Submitted Date 11/27/2019

Example Of A Process

The manuscript (title image) for this article is a draft by George Sand, the famous French female author who used a man's name. The manuscript is from her book A Winter in Majorca or "Un hiver à Majorque." This was the difficult winter that she and Frederic Chopin spent together on that Spanish island. Notice how many corrections this seasoned writer made, showing the importance of revisions.

In my last article here on WriteSpike, I wrote about developing a process as an artist. The following is an example of my writing process that I developed over many years.

I have been writing since I was seven years old when I wrote my first poem. But it took many more years before I had developed my own process for writing. And I have been lucky enough to test this process on students to see if it worked for other people as well -- which it did.

Before computers, writing and especially revising was quite difficult. In high school, I used to type my school papers on what was called erasable bond paper which made it easy to erase an error with a rubber eraser. I noticed that after I typed a paper, I kept revising it and inserting a phrase here and there. The paper read much better after I had done this, but the copy looked a little messy. And for that reason, my papers were often knocked down a couple of points for their look. I always felt this was unfair since my wording was improved with my revisions. I felt I should have been judged for the quality of my writing and not the slightly messy occasional inserts.

When I became more serious about my writing, I made an effort to find drafts of works by famous writers. I found, for example, a handwritten draft by Hemingway which was much messier than mine with many arrows and sentences crossed out. I also found a manuscript of Faulkner's in a perfect script with only one insert carefully and neatly placed in the margin. Seeing their original work and the struggles they had gone through made me feel better about my own methods.

By the time college rolled around, I was a better typist and a better writer. Plus I had begun to develop the early stages of my writing process. I would make handwritten notes and then type some additional notes. Then I would actually cut these pages with scissors and tape them onto blank sheets of paper. I would leave lots of white space in between each pasted section so that I could write something if needed. I would then read through it, move phrases and sentences around and add transitions between the sections.

Of course, at this point, all I had was a rough first draft, but it was a good starting point. Next, I would type my paper in a second draft which was much easier than it had been when I was in high school because I was now totally familiar with what I was attempting to say.

I would then go through this draft with a pen or pencil and with arrows, carets, inserts and crossing outs, make changes. Finally, I would type my third draft which would be the finished paper. I learned to do all of this fairly quickly and it got me through both college and graduate school.

The key, as it turned out, was my note-taking. Once I had a good set of notes, it usually became obvious what to write. Some ideas in the notes would jump out and others would be less important. And, also because of this, I was up to speed on my subject matter when it came to writing the final paper.

When computers came along I was one of the first to embrace word processing. I finally had the tool I needed to constantly revise. I could cut and paste effortlessly. So my scissors and scotch tape transferred easily over to the world of computers. I also found that I kept revising and revising which meant that I could polish my work to a high degree which really had not been possible before.

This process worked so well for me, I got a job teaching English at a local community college and decided to try out this system with my students.

In perhaps a dozen classes, I gave the students the following instructions.
For a single paper, I asked them to consider several topics.
Then make some initial notes about each one.
Next, I wanted them to chose one of the topics.
Then make extensive notes about the topic. (I emphasized that the note-taking was not optional and a major part of their grade, as some tried to skip this step.)
Next, I wanted then to write a first draft.
Then I wanted then to share that draft with another person in the class who would read it over.
I told the students that I wanted their writing to be clear. Clarity was my principal goal.
Next, I asked them to write a second draft which I wanted them to print out on paper.
I then asked them to read the paper out loud to themselves and indicate mistakes and changes with a pencil or pen.
Last I wanted them to make those changes and print out the final third draft for me.
I found that it generally took at least three drafts for a paper to become polished and well written.

Most students hated English when they came into my class at the beginning. At the end, many of then said it was their favorite class. So I had not only taught them how to write any kind of paper in the future but also to enjoy working with writing.

On a personal level, I rarely consider a work finished now unless it has gone through six to eight drafts. When I find I am making few changes I know I am close to finishing. Conversely, when I keep making big changes such as moving paragraphs around or inserting major sentences, I have at least two more drafts to go.

I believe the real skill with writing is rewriting and rewriting until I get it right. I know that when I read it out loud to myself and it sounds good I have succeeded.

Word processing has made a huge difference in my writing quality. Here is an example of a paragraph that I wrote for a fictional dramatic monologue that I revised more than thirty times. I don't think I could have done this with a typewriter.

The paragraph is from a story about a woman who cannot sleep and thoughts about her life are keeping her awake:

I reach for a glass of water on my window sill when a flash of lightning illuminates my room. The walls, my oak bureau, the pictures of my family are now bathed in a steel blue light. I sit up and look down on the outside just as another vein cuts across the sky. It glows on the treetops, the shiny lawns below. Dark rain like a curtain follows, tapping on my glass.

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