Tag Archives: writing process

The Writing Process, the Writing Center, and You

Dear Potential Writing Center Client,

I am writing this letter to you to inform you of the world of possibilities the Writing Center @ MSU can offer you. Through this letter, it is my hope that you open up to the idea that writing is a process and that we are here to assist you with that process, wherever it is you may be.

Strong, thoughtful writing usually doesn’t happen overnight. If you write something the night before it is due, then you are writing what is probably, as Anne Lamott would call it, a “shitty first draft.” And shitty first drafts are great! Sometimes you just need to get it out and after you have your initial ideas out, shitty or not, we (you and a tutor) can begin to engage in the writing process through revision.

I want you to open up to another idea: writing as revision. Writing, as a process, is something that ideally happens over time and is at its strongest when you can draft something and continue to revise it, or re-envisioning it (see what I did there?). If you can give into this idea, then, the writing process is something we can engage in together (at the Writing Center!).

A basic outline for the writing process is as follows: brainstorming, outlining, drafting, revision, revision, revision, revision (do you get the point yet?), revision, editing. I will now go into detail concerning the individual steps.

All of these steps are proposed as a model. You might have a different model or one in a different order. If you are not doing writing in the way I’ve just prescribed, don’t fret! It’s just a model to give you a start.

Brainstorming:

This is the generative, imaginative, creative, and/or constructive part of the writing process. This is when you can begin bringing ideas together without any fear of linear thinking, making complete sense, or worrying if it will “work.” Brainstorming is a beautiful, magical time where you are free to roam the wilds of your mind and jot down anything that seems relevant. Techniques like making lists, bubble maps, and free-writing are simple tools you can use during this stage to generate ideas.

Outlining:

Outlining can be understood as the step between brainstorming and drafting where you take those many thoughts and start organizing them into a more coherent, but not perfect state. Outlining can consist of formal outlines with roman numerals, lazy outlines of your choosing (my favorite) or just organized lists. Outlining can also be a great time to discover if you need more research or not.

Drafting:

Drafting, for the purpose of this model, is the creation of the first draft (or “shitty first draft”) in an attempt to get your words into a more coherent, written-out-with-sentences form. Drafts don’t have to look like the final product. Drafts are an attempt at paragraphs and organization. Think of this as the starting step for what your essay or written text will become. A few tips for drafting: don’t over think it, just write as much as you can (more is better), and just let go.

Revision:

Revision is the possibly never-ending process of taking your draft and re-envisioning it. This is when you really need to start considering the form/needs of the genre you are working in and the global issues of your paper (organization, main argument, transitions, clarity). When you think genres, think about how essays are different from prose, are different from cover letters, are different from poems. For example, if you are writing an essay, where is the thesis and is it central in your whole piece? I say revision is possibly never ending because at this point you can revise to your heart’s content (or until the deadline) and leaving yourself the time to revise is of the upmost importance to the writing process. Like the old maxim from da Vinci, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” There will come a time when you will have to say, “Okay, I think this is where I need to leave my writing for now. It makes enough sense and answers to the assignment/genre.”

Editing:

Editing is left for last because now that you have addressed the global concerns, you can go through and check your paper for local issues like sentence structure, syntax, and grammar. Editing is the time to “polish” your piece and consider your tone and how you are saying things. A good strategy for this is reading the essay in reverse order, one sentence at a time, to focus on the sentence meaning and not the linear, argument(s) being constructed.

The best thing we (at the Writing Center) can do for you is also help you figure out YOUR PROCESS. That’s the beauty of our approach to peer revision—when you become aware of your process, you can begin to tailor it for your own needs and purposes. That would be our highest and ultimate goal: to facilitate awareness of and define a process that works for YOU. A process you can engage in (and redefine) as you need, long after you stop using the writing center and even long after college.

Please come join us for a session at the center. I mean, you’ve already paid for it in student fees! And you never know what you might learn here, or what we can imagine together.

The Writing Process

I know what you’re thinking; you’re wondering what is a writing process and why I am writing about it? A writing process is whatever sequence of events you follow from start to finish when you write something. It’s important to become aware of your own writing process because it can allow you to become a more productive writer.

Now that you know what a writing process is, I want to give you some advice based on my own writing process. I hope I can explain what a writing process can look like and how some introspection about yourself might reveal important information about your owm process.

My writing process: I like to think about what I am going to write and then furiously write everything I can think of down without thought to whether my ideas connect or if there are grammatical errors or spelling mistakes. Then I go through what I have and clean it up grammatically and organize my thoughts into paragraphs or sections; then I brainstorm about each section I have created and add content mostly in the same way as I described before. Rinse and repeat!

