Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Understanding the writing process: How do you write?

Free-write, outline, or mind map?

Recently, a friend of mine asked me, "Do you just sit down and start writing, or do you actually, like, outline the basic plot points and such?" This was a similar question about writing that another friend had asked, but in the context of finding the time to write. Here, I was being asked what my process was.

How do you write?
How you write is tailored to your style. I can sit in front of my computer first thing in the morning and type 16,000 words to form a rudimentary story that has a beginning, a muddled middle, and maybe an end - and stop for lunch. Then I move on to unmuddling the middle or finishing my end before the family comes home. But not everyone can free-write like that.

outline of Under a Mango Moon
Outlining is helpful (not to me, I can't stand it) because it gives a writer clear direction as to where the story is going. You can use the old-fashioned method with roman numerals, or you can use a graphic organizer version like the one pictured. Either way, it will help you create a plotline or character sketch that you can follow throughout the writing process.

But writers who use this method have to be careful not to think that the outline is the end-all-be-all of the story. An outline represents the bones of the work, and its final form is dependent on the characters, settings, conflicts, and resolutions that are made within that framework. The bones themselves can change if it doesn't fit right within the story.
from amielou89.blogspot.com
Mind mapping is another way a writer can create a story. You start with the central idea of your story – a question, a problem, or just a word that vaguely sums up the story’s theme. Then you create branches to characters, events, subplots, settings, and other ideas for the story. By creating a map of your narrative, the world in which your story resides, you can see the connections visually and can move them around until the story is put together in a logical way.

Shuffling through the plot cards to put in order
My own son hates to write. But he loves to tell stories. I've decided that part of the problem is the way he begins his writing process. In school, they follow a five-step writing process: prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing. Most of his prewriting work involves some form of outlining method, and from there he creates his first draft. But because of the outline's inherently rigid structure, he can't see that the prewriting process is fluid and changeable. So when he helped me "prewrite" Under a Mango Moon, we used mind mapping in the form of index cards. Then we moved them around so he could see the connections better.

This friend of mine is a visual creative, images are his thing. When he writes articles, there is a formal feel to the words, the sharing of information that the writer believes the reader needs. But when it comes to writing something personal, like a blog entry or a narrative story, in his words he "rambles." I think being able to map out his narrative will help him focus his writing and prevent the rambling tangent

Whether you use the free writing, outlining, or mind mapping method to write, the most important thing is to just write. There is so much more to the writing process, and my friend asked me a few other follow-up questions, that I will have to answer them in their own posts. For now, find what works for you and have fun writing!

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