“A blank piece of paper.” —Nobel Prize-winning writer Ernest Hemingway when asked about the scariest thing he’d ever encountered
First of all, it is important to recognize that even though it may be informal or unconscious and may vary slightly depending on the writing task, you probably already do use a writing process, and it probably goes something like this:
- You get a sick feeling in your stomach when your professor announces a paper assignment.
- You read the instructions and anxiously choose a topic, doing a cost-benefit analysis between what will be easiest to write, what will be most interesting for you, and what will get you the best grade in the least amount of time.
- You do some brainstorming and make some notes.
- You make a very rough, minimal outline, either on paper or just in your head.
- You begin a painful struggle of writing the paper itself, agonizing over sentences and worrying not only about what ideas to put down but also how to say them not only grammatically correctly but even elegantly.
- As this is often done the night (or morning) before the assignment is due, you take a short break and then reread the paper, fixing any spelling or grammar mistakes you notice and perhaps rewriting or adding a sentence or two.
- You turn in the paper with that sense of fear still in the pit of your stomach and perhaps a vague—or very distinct—feeling that you could have done better, though you're not sure how.
Thus there are a few important reasons to use a formal writing process:
1. Reduce anxiety and stress.
By knowing that you have a series of separate steps you can follow that break the intimidating task of "WRITING" down into manageable parts, you will feel much less anxiety and struggle in writing. For example, if you have already generated ideas (Step 1) thoroughly and then organized them well (Step 2) into a logical outline, actually writing your first draft will be much easier.
2. Increase quality.
By focusing on each distinct step individually, you can do each better, increasing the ultimate quality of your final product. The sum will be greater than the parts. (And reducing your anxiety can also only help with quality, right? Or maybe you think some anxiety is good; it means you care, after all, and maybe you see yourself has a person who performs better under pressure. Don't worry, your anxiety when writing will probably never completely disappear; we just want to keep it at a manageable and less inhibitive level.)
3. Learn more.
Students and other writers often think of writing mainly in terms of producing a product for a reader that shows what you already know or believe. However, writing itself is—or can be, when approached in the right way—an act of thinking, learning, and discovery for the writer. How?