A few days ago, going back and forth between two pieces I was writing, I started to think about the process, and how it varies among writers. So I posted this on Facebook, and on some authors’ groups:
“Doing a lot of writing this week. Thinking about how it works….I write the whole thing, regardless of length, very roughly. Then go back in and edit, rewrite, edit, rewrite, rewrite till it is done (at which time, like a piece of visual art, you know it, though, unlike an illustration which can be overworked, a piece of writing can always be tweaked, made better). But Bo’s method is quite different. He doesn’t do an outline; he starts the piece, and writes one paragraph. He does not write the next one until the previous one is rewritten, edited, polished, and complete – a jewel.”
And got lots of fascinating responses. Many people do a hybrid, although most seem to work the way I do… fast, sloppy, and rough, and then tons of rewrite. One author said that Vonnegut worked like Bo (that’s my writer husband, Bo Zaunders). But Vonnegut would perfect a whole page before he continued on, not just a paragraph.
Another issue is, in nonfiction particularly, the role of research. You have to do a lot of studying up before you can even start, and then as you write and refine, you have to go back and check up on facts, develop new information, flesh out fledgling comments or sentences.
When I write one of my nonfiction science books for children, I try to learn everything I can about the subject first, before writing a word. I use books, magazine articles, travel if necessary, interviews with experts, the web, visit natural science museums, etc. Then, after you have a firm grasp of the facts, you can choose what works with your idea, and can craft the piece. Once I had a kind of flashback to years earlier, and realized that this process was not dissimilar from writing papers in graduate school.
But, and I think most authors will agree, hard and scary and nerve-wracking as writing is – there are an infinite number of wonderful words and myriad ways to express a thought or idea – writing your own book is way more fun and gratifying and creative than writing a paper!