What is the Writing Process?
Many of us learned that the writing process is made up of five parts: Pre-writing, Writing, Revision, Editing, and Publishing. Indeed, this process has been so ingrained, and the vocabulary and terms have become such a part of our education, that some students (and adults) feel as if writing is a formulaic, rigid thingnot unlike learning mathematicsthat they simply never excelled in. Fortunately, this simply isn't true. While the five basic steps of the writing process are effective, they can only be effective if the people using the process understand the purpose of each step.
Experience has shown that many students do not know the purpose of drafting beyond a certain, vague understanding that you're supposed to "correct" or "fix" something for each new draft. Its unfortunate, but its also been shown that students who are forced to Pre-Write in certain ways, even when they have been unsuccessful using that method, will continue to use it simply because they believe it's the "correct" way to begin writing. There are college professors who still do not acknowledge the difference between revision and editing (yes, there is a real difference), and "publishing" has so many different connotations from kindergarten to professional ventures that no one is quite sure what standard that last step speaks to.
Here's the rub: in order to understand when you are ready to revise, you must first understand when you are "finished" writing or, to be clearer, when you are finished putting your initial thoughts fully on paper. Confused yet? Let's break it down.
Often called "brainstorming," pre-writing takes many forms. The most popular forms deal with organizational techniques designed to help a person structure and build their thoughts on a particular subject. Outlines, mind maps (also known as "webbing" or "clustering"), graphic organizers, free writes, word charts, and simple lists are just a few methods that are often associated with pre-writing. However, filling out a graphic organizer or coloring in a web or creating an outline doesn't really work unless the person understands the purpose of the pre-write. All steps of the writing process should have a purpose; they should not be an activity for the sake of acting.
There are many students who feel pre-writing is unnecessary. Teachers often hear the excuse, "But I just write!" when encouraging students to pre-write or brainstorm for an assignment. However, it's precisely this "just writing" that qualifies and counts as brainstorming and pre-writing. A person need not use a graphic organizer, outline, or other method if it's not needed; sometimes it's perfectly acceptable to simply write. Why? Well, the purpose of pre-writing is to get ideas down on paper using any method available to the writer. There should be no real concern with grammar, spelling, punctuation, or formattingand sometimes one need not even consider organizationduring the first steps of the writing process. Good writing begins with good ideas, and good ideas begin in pre-writing.
Take note: sometimes pre-writing need not actually involve writing anything down. Pre-writing can begin and take place as conversations or questionsan open dialoguebetween the writer and another person. Some of the best writing begins with a simple (spoken) sentence.
What, then, is writing? Many people believe that this is the most important part of the process (it's called "The Writing Process" after all), but few are certain why (beyond the obvious). Writing occurs when you look at your idea, have worked a lot of it out through pre-writing, and begin to turn it into something you intend to complete. It's at this point that you consider both your audience and how you would like to organize your ideas into a particular form. Where pre-writing can begin as a free write, an outline, a sketch, a map, or a conversation, writing takes the ideas generated in the pre-write and transforms them into a text.
A conversation can become a poem. A map can become a novel. Sometimes, when we begin writing from our ideas (our pre-write), we start in one form, like a short story, and begin to realize that another form might be more effective to getting our point across (such as a poem or an editorial). This is where writing occurs. The decision about how to present those ideas, in written form, to your audience, is writing. Sometimes there is not a huge jump or change from pre-writing to writing. Sometimes the writing becomes something entirely separate from the pre-write. On a few occasions, the two steps can even occur simultaneously, where the ideas and the form accomplish themselves as a natural progression and part of a natural flow. Regardless, when you make a conscious decision to write in a certain form and organize your ideas in a certain way, with purpose or intention, you have left pre-writing behind and have begun writing.
What is the purpose of writing?
The purpose of the "writing" step of the writing process is to consider the audience (who's going to be reading this text?) and to consider what form (prose, poetry) will best get the point and idea across. Once a writer decides on a form and intended audience, s/he must make choices about the words and style that will compliment and further that form so that the idea is conveyed clearly and effectively. Writing, therefore, does not occur directly from instinct, but is an activity that involves conscious decisions. This is why, believe it or not, many texts remain in the pre-writing stage even when they appear to be complete. If a writer hasn't made choices, then the writer hasn't started writing.
This brings us to revision. Revision occurs when the writer (or another party) examines a text to see if the ideas are working. As discussed in the previous article, revision looks at the organization, style, and content of the writingand little else. In fact, the most significant points to determine in revision are akin to Donald Murray's "What works?" and "What needs work?" What's working with this text and what still needs work? These two questions are at the foundation of every good revision.
Because writing is a process, whether personal or otherwise, it's important to realize that good ideas have to be explained in clear, organized waysor ways that are able to capture and control a reader so that those ideas can be communicated. This is why revision, separate from proofreading/editing, is extremely important. Readers can ignore grammatical errors, misspelled words, poor formatting (etc.) and still understand the intent or purpose of a piece if the ideas are communicated well in regards to style, content development, and organization. However, a text that's written perfectly, without a grammatical flaw or error and presented in a beautiful format, may still be poorly written simply because the ideas are underdeveloped, unorganized, or written in an inappropriate style.
