Honor your process

Writers often look at other writers to compare themselves. She writes so much more than me! Writing seems to come so naturally to him! How does she do it? And then we look at ourselves and are our own worst critics. We should be faster, smarter, more clever, more productive.

What a crock!

If you do this to yourself, stop!

What you are noticing about your writing friends or mentors or idols is not that they are light years better than you. Instead, you are noticing their process. And guaranteed, their process is different from yours.

So what do I mean by process?

It begins before you write. Here’s a glimpse into my process, but please do not compare your own process to mine, especially negatively. Your process is yours, which means it works for you and that is enough.

Let me show you my process for a piece of academic writing. I’m thinking about a particular article I wrote for WSQ that appeared this summer in their Debt issue.

Last year, I knew I needed another scholarly peer-reviewed article for my CV as I would be going up for tenure and promotion this year. So I checked UPenn’s CFP (Call for Papers) while thinking that I’d like to write about the First Nations movement, Idle No More. Within a couple of screen scrolls, the submission call for WSQ’s Debt issue appeared, I read through it, and quickly decided that I could create a piece that connected the idea of debt with this incredible movement for indigenous people’s sovereignty and environmental rights. I opened a new submission folder on my desktop, labeled it WSQ, and saved the call, noting the deadline was only three months away.

On my writing day that week, I brainstormed about debt and did some research about Idle No More. That brainstorming session stayed in my brain, rolling around for another week, and by the next writing day, I had the wisp of the idea that became the argument for my article. With the central idea mostly a skeleton, I made a list of possible sections in the article and what research I might need for each piece.

Over the next three months, I dedicated almost every hour of my single writing day each week to reading, researching, writing sections, and crafting this article. I worked steadily, pausing to revise sections that didn’t seem cohesive enough, returning to the introduction to improve my central claim and make the prose smoother. After three months of steady work, I had a workable draft that felt cohesive, polished, and worthy of submission to this call. I hit send and sat back to wait.

I think I heard back fairly fast that the editors were interested and would send it to peer reviewers. A couple of months went by and I received a “revise and resubmit” request from the editors. The peer reviewers had questions, required clarifications, made suggestions, and wanted me to eliminate certain things and add others. I had a month to make these revisions and resubmit.

As with the first part of my process on this article, I worked steadily on these revisions for the four writing days I had that month. I worked in sections, read additional documents, ordered two books to read and include, changed out the problematic elements, strengthened the argument. I resubmitted and sat back to wait again.

Happily, the editors accepted my revised submission. Then we went through a round of signing contracts, copy editing, and I even located a photographer with original shots of some Idle No More events who was willing to contribute one of his shots to liven up my piece.

At every stage of this process, my mind wandered and mulled and considered the idea and its construct – while driving, while planting in my garden, while watching mindless TV. Sometimes, I would have an insight that I would write down either in a journal, or I would open up the article and type directly into the file.

My process is surprisingly similar with my creative nonfiction pieces, although there is a lot more imagining in the latter, and reliance on my writing group for that essential feedback before I submit my work somewhere. But I’ve noticed that my process is a balanced combination of imagining, thinking, planning, writing, and revising. And all of these actions are constantly interchangeable. They do not occur in a linear fashion, but often occur almost simultaneously. Especially the imagining and thinking components.

Writing process. We all have one. Honor your own.

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