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  • Writer's pictureRobert Birdwell

The Pace of the Writing Process

Updated: Jan 31, 2022

The major lesson of every writing class I teach is that writing is a process. It’s not a swift leap from inspiration to print. There are several steps in the process: brainstorming, note-taking, freewriting, outlining, drafting, revising, and proofreading.

The steps in the process do not come naturally. To learn them in class, we have to drag out the writing process, spending a week on each draft, with students pairing up to discuss each other’s papers. If you’re not used to separating the steps in the writing process, you have to slow it down, as if you’re learning to pronounce the sounds of a new alphabet or swing a baseball bat.

Outside of a writing class, it’s hard to find the time to drag out the process. Whether you’re on the job or working towards your degree, in practice you simply need to get the job done. Often that means rushing the words onto the page, glancing for typos, and then uploading the document and hitting send.

This method seems efficient, but it doesn’t produce the best work.

Neither is it so efficient. When we try to birth a full-grown final draft, we feel the pressure of perfection. We hesitate over the synonyms, the sentence structure, the flow of argument. Sometimes we aren’t even sure where to begin. Expecting perfection produces writer’s block, or that maddening loop in which we type a phrase and delete it, then type pretty much the same phrase, over and over again.

The writing process prevents this hesitation and produces a steady flow of words. It goes slowly at first, while you get the feel of it, but the more you practice, the more streamlined it becomes. As I learned once from a seasoned hiker, Slow is steady, and steady is fast.

On those sweaty occasions when you have only an hour (or fifteen minutes) to crank out a perfect draft, you’ll find yourself going through the steps of the process, but a whole lot faster.

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