The Composing Process

I start by writing down anything that comes to mind. I write the paper as one big mass, kind of like freewriting. Then I rewrite it into sentences. I keep rewriting it until it finally takes some form.

If I have the time before I begin to write (which I usually don't) I make an outline so I have something to follow. An outline kind of gives me a guide to fall back on in case I get stuck.


Then I start in the middle because it's easier than trying to figure out where to start. The ending is easy because all you do is repeat what you just said. After the middle and the end, I try to write the beginning.

Everybody writes a little differently from everybody else. Brady starts fast, Jennifer outlines (when she has time), and Pat starts in the middle because the beginning needs to be written last. Whose way is best? Trick question. Whatever works best for you is the best way. However, experienced writers can teach us all a few tricks and perhaps make our best ways even better. The next few pages outline a composing process that roughly describes the way many writers complete a piece of writing. This process includes several distinct phases, from exploring and researching ideas to drafting, revising, and editing them—and perhaps publishing them to the world.

While writing is never effortless, if you understand this messy, unpredictable, and amazing process, you will be a little less hard on yourself when it doesn't come out just right the first time. After more than thirty years of trying to help people write better, I am convinced that some ways of writing work for more people on more occasions than do others. Yes, writing is a complex, variable, multifaceted process that refuses foolproof formulations. Still, people have been writing since the dawn of recorded history (the invention of writing IS the dawn of recorded history!), some 3,000 years, and during that time some habits and strategies have proved more helpful than others. Learning what these are may save some time, grief, energy, or perhaps all three.

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