Writing Process Breakdown

Talking about writing is something like dancing about architecture - rather pointless vain thing to do. It's not so much a topic for a pep talk but an excuse to show off famous blue "weary wisdoms" nobody actually takes seriously or even cares about. It is ridiculous how many texts are out there claiming to be the ultimate guide to writing something. Somehow they don't manage to deliver even the bare minimum - explaining how it actually works. Reading such texts is somewhat awkward and after a while rather boring. You can't help but wonder why those texts are written in the way that actually confuses more than clarifies.

This paragraph actually appears in an article about writing. Whoo! Consider this meta rant a smooth start.

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Let's get this out of the way. There are no actual recipes, formulas or other steady forms of writing the right way. In short it reminds you what John Peel said about The Fall "Always different, always the same". Writing is like that. It appears to be the same every time, but the circumstances, things behind the scenes are always different and they drastically affect the way the text is written. Sometimes there's no shortage in the source materials, sometimes the only thing you have is an abstract of a one-hundred-year old article and it's not very useful. And then - your mindset. Sometimes you want to write but have not enough time to get yourself together, the other time you have all the time in the world but you don't really feel like you can do it. No middle grounds in this realm.

Another hundred words passed and still no tips! Bollocks! All right, all right. Have some. Below I'm going to break down more or less ordinary process of writing of any kind of text.

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In short the process looks like that:

Pick a topic

Dimidium facti, qui coepit, habet - the start is the half job done. And it's true. When you know what are you going to do - you can get focused enough to get through. Making the first step is important... wait a minute, I want to throw up! Ain't that a trite? Usually choosing the topic takes the most time. Since the quality of the text depends not only on a level of performance but on a freshness of a take - it is important to put a topic in a blatantly unusual way. For example: it's not "Psychology of exclamation samples from James Brown songs in the golden age hip hop recordings" but "Analysis of exclamation samples from the James Brown songs in the golden age hip hop recordings separated from the records itself".

Collect the ideas

Once you know what are you going to write about - surf through the possible sources. At random if possible. It is not like you're going to take much information from them at this point. It's just to immerse yourself into the topic and its surroundings. While doing it - random ideas will pass by. It is possible that they can put your topic upside down. It is important to have such brief moment of lazy hesitation before jumping into the fire. The purpose of this stage is basically to compose a map that will help you to navigate in the topic. In our case - listening to James Brown songs and songs with samples from James Brown songs and thinking about the ways they are recontextualized.

Outline the structure

After diving deep into the topic and being there for a while - you get the understanding of its whens, wheres and whats. That's when you can make an outline of what you're going to do - step by step. In our case it looks like this:

  1. Role of exclamation in James Brown's songs;
  2. Purpose of sampling exclamations from James Brown's songs;
  3. Analyzing exclamations from James Brown's songs beyond their context;

With the outline like that you get solid sections that can be filled with intertwined reasoning.

Draw the reasoning

With a structure locked - you need to load it with the proper reasoning. Clear structure allows you to provide steady succession of arguments - from one point to the next. It reminds a dance. This then this then this and that and this and that and that. And then the slow applause gears up to the frenzied palm flapping. Such way of exploring the topic will bring the reader one step before the text and that will keep him engaged enough to move forward. Reader will clearly understand what you're going to talk about and expect certain things to be said - again and again and again. And after text is over, he will say "wow, that was solid".

Prepare a statement

This part is more of psychological conditioning, completely optional and practically useless for the text itself. It can be written at any point before the actual writing started. All you need to do is to write for yourself a little explanation of why do you want to explore certain topic, what do you want to achieve with text text, to whom it is targeted and how it will approximately look like. This little manifesto will serve you as a reminder of where you started and probably will help you to keep the thing straight without diverting much into "much more exciting" loin spins.

Write the thing down

This stage needs no in-depth explanation. After your outline is done, your reasoning's ready - you just need to write the text around it - give it some attitude and fancy linings. You know how it goes. Funny but writing itself takes less time than any other part of writing process. And it is practically impossible without all the previous stages. While you can just sit and try to write something - it's a matter of chance if you get something worthy. And chance is something you don't want to be a factor in making your text one way or another. Writing is like dance - you don't move at random, you have a certain set of moves ready and you toss them depending on the level of heat at the moment.

And here comes the trick. Nothing is written in a first bout. The first draft is a no holds barred affair with kitchen sink and red bats with teeth. Don't worry about the wrong things and boring bits. Their fate is sealed by the iron fist of the great lord revision. It's is important not to revise the text while writing the first draft - it will loosen the focus and thus many more mistakes may follow. Revisions help to tighten the pace and fix any problems that may occur in the text. From simple grammar jumble to clarifying certain parts of an arguments.

Write an entry point

After the main body of text is finished - write an entry point for the reader. Opening serves as a smooth transition to reader - from his world to your text. It immerses the reader into the topic and gets him hooked. With the right opening - you can lead the reader in any direction you want. Usually there are several entry points throughout the text - one for the whole text and few more for every part. For example, here's William Gibson's opening for the seminal "Neuromancer": "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel." That's what the opening line is all about. Vivid image that immediately grips the reader, takes him away and moves smoothly right into the text.

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I still feel a little bit awkward about writing this text. It is self-explanatory and somewhat tedious. Who needs such stuff? If you want to write something - you'll figure out on your own how to do it. You will not look for some magic tips.

But here's one more thing - every time you try to rationalize the process like writing - it stops to make sense and you need to find another way of doing it. By the way, that was a teaser of the next article.