The first step in beginning to write is to think of yourselves as writers---not necessarily easy to do. Depending on past experiences, you may have already labeled yourself as okay, not so hot…or even downright terrible. Fill in the blank with a word or phrase that describes your view of yourself as a writer:
I consider myself to be a writer.
Many students view the act of writing as mysterious and think successful writers have lucked into their talent. But most people who write are not geniuses. They can be confused at first, uncertain, and anxious about where their ideas will come from. Does that sound familiar? Read that sentence again. Highlight any words in the underlined description that apply to you when you’re faced with a writing assignment.
Often, writers produce some genuinely bad writing in their early drafts and stress over the final shape of their words—and what others will think of the writing. However, just like you, published writers have to work hard at their writing: draft after draft, revision after revision, editing and more editing. They work until the writing is done, just like we are working in class. And what does a “done” piece of writing look like?
Use descriptive word choice to list some qualities of a writing piece that is actually and truly “done.”
Now, highlight the qualities above that you can honestly say apply to your recent draft.
Whatever your past experiences with writing, you share in the common experience of everyone who seeks to commit words to paper. When you write—whether you want to or you’re just being forced to—if it’s a brief paragraph or a long essay, you are a writer, with all the hard work, the aggravation, and the satisfaction that comes with it. Highlight the words in that last sentence which apply to how you feel about the essay we’ve been working on in class.
As we move forward, in order to focus your efforts before beginning to write again, you should ask yourself several questions. This is how writers get started, and you are all writers, regardless of how you feel about the process.
What is my purpose?
Who is my audience?
What, exactly, is the project?
How can I develop a real interest in the project?
Now, let’s look at each of these questions as a part of the first step of the writing process.
Before you begin the Writing Process:
Let’s look at those first questions a writer asks before even writing a sentence.
What is my purpose?
People write for many reasons, often having several for the same project, although one purpose usually stands out. Listed below are some of the main reasons to write, but these are not the only reasons.
To explain ideas
To explain information
To argue for an idea
To explore ideas
To express emotions
Who is my audience?
Most student writing is done for teachers. However, in “real world” writing, you need to be able to communicate effectively with different readers, ranging from fairly general audiences to very specific ones. Knowing your audience will help you decide what and how much to say.
Below, use descriptive word choice to compare writing an informal, casual note to a close friend to writing a formal letter to a teacher.
Note to a close friend:
Assignment for a teacher:
What you write will change depending on your audience, so figuring out who your audience is will help you decide what your word choice will look like, how you’ll organize your writing, and how much explanation will be necessary.
Let’s try analyzing audience again, but this time, let’s challenge ourselves more. Imagine that you are explaining something about a skill you have to two different audiences: someone who also shares that skill and someone who doesn’t have a clue. In other words, to one audience member, you are explaining how to perfect a skill, but to the other audience member, you are going to explain something about the basics of the skill. Choose a topic such as playing a sport/perfecting a skill within that sport, playing an instrument/perfecting a skill related to the instrument, playing a game (board game or video)/perfecting a skill or strategy related to that game, or explaining how to do a specific hairstyle/adding a little more complicated technique to the style.
Writing to the pro:
Writing to the newbie:
The decisions you make in regard to who your audience is will greatly impact how and what you write, so be sure you consider that before you place your pen on the paper or open up your blank word document.
What, exactly, is the project?
If you’re writing for yourself, you may know just what you want to say, but writing out your goals will still help you focus your thoughts. In class, your teacher will give you an assignment with expectations to follow. From the start of the assignment, you should pay attention to how your teacher is going to grade you so that you can decide what the assignment is going to require of you.
For example, in your first personal narrative draft, you were only scored based on whether or not your IDEAS and ORGANIZATION was solid, right? That was the project for your first draft. After the first draft, if you were missing anything related to IDEAS and ORGANIZATION, you were expected to REVISE that draft to fix those missing parts of your essay. If you did, you were paying attention to the requirements of the project. If you did not, you weren’t paying attention to what, exactly, the project was.
From here on out— using the information I give you in class about the assignment before you even begin to write—you should focus yourself with that important question: What, exactly, is the project? During the Writing Process, you shouldn’t worry about everything at once. Focus on the task at hand. One step at a time gets the job done right.
TRAIT OF WRITING TO FOCUS ON +
How can I develop a real interest in the project?
