Write More Words, Faster | Unit 2: The Writing Process | Lesson 1
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Unit 2: The Writing Process
We've made it through the long and sometimes intense process of dealing with the internal landscape; now we are ready to focus on the actions of the writing process. Yay!
Today we're going to examine
    •    What the writing process is
    •    The four stages (a brief intro to each)
    •    The key actions of each stage
Lesson 1
Today’s goal: Get an overview of the writing process and understand each stage of it. 
Let's get started.

The writing process

The writing process is a series of multiple (possible) actions.   It’s not sitting down at your desk and staring at a blank screen or page until the words flow. In fact, if that’s how you approach writing, you’ll produce more frustration than finished pieces. 

I like to think of the writing process in four distinct stages:
  1. Working with ideas
  2. Working with material
  3. Working with quality
  4. Working with presentation.

Separate but connected stages

Sometimes these stages overlap and merge. Sometimes they are distinct. Sometimes you'll move in order from stage 1 to stage 4. 

Sometimes you’ll move back and forth between stages: idea to material, need to rework idea, back to material, on to quality, need to add more material, return to quality, shuffle between material and quality a while, finally move on to presentation.

Every stage is important no matter what kind of work you’re doing. However, the time needed and the actions required for each stage will vary with each piece of work you do. 

If you're working on an scholarly article, for example, you may spend more time in stage 1, filtering and comparing research ideas and carefully weighing the scope and impact of each one. If you're writing a personal essay based on a past experience, you may breeze through both the ideas and material stages and spend more time working on quality and presentation. 

The time and actions required by each stage depend on a) the kind of work you are doing and b) your strengths and focus as a writer. 
Q1: What stage of the writing process is the most fun for you? Which one causes you the most stress?

Methods for using the writing process

There are four basic ways to work through the writing process. 

Start to finish

You start at stage 1 with one piece of writing and take that piece individually from stage 1 through stage 2, stage 3, and finally stage 4. It’s a single-focus, start-to-finish approach. 

Imagine that you're a tour guide: this start-to-finish process is the equivalent of you, the tour guide, taking a single visitor on a customized, one-on-one tour of the entire museum. It's in-depth and interesting; it's also inefficient and slow. 

Let the value and type of each piece determine if you give it this single-focus treatment; if it’s a longer-form project or a complex, in-depth piece, this can be a great approach. For most shorter pieces, however, the start-to-finish method is overkill and using it will reduce your prolificacy. 

Batch process

You take an entire batch of pieces you're working on and move them, as a group, through each stage of the writing process. If we use the tour guide analogy, this is you as the tour guide leading a group of visitors on a customized museum tour. 

I used the batch process method to write this course.

I worked on one unit at a time, starting at stage 1 and separating each unit into individual lessons.

After working through the idea stage for each lesson in the unit, I moved on to stage 2: outlining, researching, and gathering more material, then adding details, examples, and transitions as needed.

Then on to stage 3, checking structure and flow and cutting out unnecessary parts. Then all the lessons were ready for the presentation stage: I uploaded them into my email template, formatted them, added images and other materials (such as checklists or templates), and went over the details before scheduling them in the email workflow. 

The batch process method is much more efficient approach for working with multiple shorter pieces, especially if they are related. You can use it effectively for a batch of blog posts, chapters in a book, lessons in a course, or sections in a user manual.

Stage focus

The third method is to designate a particular day or block of time for a particular stage of writing. Then you do as much as you can in that stage for that designated time. 

For example, a stage-focus schedule might look like this:
  • Monday - working with ideas: making lists of ideas, developing pitches, reading in your topics and interests, adding to your swipe file, coming up with related pieces, playing with connections, and finally choosing a few ideas to move forward. 
  • Tuesday - working with material: moving your chosen ideas through the materials process. By the end of the day, you might have a batch of posts or an entire section of a course or book researched and outlined in detail. 
  • Wednesday - working with material: continue working with materials (this stage usually takes the most time), moving each piece from detailed outline to completed draft.  
  • Thursday - working with quality: using a checklist, you assess, edit, and improve each piece. Make sure there’s a logical flow. Fact-check and ensure that you’ve used credible sources. 
  • Friday - working with presentation: reference publication-specific style guides and requirements as needed. Gather or create any supporting materials needed. Do the final formatting and submit or schedule as appropriate. 
A note: since I'm a full-time writer, I can talk about using this method in terms of days or big chunks of times, like an entire afternoon. However, many of you are squeezing writing in around other big commitments in life: a whole day or afternoon dedicated to Working With Material isn't an option. You don't have to dedicate an entire day or a big block of time: you can assign an hour each day to a particular stage in the process. Or you can set aside one day a week for writing and block the time into four distinct chunks, working through the stages. Or some other variation.

We'll go over scheduling options in more detail in Lesson 6 of this unit. 


The fourth approach is to use some combination of the other methods described above. 

You might start in batch process mode, working with as many ideas as possible. After developing several of those ideas into something usable, you might pick one and take it through the writing process with the start-to-finish method. 

I often start in stage-focus approach. I’ll designate a big block of time for working with ideas. Then the next day, I’ll switch over to batch process mode with a few of those ideas, moving them all the way through the writing process as a group in one day. Or, if I’m working with a more complex or longer piece, I might switch over to start-to-finish method and focus only on getting that longer piece through the entire writing process.

