On the Writing Process

When I started writing this blog a few months back, I thought that I would focus primarily on Spanish cinema as the subject matter for my posts.  However, in the last couple of months, I’ve read so many useful links, usually posted on Twitter, about the processes of PhD research, and academia in general.  These links have prompted me to reflect on how I work, what I find useful, and how I could improve.

As I indicated in my last blog post, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks writing and redrafting a section of my thesis.  I’ve thus felt inspired to write something personal reflecting on the writing process as I experience it, and I’m intrigued to know how other people approach tasks relating to this process.

When writing, I tend to work through four key stages:

  1. Planning;
  2. Writing main body;
  3. Outlining;
  4. Writing introduction/conclusion.

Planning

Typically, when I approach a piece of writing, I begin by compiling a Word document in which I map out a prospective outline.  I tend to do this in a linear fashion, beginning with contextual information before moving on to the specifics of my argument.  In the process of compiling this document, I also rely on the use of some more old-fashioned tools: a pencil and paper.  Using these tools, I mind-map the key ideas that I want to feature in the piece.

Writing main body

Having constructed my plan, I then proceed to the writing.  Beginning with a blank document, I tend to write, as with the plan, in a linear fashion.  I write quite quickly, not dwelling too much on word choice, but trying to focus on expressing the ideas as coherently as possible.  My thoughts, I’m not afraid to admit, are often very sketchy and under-developed in the pre-writing/planning stage; it is through writing that I begin to cultivate my ideas.

Outlining

Once I’ve written the main body of my piece of work, I usually have to re-read through it, and map out my argument – usually in the form of a flow chart, again with my trusty old favourites (pen and paper).  I often struggle with the writing of introductions and conclusions, largely because I find it difficult stating my argument in clear terms.  I am in my comfort zone when working at the level of the micro reading, and I am particularly confident writing close analyses of my films.  I am not so confident when making big claims, and I do not relish making that move from micro to macro.  I find that mapping the outline of my piece of writing helps me to understand the direction of my argument, although I would happily admit that I’ve much to learn about stating my claims clearly.

Writing introduction/conclusion

My final moment in the writing process is to frame the piece with an introduction and a conclusion.  As I mentioned above, I always find writing these components particularly difficult.  I’ve usually written a very rough introduction when writing the main body – typically ending with a wee note to myself in brackets along the lines of ‘Come back to this when written main body!’.  I re-work this based on how my argument has developed.  My conclusion usually traces the line I’ve taken throughout the piece, recapping my main points, and gesturing towards a claim, even if not stating it coherently.

With all of this in mind, I’m intrigued to know how other people experience the writing process.  What shape does your writing process take?  Do you plan before you write?  How do you plan?  How much do your plans change in the process of writing?  Do you plan mid-writing, based on how your writing differs from your original plan?  How do you tackle the writing itself?  Do you write in a linear, segmented, or anti-linear fashion?  How do you tackle the introduction and the conclusion in particular?  Do these elements constitute the starting point, midpoint, or endpoint for your writing?  Any comments or questions gratefully received!

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