Commentary: My Writing Process

A reader of one of my posts asked a simple question that made me think.

The question was:

I was interested to know how you center yourself and clear your mind before writing. I’ve had difficulty clearing my thoughts in getting my thoughts out there. I truly do enjoy writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are generally wasted just trying to figure out how to begin. Any ideas or hints?

The short answer is that I don’t force myself to write. I come to writing as a release rather than confront myself with it as a chore. Admittedly, this is easy to say for a ‘writing hobbyist’ like myself but not so realistic for someone who is tasked with writing, like a student, an academic, or even a professional writer.

As true as that is about myself, it doesn’t really answer the reader’s question. In fact, I do have something to share about how I overcome writer’s block or more accurately, avoid it altogether. The answer is in my writing process.

My 4 Stages of Writing

Stage I: Ideation – What shall I write about?

This stage is the most amorphous because it happens throughout everyday life, usually when I’m left alone with my thoughts. During an afternoon jog, in the car on my commute, idle moments. Deciding what to write about for me has been made simpler by my conscious decision to focus my blog on music, with some tangents for books and other arts & culture topics. This is a helpful guardrail, channelling my thoughts toward a theme that drives my curiosity and ideas.

Stage II: Composition – Forming a more concrete outline and perhaps composing lead sentences or key phrases in my mind

I don’t think I’ve ever started to write without having at least one phrase pre-composed in my head. These phrases compel me to sit down and start writing, like a song you can’t get out of your head until you hear it played.

I also try to have a rough mental outline, even if a partial one. Outlines are another way to get you started, as long as you’re not hung up on making them whole and perfect.

Stage III: Execution – The physical act of writing

Now at the keyboard, this is where the ideas and pre-composed components of the piece become a first draft. A lot of composition happens in this stage, and sometimes ideation. In fact, I quite enjoy starting a piece without knowing how I’m going to tie my topics together at the end. I try not to dwell on sentence structure, grammar, and word choice at this stage. I just want to get through my arguments.

Learning to avoid pre-mature critique has helped me a great deal. In the midst of my first draft, I used to read what I’d written and start judging it. This is fatal to the central goal of execution, which is to get your draft done. I often finish my draft with elements that I have great contempt for. Rather than deleting them in a fit of self-criticism, I let them be. Editing will come soon enough.

Stage IV: Editing – Refining, re-writing, re-organizing

I normally edit at least one day after writing. Nothing lifts a writer’s fog like a good night’s sleep and some distance. Coming back to my draft with a fresh mind, I hack away, re-reading several times, sometimes abandonning the ideas and phrases I thought were so great early in my process. Although they’re my words, as an editor, I treat them as if they were written by a stranger.

Once I’m satisfied with my final copy, I’m ready to “publish.” Sites like WordPress make this an incredibly easy task. Publishing at the touch of a button is so commonplace that one wonders why it is more significant than sending an email. For me, it represents a milestone, an achievement. No matter how small and no matter if anyone ends up reading it, I’ve gone through my process and created something satisfying.

Writing is a personal pursuit for me. Sharing it through this blog is one way I let it go and move on to the next idea.