As a first year professional writing student at York University, I often considered my course “WRIT 1980 – Professional Writing: Process and Practice” as my “main” course both as a student and as a writer. Although this course wasn’t as practical as other courses I’ve taken, it was definitely an eye-opener, and provided a lot of interesting knowledge about the history and theory of the writing process.
I also enjoyed the course for its fantastic professor, Jan Rehner. She injected liveliness and humanity into every lecture, and really emphasized that not all writing has to be academic (a shocking revelation to a then-university novice like myself). Her course helped me view writing in a new light, and has embedded some key points that I take into consideration in the process of all my writing endeavors.
Therefore, I would like to provide some key takeaways from the course that I feel can aid in any element of the writing process, whether one is composing an academic essay or a travel brochure. So, please keep these 7 pointers in mind:
1. Don’t Think Chronologically: It’s rare for a writer to simply produce a work of text from introduction to conclusion. The writing process is by no means chronological. Remember, it’s okay to start in the middle of your piece, or even near the end! Drafting is meant to be an organic process, and writers should start in a place that feels natural. Starting a piece from somewhere other than the introduction can also help writers uncover the main idea that they’re trying to convey, if that isn’t clear from the beginning. Write at different parts of the piece; see what works and what doesn’t.
2. Beware the Monitor: Most writers have an internal voice that “speaks to them” as they write; this is better known as “The Monitor.” While it’s often natural to give yourself feedback when you write, doing this too much can cause an abundance of hindering “stops” in writing, in many cases to edit what has been written. Instead, it’s better to simply write continuously from an extended period of time to properly let your ideas flow, and then allow “The Monitor” to go back and organize what you’ve written. “The Monitor” should be a helper, not an interrupter.
3. Think About Discourse Communities: A discourse community can be as complex as a Board of Directors or as simple as people who like to skateboard. While writers should always keep their audience in mind, identifying a particular discourse community to gear your writing towards adds a layer of specificity to your work. While this implies using a specific tone or language in your writing, it also means to consider the discourse community’s social, political, economic and cultural context, among others. Thinking about these things can help you tailor your writing more appropriately.
4. Employ Strong Rhetoric: Rhetoric is the art of persuasive discourse. However objective your work may be, you still want to convince your readers that your work is credible. Therefore, it is helpful to consider three modes of persuasion:
- Ethos (establishing yourself as a knowledgeable and legitimate source)
- Pathos (appealing to your audience’s emotions)
- Logos (employing a logical framework for your text)
Again, not all written work is argumentative in nature, but all written work is still subject to criticism from readers. By taking these modes of persuasion into consideration and employing strong rhetoric, you can not only make your work seem more legitimate, but you can also generate more content and think of relevant ideas you may not have originally included. As a writer, you should always want the reader to believe what you’re saying.
5. Keep a Writer’s Notebook: You’ve probably heard about this suggestion before, but you’d be surprised how helpful something like a notebook can be, especially considering the prevalence of writer’s block in today’s writers. This notebook can contain many things: sentences you think are awesome, interesting words or ideas, or other knowledge you’ve gained in your travels. Notebooks are a very helpful reference point for the writing process. While the human brain is an amazing organ, our memories can only contain so much. Keep a notebook just in case.
6. Familiarize Yourself with the CSI: No, I don’t mean television show about detectives. “CSI” stands for:
- Context (the circumstanced under which you’re writing),
- Subtext (the meaning of your piece)
- Intertext (references to other works)
These elements are often part of what’s known as “critical reading strategy” (how readers interpret complicated text). While these techniques generally apply to literary works, it’s helpful for writers to have a clear definition of these things while they’re writing. CSI emphasizes clarity and complexity during the writing process; writers who have a strong sense of these elements are more likely to produce stronger text.
7. Know What’s Been Said And Engage It: A good writer always does his or her research, and this really does transcend every genre of writing. Research doesn’t necessarily mean that you should look up the history of writing on Wikipdia; in fact, your research should encompass people of many different fields. Whether a famous psychologist or an independent filmmaker, it’s helpful for writers to know about existing ideas so they can either add to them or challenge them. Taking an informative approach is definitely appreciated by readers, who, more often than not, want to be informed.
Now, while some of these vary in importance depending on what you’re writing, I think that they’re all relevant to the writing process in a general sense. Personally, when I utilize these strategies, I often find that writer’s block is a thing of the past.
Thank you for reading! If you would like other tips on how to improve your writing process, leave a comment, or contact me on LinkedIn.