

    I love the first draft. It’s the fun one, the one where you can steer the car off the road, into the river, up the mountain, and into the air for a quick detour. The first draft has no rules and if you want to chuck your outline out the window, go for it, because that’s when the magic happens.

    Nice post!

    Christi Corbett

  10. Charlotte Dixon 02/04/2011 at 09:45 #

    Thanks, Christi. I love the first draft, too. And I used to hate doing rewrites. But as I’ve written more and more, I’ve grown to really enjoy the rewriting process, too. However, there’s nothing like the freedom and wonder of getting the story down on the page for the first time.

  11. Sarah Allen 02/04/2011 at 09:50 #

    Mmm, invaluable advice. I am absolutely one of those that strain over each word in the first draft, but I’ve been working on that for a while, because in that mode you never get anything done. It’s good to relax and remind yourself that you can come back and fix things up later. Thanks for this!

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

  12. Charlotte Dixon 02/04/2011 at 10:26 #

    I always encourage people to do what comes most naturally to them–and I’m not sure that straining over every word is actually natural. I think its us forcing it. So I’m glad that you’re working on that tendency. You must be doing something right, because last I heard you were ripping out the word count on your novel!

  13. Robin Cohen 04/07/2011 at 22:51 #

    I have to say that I really appreciate your blog…. very intelligently written, with a lot of very helpful tidbits….


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