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Erin Steeley : The Writing Process:Authors Learn to Write Just Like You

The Writing Process: Authors Learn to Write Just Like You

By Erin Steeley

Have you ever wondered how authors create the books that they write? How do they put all of their ideas down on paper? What do they do to get inspired? These are valid questions and you would be surprised to know that professional writers use the same basic process for writing that everyone does, but each individual has their own special way of doing it. As an author myself, I found this fact intriguing when I first spoke to a classroom of third graders about the writing process. Taking in my notes, manuscripts, and other materials that I had used to write my book "The Soldier and the Storyteller" with me, I was amazed at how neatly my work fit into the basic steps that the teacher was using in her lessons and in my own classroom that year. The school's literacy coach was fascinated at how my work followed this line of thought, and it made me consider how I was writing and how this knowledge could benefit others.

Just imagine, everyone goes through the same basic writing process no matter where they work or what they are writing — the only difference is that each person has their own approach to the process. In each school, the terminology may be different, but this is the outline that I go by:

  • Brainstorming
  • Planning
  • Writing
  • Edit / Rewrite
  • Publish

These terms can vary within schools, but the overall idea is the same. I will take each one in turn as I did to write my book and explain my thinking process.

Brainstorming

This is the heart of the beginning, where the imagination flies loose and ideas abound with relish and mustard, leaking out and waiting to be turned into a tale. This part of the process is full of epiphanies, sudden moments and ideas pulled from anything. I do brainstorming everywhere: walking, watching people, working, anything. I got an idea one day for a story simply by taking in an interesting cloud that was floating by.

Brainstorming can be akin to leaping out of an airplane with a parachute on your back — at first you are just freefalling until you reach the appropriate altitude to pull the ripcord. As you freefall, you take in the world (I have never skydived, but find the comparison apt) and everything revolving in it. A certain thing, person or event can trigger a chord in your imagination and off you go. As these ideas spill out, I keep a journal or some paper with pencil nearby so that I can sketch or write down the ideas that I seem to hook onto to. Without these ideas, my writing couldn't begin.

There is no real organization here — just recording of the images and small ideas that will later turn into plot schemes. You can even record them by talking out loud into a digital recorder. I do this often, as my mind moves too fast for a pen. The important thing is make a record of them somehow, and to understand that not all of these ideas will be used right now. Keeping them in a journal allows me to have a reference point to come back to if I want to find a new idea. It is also critical that I let my imagination run free, without limitations. This removes boundaries and obstacles to free thought and allows the ideas to flow smoothly. I set aside time just to think, without distractions around me. Sometimes music helps me to set a mood, or to get a stream of thought flowing. I can even go to a certain place that is inspiring, or do whatever is needed to let my mind go.

Planning

Now, you have been freefalling for awhile and the ground is getting closer, so you pull the ripcord. The parachute billows out above you and your ascent slows and you now have some control of your fall using the lines attached to the parachute. This is the time that I take the random ideas that spilled out of me earlier and I begin to put them into a semblance of a story. My tools at this point can vary, depending on: my mood, the type of story I am creating, where I am at and other related factors.

At home, my walls are canvases that can be covered with big sheets of paper, small notepaper or sticky notes. On these I put a character's name, a place, events and whatever single element might be a part of the story. From these I can add new notes underneath to add to character traits, setting and plot. This visual scheme works well for me and is a simple way to get things going. I also use drawing and outlines to start putting things together. Sometimes, the different strategies blend together or I go back and forth between them, beginning to weave together the start of a plot.

I also begin to create the characters, starting to feel their emotions, their thoughts, and their appearance. I really want them to have a spirit and a wholeness that readers can relate to, without fear of them being a cardboard cutout. Drawing them, describing their past, or even interviewing them out loud helps my imagination to grasp their essence before I commit it to the page. 

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Updated 1/5/14