Monday, October 27, 2014

Writing: It's a process, not an event

“Writing is a recursive process, not a one-time event.” That’s what I used to tell my college students, back when I was teaching at a state university where “teaching the writing process” was a prescribed core component of  freshman composition classes. I don’t know how many of my students really internalized the truth of that dictum, but it’s an idea that has stood me in good stead in the years since I turned from teaching to writing full-time.

My whole writing process is represented here:
pre-writing, writing, not writing, re-writing.

It’s a Process

Every process has discrete steps or stages of development. For writing, generally, these steps are: pre-writing, writing, re-writing. (I’m actually going to throw in one more step, which I call “not writing.”) Every successful writer goes through all four parts of this process, although some of them may be completed only mentally, not in writing. In this article and subsequent posts, I’d like to introduce the different parts of this process and share a little of my own experience with them. Feel free to throw in your own two cents’ worth, too, in the comments section at the end.


Recursive just means there are parts of the process that you’ll find yourself going back over as your work progresses. This is perfectly normal — writing an article or a story is not the same as completing an algebraic equation. The different parts of the process flow into one another, often in unexpected ways. This is because writing is a creative process, drawing on the imagination as well as intellect, and your mind will come up with new ideas as you go along. You need to be prepared to capture and make use of those ideas, even if they occur to you at inconvenient moments. Just jot them down and go back to them at a more convenient time.

My Process So Far

As I prepare to write Draft 4 of my Neverending Story first novel, I’m learning just how “recursive” the process really is. Since finishing Draft 3.5 (that’s my third full draft, with the beginning and end completely re-written), I’ve realized that before going ahead with the next draft, I need to revisit some of the earlier parts of the process.

You see, as I’ve been writing (lo these many months), I’ve been discovering new gaps in my original idea, feeling the need to find new depths in my characters and their interactions, and realizing that the next draft can’t simply spackle over the holes in previous versions. The whole thing needs to be re-imagined, re-organized, and the next draft will need to be freshly written, virtually from scratch.

Some of the gaps and deficiencies of the earlier drafts are due simply to the fact that I’ve never written a novel before, and I’m learning as I go. That’s okay, because I know that writing is a recursive process. Even though I developed my main characters through a careful process, way back at the beginning, I’ve now seen them in action and come to know them better — as well as realizing the ways in which I don’t yet know them well enough. So I’ve been going back and “interviewing” them to find out what really makes them tick and why they do the things they do. Similarly, although my original plot outline was basically sound, I now see that it needs to be revised because, as I’ve gotten to know my characters better, I’ve had to reevaluate when they would do what, and why, so the plot needs a little tweaking as well. It’s all part of the process.

Next time, I’ll talk about the first part of the writing process. In the meantime, if you’re in the Dallas area, why not join us for one of our twice-monthly meetings? Our next meeting is Tuesday, October 27, 7 p.m., at the University of Dallas, and the following one will begin at 11:30 a.m., Tuesday, November 11, at the Half Price Books flagship store in Dallas. Click the “Where & When We Meet” tab at the top of this page for details.