I like my writing process because I am a visual learner; after I have word vomited my thoughts onto a page, I am able to visually see everything that I had on my mind, which makes it really simple for me to SEE how everything fits together. In turn, this allows me to keep focus and structure what I’m writing the way I want it to be and “fit the puzzle pieces together.” Continue reading

Currently Reading: 642 Things to Write About, by the San Francisco Writer’s Grotto

642Sometimes I get a bit stumped in my writing.  This  book was gifted to me and I imagine came originally from the Urban Outfitters establishment on Grand River Avenue.  The telltale fabric shopping bag screaming URBAN OUTFITTERS was a bit of a giveaway, but a thoughtful gift it was nonetheless.

I have mixed feelings about the content of the book. The layout has me giving a thumbs down. Each page has only one to four prompts on it. Some are followed by lines, some blank spaces, some in quadrants, and some a whole page. Personally, I would prefer a list. That way the book could be smaller and easier to carry around for those times I’m writer’s blocked and away from home. As it is, the book is a bit large and since I’m usually planning on writing more than three sentences, the space that is given for writing is hardly adequate anyway. I just leave it on the bookshelf, look to it for inspiration, and do my writing elsewhere.

21324_zoom2Ignoring the layout, however, and the awkward writing spaces, the prompts offered are just right. Some of the prompts are very specific and give you a bit of a plot to run with.  Other prompts give a short phrase like “the things she kept hidden.” I like these ones best because they’re vague, brief, and just give you a hint of an idea to get the writing going.

If you need something to get you started with your next creative writing project, I’d recommend this or another writing prompt book if you can find one. It’s a great place to start. And, if you’re looking for a challenge, try combining two, three, four prompts together and seeing what you can come up with!

From Screen to Page: “The Mind’s Eye”

from screen to page logoThis week I want to write about narrative organization. Namely, I want to write about how simply presenting things to your audience in chronological order can sometimes work against you.

For this, I’ll be referring to an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, called “The Mind’s Eye.” Now, this is an interesting challenge for me, because while I’m a huge Star Trek fan (the technical term is Trekker), I can’t assume that my audience is, or knows anything about Star Trek. So this means I need to give you all a summary of the episode, but not confuse anyone with a lot of references to the series that don’t make any sense.

The episode in question is about one of the main characters (Geordi) being kidnapped and brainwashed by some of the Bad Guys. They do this so they can use him to assassinate an ambassador. He goes back home thinking everything is fine (he’s brainwashed, after all) and goes about his business. Then some mysterious stuff starts happening, and the Good Guys are accused of helping some Other Bad Guys. Geordi gets his chance, and tries to kill the ambassador, but the Good Guys stop him, figure it all out, and he is cleared of charges. The episode ends with Geordi talking to a psychiatrist, trying to unravel what happened to him.

So that’s the break down. If you want a more detailed version, check out the episode’s Wikipedia entry here. For a really detailed version you can check out the entry at Memory Alpha, the Star Trek wiki. Continue reading

From Screen to Page: “Young Tory of the Year”

from screen to page logoWriting comes in many forms, and different genres and styles have different techniques and requirements. Writing for film or television is necessarily different than writing an essay or a novel, but the great secret is that these techniques are not mutually exclusive. Just because you’re writing an essay for a class doesn’t mean that you can’t be inspired by something you heard in a film. I’ve heard it said that the best way to become a good writer is to read a lot, and I think that’s true, but incomplete. You shouldn’t limit yourself to one form of writing. Novelists can learn a lot from TV, screenwriters can learn a lot from essays, and so on.

It is my intention with this column to find writing lessons in television and film, lessons which I think can be helpful to writers of all sorts. I myself am a great evangelist of popular culture: I’ve turned many a friend and family member into a fan of some show or  band or game they were unfamiliar with, so hopefully I’ll also be able to introduce readers to a variety of shows and films they might not otherwise have seen. I’d also like to think that the analyses that will follow might help readers become better critics themselves, and help them to see visual entertainment as more than “merely” entertainment, and instead as mediums that should be taken seriously, and can have as much merit as any novel or opera. I guess we’ll see.

So all that aside, I’d like to talk about a sketch from A Bit of Fry and Laurie. A little background, first. Like most of my favorite sketch comedies, A Bit of Fry and Laurie was a British show. It was created, written, and performed by Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, hence the name. Both are quite well known performers, although Hugh Laurie is probably better known in the United States these days for having played Dr. House on, well, House.

What I love about the show is that it’s rather intellectual, and most of the sketches rely on wordplay, context, pronunciation, or definitions for their humor. Oh there are plenty of jokes about body parts and a good deal of absurdity, and no small amount of social and political commentary, but it’s the use of language that really does it for me here. Continue reading

Surviving Finals Week: Keeping Focused, and Letting Loose

The writing process is a strange thing. What do you think of when you hear “the writing process?”

Maybe something like Prewriting -> Writing -> Revision?  How about First draft -> Revision -> Final draft? Or maybe you think about it in terms of steps. Like, you do research, then outlining, then writing, then adding citations?