Okay, I know this next part is going to sound absolutely CRAZY, but since I’m an English teacher, you should expect a little crazy.
The worst approach to any writing assignment is to take a passive attitude, to say, “I don’t care, whatever.” Sometimes you have to write to specific requirements, sometimes not. When a topic is assigned, you can still find some part of it that is appealing. When you can choose a topic, take time to find an interesting one, rather than going for the first or seemingly easiest one. If you can commit to the project, you are more likely to enjoy the writing process—and you will probably end up with a better grade, especially since you will write and rewrite your essays until it is “done.”
Good writing is not easily accomplished; it takes time. To achieve the best results, first gain a clear overview of the project, and then apply effective study skills.
KEY STUDY SKILLS: Listen carefully in class, ask questions, and take notes, especially when your teacher writes on the board, uses the Elmo or tv screen, or posts information on the class website.
Take handouts home to study or complete.
Participate fully in class activities and discussion: this approach will help you understand every writing assignment.
Pay attention to supplemental (extra) instructions your teacher gives you to further explain the writing project.
Study student models given to you by your teacher for further help with the assignment.
Step One: Brainstorming
How many times have you been faced with a writing project and found that you have nothing to say? This experience is a common, frustrating one. Instead of smacking your keyboard in frustration or simply giving up, why not try one or several of the following methods for discovering ideas?
Freewriting: rapid, uncensored writing
You might already use this type of brainstorming to produce a rough draft. Fast drafting, or freewriting, lets you get ideas on paper—some of which may be usable. You write nonstop without worrying about what you’re writing or how you’re writing it. Even if you run out of thoughts, you just keep writing or typing.
Remember, this format focuses your topic; it is not the same as DRAFTING.
Clustering: writing a single word in the middle of the page and then jot down around it any words that the center word brings to mind
You have probably used this type of brainstorming at some point. After linking several words to the original word, you connect more words to the second set. Keep extending your network of linked words until you find a grouping that seems interesting.
Remember, this type of brainstorming focuses your topic; it is not the same as ORGANIZING your writing.
Listing: creating a list of descriptive words or phrases that apply to your topic
You may have used the Journalist’s list of questions to brainstorm using this technique. Usually, you use this form after you have a pretty good idea of your writing topic. You can ask yourself the journalist’s questions who, what, when, where, why, how, and what was the result.
It’s important to remember again that this type of pre-writing is not the same as drafting or organizing your writing. The purpose of any pre-writing is to focus your brain on a topic of narrow ideas so that you know what you’re going to write about before you put pen to paper or open up that word document.
Step Two: Organizing
Giving Your Ideas Order
After you finish Pre-writing but before you move ahead from the first step of the Writing Process, you have to make sure that you use your brainstormed ideas to decide on a central point for your essay.
Thesis Statement:central idea of your essay; should include your topic plus a statement that expresses an opinion, attitude, or feeling about it
Topic Sentence: central idea of one paragraph; should include the topic of the paragraph plus a statement that expresses an opinion, attitude, or feeling about it
Before you begin organizing your IDEAS, you should focus again on your purpose (to entertain, to explain, to support an argument, to describe, etc), review the assignment instructions for suggestions, and try some informal or formal OUTLINING.
Rough Outline: simple list of ideas; organized based on the type of writing you’re doing
Ex. Narrative = list the ideas of the plot diagram or “story glove”
Ex. Expository = list thesis, topic sentences, and maybe ideas for evidence
Ex. Descriptive = spatial – moving from one side to the other; inside to outside; top to bottom, or front to back
Once this structure is set, the writer can add more details from the brainstorming list or from additional brainstorming.
Formal Outline: have numbered and lettered categories and subcategories
Formal Outlines are great for longer writing projects, like essays. Here is the pattern of a formal outline:
Thesis Statement (Central idea of essay)
First topic sentence (first main supporting idea)
First supporting piece of evidence
First specific supporting detail
Second specific supporting detail
Additional supporting detail
Additional supporting detail
Second supporting piece of evidence
Second topic sentence (second main supporting idea)
If you have a I, you have to have a II. If you have an A, you have to have a B. If you have a 1, you have to have a 2. If you have an a, you have to have a b. This pattern continues for the length of the essay.