If a person wants to improve as a writer then grammar, spelling, and punctuation are importantbut during the writing process they are rarely as important as the content (as what's being written). This is why conventional rules can change and break (Cormac McCarthy doesn't use apostrophes for most contractions; Terry Pratchett and Tolkien format dialogue in different ways), but a good story transcends many written devices. Now, this doesn't mean conventions are unimportant; on the contrary, they are extremely important (and it's why they are given their own "step" in the process). All this means is that you should be primarily concerned with how your ideas are working, as ideas, before you start wondering if you've spelled everything correctly.
Proofreading and Editing
And here we come to it: the part of the process that many people lump together with revision. It's true that even the best ideas can be ruined by terrible grammar, spelling, and punctuation. It's true that grammar, spelling, and punctuation can prevent a good idea from being communicated effectively. This is why, especially with growing writers, editing seems to be more of a focus than revision. It's easier to pick on punctuation and feel like you've improved someone's 'writing' than it is to weed through poor conventional writing and try to improve someone's ideas. Indeed, many writers are cheated because people spend so much time correcting their grammar that they never stop to consider how to improve the actual communication of ideas.
However, proofreading and editing is of extreme importance and should never, ever be neglected. It's the last step before "publishing," and a person should take that seriously. Whereas revision is concerned with content, proofreading/editing is concerned with conventions. This is the step in the process where the formatting should be examined for effectiveness and the grammar, punctuation, and spelling should not simply be corrected but polished.
What is the purpose of Proofreading?
Proofreading is actually something the writer does on his/her own. When a person is finished the "writing" step of the process and has revised what s/he can revise, then it is up to the writer to take a step back and look at the writing for conventional correctness. It is for this reason that so many people on deviantART get annoyed when writers post deviations with obvious spelling and punctuation errors; a writer should always, always take responsibility for his/her own writing, and part of taking responsibility for it is caring enough to run it through spell-check (manual or otherwise) or make sure each sentence has a period (etc.).
That said, there are some writers who have not mastered all the conventional rules of grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization and formatting. Because of this, if a writer is not confident in his/her mastery of the conventions, it is also the writer's responsibility to search out someone else to proofread the work (after the writer has proofread the work on his/her own). This person is not there to make corrections the writer should know how to make (so a proofreader is not a correction-bot designed to help a lazy writer), but rather is there to offer suggestions and direction when questions about conventions come up. A writer should never hand over a text and say, "Proofread this for me!" without first giving the proofreader some direction such as, "I'm not sure if my grammar is correct in this section; could you look at it for me?" or "Did I punctuate my dialogue well?" or "Tell me if I missed any apostrophes, especially in that last paragraph." Proofreading by the writer should be both general and specific; proofreading by a reader should always be done with direction.
Proofreading should also be completed and all relevant corrections made before editing begins.
What is the purpose of Editing?
Editing is a two-fold process: the first part of the process involves the reader; the second part of the process involves the writer. If a work is going to be "published" (which, for these purposes, means "being seen by an audience"), then a writer has the responsibility to have at least one other set of eyes look at the piece before it's put forth for public scrutiny. This reader, the "last" reader (so to speak), should be looking for conventional errors much like the writer looks for during proofreading, and s/he should also be looking for any last hang-ups in regard to the content and ideas. In other words, this is where all the last-minute suggestions come in such as, "Hey, you missed the apostrophe here" or "Hmm, I'm still not sure about this sentence or what this simile means." An editor is not there to proof (correct) a writer's text, but provide some insight about how ready for publication the text really is. The editor should let the writer know if a text is good to go.
The last part of the editing process comes back to the writer. This is where the writer makes the final decisions about the text, how to clean it up, how to correct it, where to add some last-minute clarification, where to take words out or put words in, and simply how to polish the text so that it's as good as it's going to get at that moment in time. Sometimes writers have extensive edits to do; sometimes writers have very, very few. What's most important, however, is that the final decision about a piece of writing should always come from the writer. All of the suggestions, corrections, feedback and commentary can be ignored or adopted as the writer sees fit. Sometimes writers make bad choices, surebut those choices must always remain the writer's to make.
Publishing need not mean the writer is trying to get this text published in a journal, book, magazine, newspaper or elsewhere. Sometimes writers with no intention to pursue professional publishing believe this gives an excuse not to polish, revise, proofread, or edit a text. The "emotional core" should be preserved since the writing is solely for the writer. Unfortunately, the second that writing is put on display for someone else to readone other person besides the writerthen that text has been published and all steps of the writing process should (and should have) applied. This means that every single deviation sitting in the Literature Gallery on dA (and not, let's say, in Scraps) has been published in regard to The Writing Process.
Indeed, publishing in its simplest form refers to a text that is meant to be read by an audience. There is no excuse! Writing should be revised, proofread, and edited. If it hasn't been, then a writer can be proud of his/her ideas (way back at that pre-writing and writing stage), but should be skeptical as to the value and worth of the text itself. Good writing begins with a good idea, but that's not where it ends. If it were, we all would've been novelists and poet laureates years ago.