3 Steps to a More Effective Writing Process

August 2019
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While we talk a lot about what to write — More stories! Fewer words! — we don’t focus so much on how.

Most of us were never taught to write. We were taught instead to rewrite: how to spell, punctuate and use the right grammar. As a result, we try to do three things at once: Figure out what to write, write it and get it right. No wonder writing is so hard!

But if you’ll break your work up into three stages of the writing process and write step by step, you’ll write better, easier and faster. Here’s how:

1. Prewriting: Prewriting is where you get ready to write, or develop a plan for your story. This step includes everything you do to prepare to put the first word onto the page:

  • Conduct research. You’ve heard the phrase “hog in, sausage out.” That means that what you get out of the grinder will be no better than what you put in it. That’s certainly true in writing. No matter how accomplished a writer you are, your story will be no better than your material.
  • Identify your story angle. Like a tree, your message can branch out in different directions. But it should all come back to a single trunk. That trunk is your story angle.
  • Organize your piece. Spend a few minutes organizing your message upfront, and you’ll save hours agonizing over it later. So take the time now to figure out what goes into your lead, nut graph, background section, body, wrap-up and kicker.

2. Freewriting: There comes a point in any writing project where you have to follow Ernest Hemingway’s first rule for writers, and apply the seat of your pants to the seat of a chair. You have to write.
And that’s the second stage of the writing process: freewriting, or getting your rough draft on paper or the screen. It’s much easier to revise your work when you have a piece of writing to revise.

To freewrite your message:

  • Put away your notebook. Typing up your notes isn’t writing; it’s typing. Moving your notes around in a Word document isn’t writing, either. The only way to write is to write.
  • Write quickly, without stopping. In freewriting, you want to achieve what creativity experts call “flow.” In that state, you’ll feel as if you can hardly type fast enough to keep up with your ideas — as if the words are flowing from your fingers. The only way to achieve that is to let momentum carry you along. So keep writing.
  • Take a break. Stuck? Don’t just sit there. Do something! Get up. Move around. Get some fresh air. In a minute or two, you’ll find yourself back at your desk, eager to capture your next idea.

3. Rewriting: Here’s where you fine-tune your message: revising and editing and nailing grammar, spelling and punctuation.
Spend enough time prewriting and freewriting, and rewriting should be a breeze. Instead of heavy lifting — cutting and pasting and moving and fixing — rewriting becomes tweaking and polishing.

Most writers invest little time in the prewriting process, focusing instead on fixing a lame draft during the rewriting phase. Turn that investment upside down: Spend the bulk of your time getting ready to write, and you’ll spend less time fixing what you wrote. ?

Copyright © 2019 Ann Wylie. All rights reserved.

Nail Your Writing Process

To learn more tips for developing a writing process that works, please join PRSA and Ann Wylie at “How to Write Better, Easier & Faster” — a two-day Master Class on Sept. 17-18 in New York. PRSA members: Save $100 with coupon code PRSA19.

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