Like every writer, the way I write has evolved over time.
However, it only recently occurred to me how layered (and methodical) my process is. I am a pedant and I make no apologies.
And although such a process may not be necessary in every circumstance, a more structured approach to my writing has proven useful in aiding productivity. A better grasp of my writing process has also helped limit writer’s block – and it can do the same for you.
Your process may differ from mine; every writer has their own process, which changes naturally with practice and exposure. But if you’re looking for help or want to try something a little different, try my process:
Clear your mind
Firstly, disregard whatever it is you actually intend or need to write (for example, a cover letter for a job application). This might seem counterintuitive, but is actually the most important step if you wish to avoid writer’s block, which is typically caused by overthinking.
Write something else
Free-writing is an activity in which you write anything that comes to mind for a pre-set amount of time without stopping.
Nine times out of ten, what you end up with is absolute rubbish. However, this is irrelevant as the purpose of this writing exercise is to get your brain working and allow the words to flow much easier.
When I free-write, the world around me eventually fades and I become wholly invested in what I’m writing. This lovely, productive state is what we call ‘the flow’.
(Note: the flow can be a difficult place to reach sometimes. When you find yourself in this state, it is best to ignore all outside distractions for as long as possible. Don’t be tempted to grab another coffee, take a quick bathroom break, or steal a glance at your phone; you will disrupt the flow!)
Start writing the first draft
Next, get to work on the first draft of what you’re actually meant to be writing (e.g. cover letter).
In the same vein as free-writing, try to avoid editing as you go as this can disrupt the flow and stall the process.
As a personal preference, I always use my laptop to write. Longhand slows me down. That and I loath my handwriting.
(Note: It doesn’t have to be perfect! “The first draft of anything is shit,” Ernest Hemingway.)
When the first draft is complete, re-write the entire thing, paragraph for paragraph. (Yes, I’m being serious. And no, it’s not as bad as it sounds!).
Above each paragraph, copy what you’ve already written below and edit as you do so. Syntax and the structure of your sentences is the key thing to change here. Check for grammar and consistency too.
What you’re left with is the second draft.
Then comes the fine-tuning/ nit-picking.
As a perfectionist, I want everything I write to be perfect and refuse to settle for anything I consider to be subpar. Pedantry can be a curse at times (fretting over every word and phrase can be time consuming), but I like to think what I end up with is as good as it can be.
I’ll often run my writing through a text-to-speech program.
The one I use is called ClaroRead Plus, which I got for free when I applied for my student finance almost four years ago (how time flies!). There are plenty of free alternatives out there too.
The program narrates your writing word for word. This is useful because there are often mistakes in our writing that can be overlooked.
In the past, my word processor has fallaciously auto-substituted ‘definitely’ for ‘defiantly’ – two similar-looking but completely different words. This mistake could easily be overlooked by a human, but a text-to-speech program will detect it and play it back to you.
I also use Hemingway App, a free online-tool that judges the readability of your writing, allowing you to make alterations as necessary. I don’t always use this software, or listen to everything it says, but it can be useful.
(Optional) third-party proofreading
Finally, there is third-party proofreading.
No matter how good of a writer you think you are, it’s always best to get an outside opinion.
If you are writing a short story or a novel, this phase is especially important as you are not writing for yourself but for a readership.