Writers want to take pride in pristine final drafts of their projects. Getting to that stage, however, is hard.
(Using Beats to Improve Dialogue and Action in Scenes.)
Some writers think in binary terms of “rough draft” and “final draft” when it comes to process. However, writing is more nuanced than that. Additionally, making one “rough” pass through a project followed by one “final” pass does not necessarily result in the best outcome.
Instead, writers may benefit from approaching projects with a three-part process. This is an approach I teach my college students in their first-year writing courses, though the method can be applied to writers at all stages and across genres.
The three-part process is this: prewriting, writing, and rewriting. Let’s learn more about each stage and how writers can adapt this to their individual methods and goals.
Part One: Prewriting.
The prefix “pre” means “before,” so this is a good way to remember that there are things that may need to happen “before” you get started writing. Some of those might be environmental—like having a quiet workspace or the right kind of pen in hand—and some might be more personal—like carving out enough time in the day to write or learning to brainstorm.
Some writers compose by outlines; some compose more spontaneously. In this prewriting stage, think about what makes you most comfortable as a writer, and work to cultivate that environment.
Additionally, consider “before” tasks that you can complete that may make your project smoother once you start it. Do you need to perform research? Schedule an interview? Have certain books handy? Building in time for these tasks that need completion prior to a project can help you feel more confident and organized when you actually begin.
Part Two: Writing.
This is where you put pen to paper (or pencil to paper … or fingers to the keyboard … or dictate your words … writers write in lots of different ways, after all!).
In the writing stage, you are an inventor. You are inventing new sentences that have never been written. You are creating lines that no one has ever read. You are producing something brand new, and the process of doing that can be exhilarating. Enjoy the ride!
As you do so, take pride in the decisions you are making. What’s the best title? How many paragraphs do you need? What kind of transition do you want to add? How do you want to conclude your project? These choices are yours to make as the author, so take time in this stage to explore all aspects of your project as those decisions take form.
Part Three: Rewriting.
The prefix “re” means “again,” so this is a good way to remember that there are things that may need to happen “again,” after you have completed the writing stage. Editing and proofreading are important, but so are structural issues.
Is your writing clearly organized? Does a certain part of it feel different than other parts? Might a new section need to be added? What about fact-checking and copyright permissions? As you look at your writing “again,” you may re-see things in a new way that prompts you to try a fresh approach.
Once you spend some time rewriting, you may also be led back to the prewriting stage. Perhaps you wish to include something new, or maybe there is a major overhaul of a certain part of your project that you want to address. This three-step process can be recursive, so you can complete the steps again as many times as you like.
So how do you know when to stop the process?
A project may be complete if you feel that any additional attempts at prewriting, writing, and rewriting will not yield productive changes. For instance, sometimes my college students complete this process once for a short essay, but they may go through the process multiple times for a more substantial project. Every writing situation is different, just like every writer is unique.
When writers take time to consider a process-based approach, they can help ensure that their final drafts are the very best that they can be.