Which method is right for you?

All of them. Really.

Or, in other words, it depends: which one works best with your workflow, your time constraints, your preferences, and the type of writing you need to do. 

For more prolific writing, play around with these approaches.

I’ve personally found that batch processing is fastest for me when working on shorter pieces (or on longer projects, like this course, that break down into distinct sections). I prefer a combination method when writing a book: I start with the stage-focus method, generate ideas and a high-level outline, then switch to start-to-finish method for the individual chapters.

Now let’s take a closer look at the different stages of the writing process. 
Q2: Have you used any of the methods above? Which one do you tend to use the most?

Stage 1: Working with ideas

Stage 1, the idea stage, is all about (you guessed it!) ideas. Without stage 1, you can’t progress through the writing process. Well, you can make progress, but it will be slow and painful.

When you decide you want to write something, so you pull out a notebook or open a file and then sit there, staring at the blankness, hating yourself, hating the world, hating words, and deciding that anything is preferable to what you're attempting, you've skipped stage 1. Go back. Start over. Spend some time on it. 

The next four lessons in Unit 2 will go over each of the four stages in detail. For today, here's a quick breakdown of what you do when working with ideas: 

    •    Collecting ideas: gather, save, organize, access, review
    •    Filtering ideas: research, compare, connect, analyze
    •    Expanding ideas: relationships, repercussions, storyline, potential
    •    Choosing ideas: desire, audience, scope, timeline

You don't need to do every single one of the items above for every single idea or piece of writing you take on. But all of them can be useful at different times, for different needs. Tomorrow we'll look more closely at the idea stage and how you can work through it to prevent idea paralysis.

Stage 2: Working with material

Stage 2 is about the content itself. It’s finding, organizing, and creating the material that is the heart of what you're writing.  When it's completed, you have a piece of writing that's (almost) ready to share. 

Stage 2 is the one that involves the most staring out the window, for most people. You have the idea, and know where you’re going, but figuring out how to get there can take some time. You can do less of the staring out the window and more active working with material by taking some of these actions: 
    •    Gathering material: plan, research, find sources and stories, establish context
    •    Organizing material: outline, define terms, qualify, set purpose and order 
    •    Creating material: draft, clarify, add support, details, and transitions

There is one mistake that stops or slows most of us when working with material: rushing.

If you rush through the first stage or through the gathering and organizing part of the second stage, you will slow yourself down in the creating portion. Take the time to develop your idea and get your material adequately planned and organized before you start creating. (Also, here’s a secret: every action and every stage is creating, really.)

Stage 3: Working with quality

Stage 3 is the most intimidating for some and the most fun for others. It’s about working with what you already have and making it better. In stage 3, you assess what you've written, determining what it still needs (or needs removed), adjust it accordingly, and improve it. 

How long you spend in stage 3 varies with the type of writing you're doing; however, it's safe to say that all writing benefits from some quality control. Even the most informal piece needs a quick proofread before it goes to your readers. 

Working with quality involves these actions:

    •    Analyzing quality: assess, read, flow, logic, results, relevance
    •    Adjusting quality: edit, add, remove, revise, reorder
    •    Improving quality: focus, clarity, connections, tighten, actions

Depending on what you're writing, you may need to call in professional help for a thorough job. Before you pass your work on to a professional editor, you'll want to assess and do your own improvements.

Stage 4: Working with presentation

You've done the work, you wrote the piece, hallelujah! You're close... but not quite done; it's time to format your piece before you publish. You'll also add supporting materials, such as images or links to other resources. 

Stage 4 is also the last chance to check for mistakes before you submit, schedule, or publish your piece. Impress that editor! (Or your audience.)  (Or both.)

Here are the actions involved in presentation: 

    •    Choosing presentation: use, audience, limits, needs, requirements
    •    Preparing presentation: format, headings, links, scanning, materials 
    •    Finalizing presentation: final proof, submit, schedule, publish

Use a formatting checklist or style guide to streamline this stage. You can create your own, or use the one I'll give you in Lesson 5, or use the style guide provided by your editor or publication.

Today’s summary and assignment

  • The writing process is a series of multiple (possible) actions, separated into four distinct stages. 
  • There are four different methods for working your way through the writing process. 
  • All of the methods are useful; it’s good to play around with which ones work best for you in the kind of writing you do. 
  • Without stage 1 (working with ideas) you can’t progress in the writing process. 
  • Stage 2 is all about the content itself, the heart of what you’re writing. 
  • Spending adequate time and attention in stage 3 will help you make your writing the best it can be. 
  • Stage 4 is about the final polish and specific formatting for each piece you produce. 
Today I asked you two questions:
Q1: What stage of the writing process is the most fun for you? Which one causes you the most stress?

Q2: Have you used any of the methods above (start-to-finish, batch process, stage focus, combination)? Which one do you tend to use the most?

Today’s assignment: 
Write 250+ words about which stage of the writing process is most difficult for you. Try to come up with 5 specific reasons. 
Copyright © 2019 Annie Mueller, All rights reserved.

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