These are all fine. The important thing is knowing what kind of process works for you. But equally important, and rarely considered, are the parts of the writing process that actually have nothing to do with you writing something. Have you ever been stumped on a project or idea of some kind, and then BAM! An idea comes to you at the most random time? Like, just before you go to bed, or while you’re out with friends, or upon your first mouthful of mac and cheese?

OmNomN… I just thought of something AMAZING!

That’s because your brain never really shuts off from the things you need it to do. The temptation, especially as finals week approaches, is to force yourself to sit down and make work come out of you. But sometimes, just plain and simply, you just cannot focus. For whatever reason, it’s the wrong time to be doing this. Forcing yourself to work late into the night might seem like you’re being diligent, but it might not actually help you get things done.

Sometimes, you have to know when to take some time. If you’re sitting there, staring at a blank screen, and nothing is coming out of your head, staring at it longer probably won’t help. What might help is giving yourself a break. Play a game. Call a friend. Get some food. Chill on Facebook. Watch an episode or two of Breaking Bad. Whatever you want. Continue reading

Delicious is Delicious

delicious website logo
Working in The Writing Center, I first heard the word “delicious” relating to technology stuff when I realized we use the Delicious Library software to keep track of and lend out books. But about two weeks ago, I saw a speaker at a conference talk about how she tells her students to bookmark all of their sources for their research papers on Delicious.com…. I didn’t realize until that moment that delicious.com is a great resource for bookmarking. It’s like Facebook mashed up with Pinterest for internet bookmarks. I think it would be a great way to bookmark sources for a paper or research project (or, let’s be honest, for fun) — Brilliant! I’ll be trying this soon. Maybe you should check it out too. It’s Delicious!

Grammar isn’t the Bad Guy

The Great Grammar DebateOne of the phrases I hear the most from students coming to The Writing Center is, “I’m terrible at grammar.” What’s highly interesting about this phrase is two things: 1.) Generally speaking, students say “grammar,” but actually define that term as including “grammar, spelling, and punctuation,” and 2.) In my experience, 9 out of every 10 people who have said that really aren’t bad at it at all. It seems like, for a variety of reasons, this idea of “proper grammar” has become some sort of multi-headed beast in peoples’ minds; an unconquerable set of rules, punctuation marks, spelling, etc., that they just don’t have a chance at mastering. FALSE.

Firebreathing dragon, with the word "Gramma" in the flames.

Image via www.churchstroke.com, edited by Gines

Being good at grammar isn’t something that everybody just inherently knows; it’s like a muscle that grows over time as you continually learn more about how to strengthen it. Grammar also isn’t this set of rigid rules designed to make writing difficult, but rather the resource that helps you to communicate well through your writing. In reality, it’s no different from the chemist using the right beaker to successfully conduct the experiment, or the violinist who must tune their strings to the correct pitch before a performance.

Additionally, using proper grammar doesn’t necessarily mean you’re crafting flourishing sentences of “erstwhile’s,” “thou’s,” and “fortnight’s.” In fact, using it correctly doesn’t even guarantee that it’s a good sentence. What actually makes writing interesting and enjoyable to read is largely based on the content. Grammar, then, is the vehicle that helps you deliver those important words to your audience. Think of it like this: grammar is not a set of strict rules looking for every opportunity to trip you up between subject-verb agreements, or using the proper tense. Instead, it is a set of tools that helps you get your message to the audience. For example, if you have an idea for a fantastic play or a witty short story, grammar isn’t your enemy here. It’s the resource you use that helps you to translate what you see in your mind to words on paper in a way that allows other people to understand what you’ve envisioned.

Ultimately, the term “proper grammar” seems to evoke this idea of rules upon rules that just aren’t easy or enjoyable to use. Then again, what chemist is going to say that his favorite part of experimentation is the beakers? What musician will say that for them, it’s all about tuning up the instrument? This applies just as much to writers. Proper grammar isn’t the reason people write; we do it to tell stories, to inspire audiences, to create something meaningful, and so much more. Grammar is simply the tool that allows us to share our ideas through writing.

The Jazz of Writing

Music is one of those things that inherently has an incredible amount of power. It can move people, incite them to action, inspire creation, create moods, dispel fears, and ease pain, to name a few of the vast abilities it possesses. Music’s influence can be as individual as the carefully crafted playlist that hypes you up on your way to work or class, or as broad as that arena concert where you and thousands of others feel the bass beating its way through your bodies and the melody swirling around your collective figures.

Within this fluid and ever-changing experience of music is one particularly intriguing genre: Jazz. Since its inception, jazz has evolved into many different areas. There’s Gypsy Jazz that first arose in France during the 1930s, which combines a dark flavor with heavy swing to create a dramatic and deep series of songs. There’s Bebop Jazz, known for its fast tempo and instrumental variety that keeps a night alive for hours. There’s Afro-Cuban Jazz, which mixes strong rhythms with harmonies and served as the base for today’s Latin Jazz. These are just a few of the many styles that all lay claim to the genre of Jazz; though differing in details, what they have in common is a propensity towards improvisation, the root of this type of music. Continue reading