By Erin Goldin
If you’ve taken a writing class before, especially one of UNR’s Core Writing classes, you’ve probably heard about “The Writing Process.” The Writing Process is often presented as a list of steps to follow to complete a paper, usually starting with something like “brainstorming” or “prewriting” and ending with something like “revising” or “proofreading.” It might look a little like this:
Brainstorm/Prewrite → Outline → Draft → Revise → Edit/Proofread
But the idea that there is one, true writing process is a myth. In reality, the processes are usually a lot messier and a lot more complicated—and different for every writer.
I have a friend who likes talking more than he likes writing. When he’s working on a paper, he always starts by talking to someone about his ideas—sometimes a classmate, sometimes someone in the Writing Center, sometimes a roommate who knows nothing about his topic. Once he’s figured out how to talk about his ideas, he’ll write a little—and then go talk about them again to make sure he’s still making sense. After he’s got a complete draft, he does a reverse outline and uses that to make his revisions.
His process looks a little more like this:
Talk → Draft → Talk → Draft → Talk → Revise → Talk → Draft → Talk → Proofread
I also know someone who is really great at writing outlines. She always starts with one. She’s a really detail-oriented person, and it shows in how much attention she pays to her space when she’s working and in her outlines. She usually spends a lot of time on her outlines, plugging in all of her ideas and sources. For her, the outline isn’t just about putting her ideas in order; she uses it to both brainstorm and organize her thoughts. It’s only after she’s written an outline and revised it at least once that she’ll start drafting.
Her process looks something like this:
Brainstorm/Outline → Draft → Revise → Draft → Proofread
It’s a cool strategy—that does not work at all for me. I can’t outline to save my life. (Okay, that’s an exaggeration.)
I’m a visual learner, like most of us are. Rather than taking notes and putting together an outline before I write, I do a lot of visual planning. For smaller papers, I’ll use a spider diagram to organize my thoughts. For longer papers or papers with multiple sources (like a research paper for English 102), I use index cards and sticky notes to keep track of my ideas. I spread them out on a table or the cork board on my wall so I can move them around, group related ideas, and toss the ones that don’t fit.
My process looks a little like this:
Sticky Notes → Organize Sticky Notes → Draft → Revise → Organize Sticky Notes → Draft → Proofread
It’s probably looks like a mess, but it works for me.
And that’s the trick—you have to figure out what works for you. If following that straight line works, great! You can plan your time accordingly. If it doesn’t work for you, that’s okay.
There’s no wrong way to do it. All of these steps can be combined, interrupted, and repeated. Other steps can be added—like visiting the Writing Center or journaling or taking a walk. If you know you struggle with outlines and you’re tech savvy, try one of the many free mind mapping apps. If the brainstorming or prewriting activities you’ve learned feel like busywork, it’s fine to jump into your drafting; there are strategies for making that work, too.