“Getting the Words Right”

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I get asked about my writing process. My answer is: Yes.

In other words, writing is definitely a process, often a long one, with starts and stops and dead ends and open roads. But people cringe when they hear that. They just want to write something once and be done with it.

That’s rarely a good idea.

Fear of Writing

When I was teaching writing classes at SUNY Schenectady, I discovered that students feared writing almost as much as they feared public speaking, and sadist that I am I made them do both: write papers and present them to the class.

I spent a lot of time bending students to the belief that writing is a process. I forced them to have a process because whenever I assigned a paper, I divided it into a number of smaller hand-in assignments that went something like this: idea generation, rough draft, peer review, second draft, editing session, final draft.

Those are the basic steps of writing, but for every writer the writing process itself looks a little different. Some writers generate ideas and discover their purpose by freewriting in a journal. Others draw diagrams or flow charts. Others take notes while reading and researching.  

Some writers compose early drafts with pen and paper. Others don’t know what a pen is for and instead type everything on their computers. Some writers like organizing via notecards, or making lists, or using specialty writing software.

I use flowcharts and other visual aids to discover and organize my writing.

There is no single right way, but having a process helps to alleviate writing fears and is the only way I know to produce the desired result.

Planners vs. Pantsers

In the world of novelists, writers are often divided into two camps: the planners and the pantsers. Planners outline, while pantsers just go for it and write “by the seat of their pants.”

Planners usually have less rewriting to do than pantsers, but their possibilities might be confined by adhering to a rigid outline. Pantsers end up throwing away a lot of what they write before they discover their purpose. Neither method is better than the other.

I’m a hybrid writer, especially when writing a novel. I make a crude outline covering as far as I can envision the story, which usually isn’t very far, and then I let creativity and imagination take over. I end up doing a lot of rewriting. My novels haven’t been through three or four drafts—more like thirty or forty.

Even if I’m writing an article or a professional email, I go through a number of drafts to discover and sharpen essence of what I’m trying to say.

Notecards, color-coded spreadsheets, multiple drafts.
Many pages simply must be tossed out.

Writing is Rewriting

Ernest Hemingway famously said, “The only kind of writing is rewriting.” This tidbit of wisdom from the Nobel Prize-winning author who considered 39 different endings to his novel A FAREWELL TO ARMS.

Personally, I embrace rewriting. It’s like getting closer and closer to an exciting destination. It’s like watching the fog clear to reveal a brilliant day. Or sharpening a dull knife to a razor’s edge.

No matter what your writing process is, no matter if you are writing a resignation letter or a letter to shareholders, a novel or a love note, your goal is the same: getting the words right.

I’ll sign off with one more quote:

“More than a half, maybe as much as two-thirds of my life as a writer is rewriting. I wouldn’t say I have a talent that’s special. It strikes me that I have an unusual kind of stamina.

John Irving
By David Klein

David Klein

Published novelist, creative writer, avid reader, discriminating screen watcher.

Novels

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