Step Three: Drafting
Writing your essay, remembering—of course—that more drafts will come
Now that you have the ideas and details for your essay and you have the overall shape of your essay figured out, you now have to focus on your main idea (thesis sentence for the essay, topic sentence for a paragraph).
First Draft Goal: Create material for the coming revisions; grammar, usage, and mechanics should not be major concerns (though writers occasionally backtrack to correct minor errors as they go).
What about Writer’s Block? Return to your central point. Be sure you have written out a rough topic or working thesis sentence at the top of the page, and reread it frequently as you write.
Try any of the brainstorming ideas we already discussed previously in step one of the Writing Process (for example, clustering or listing).
Talk to yourself on paper. Begin a written “conversation” about your writing problem.
Talk to yourself out loud, or speak with another person. Often, simply verbalizing things can help you clarify a fuzzy idea or give you a new direction.
Read what others have written. Read a model essay to see if it helps give you an idea.
To get around the “perfection syndrome” that sometimes freezes some writers, let yourself go ahead and write a clunky, awkward paragraph. Say, “I know this is junk writing, but that’s what I’m trying for. I’ll revise it later.” You might be surprised at how many usable ideas and even sentences you write.
If you are writing an essay and the introduction is a problem, start writing the body paragraphs instead. If your first body paragraph is not working, move on to the next paragraph.
Take a break. Sometimes, a five minute pause during which you purposely don’t think about your essay is just what you need.
Step Four: Revision
You revise over and over and over again. Revision is not a one-time process. You draft and then revise as many times as you need to in order to end up with the final draft you want or need.
Revision Priority List: IDEAS: The content of your writing is the most important feature.
Check your ideas for clarity: Can you and other readers understand your point?
Be sure you have enough evidence and details to express your meaning and satisfy your readers’ curiosity.
Check for unnecessary points, examples, or details—anything that is repetitive or will distract readers from the central idea.
Organization: Make sure readers can follow your ideas.
Check your thesis sentence (for the entire essay) or topic sentences (for each body paragraph) to see if they still clearly guide your readers.
Review the overall organization of your essay. If you’re writing a narrative, you’ll make sure you’re still following the plot diagram. If you’re writing a descriptive essay, you’ll check to see that you’re still following spatial organization. If you’re writing an argument essay, you’ll make sure that you are supporting your claims with your strongest evidence first or moving to your strongest evidence last, depending on your choice.
Look closely at how your sentences and paragraphs flow together. If transitions or other connectors are needed, use them.
Check your ending: Does it link to the main point of your paper and leave readers with something to reflect on?
Word choice, Voice, and Sentence Fluency:Word choice and the arrangement of those words, phrases, and clauses can make writing easy or difficult for your audience to follow.
What words are not working well?
Is your meaning fuzzy? Do you need more description?
Do you repeat words unnecessarily?
Do you have enough variety in the length, type, and beginnings of your sentences?
Where can you tighten up your sentences, eliminating words that serve no purpose, such as “there is/are” or “it is/was,” “started to,” or “began to”?
As you practice revising, you will get better at it. Moving slowly through each of your drafts and focusing on ONE of the above categories to revise at a time will make this process more manageable.
Step Five: Editing
After revising your essay several times for ideas, organization, and style (word choice, and sentence fluency), it’s time to focus on the conventions of writing (grammar, usage, and mechanics).
How to Edit: Go slowly, stopping often. When you edit, you will tend to see whole word groups as you are used to seeing them, rather than how they actually appear on the page. Your mind will fill in the blanks for missing words automatically, register there as their, or create or eliminate pauses for commas in an unpredictable way. You’ll have to train your eyes to search for these errors slowly…or just use the F+CTRL function to help in some of these areas.
Read through your paper many times, each time focusing on just a few kinds of errors.
Begin a list of errors that you see often in your essay so that you know what errors you are likely to make.
Allow enough time for others to review your work with you: classmates, friends, family members, learning lab tutors, and anyone willing to help.
Word process your drafts. Errors are generally more noticeable on a cleanly word-processed page than on a hand-written one, and you have the advantage of using spell-checkers.
Step Six: Publishing
Making your writing public, one way or another
Ways you can “publish” your writing: Posting it in the classroom or hallway
Reading it to your classmates
Posting it onto a blog or web site
Sharing it on Edmodo or Criterion
What other ways can you think of to “publish” your writing?
Publishing your writing is an important part of the Writing Process. Below, list a few reasons why.