Writing is Not Linear (How Not to Teach Writing)

I may not have a degree in English or Creative Writing, but I am a teacher, so I’m aware of how writing is taught in schools. Most teachers are familiar with this little thing we call The Writing Process and the Six (+1) Traits of Writing. I’m actually quite a fan of the Six Traits, because they have a little more to do with the craft of writing and less to do with the process. I am not a huge fan of The Writing Process.

If you are not familiar with it, this is how it goes:

The Writing Process

  1. Prewriting – planning out thoughts, brainstorming, putting ideas together in a graphic organizer
  2. Drafting – putting those thoughts into paragraphs, essays, books, or whatever it is you are making.
  3. Revising – Going back and fixing up your draft to make it read better. Fixing things like word choice, sentence fluency, and organization. Adding, taking out, and rearranging things.
  4. Editing – Going back and correcting grammatical/spelling errors.
  5. Publishing – Creating a new, polished final draft that is ready to share.

Now, others may have been taught differently, but growing up, and perusing my education degree, I was taught that this was a linear process. You do not move on to the next step until the one you are on is complete. And no one ever mentions moving back a step! But after writing a billion school essays and a book, I’ve realized that this process is not linear at all. Are all of the steps there when I’m writing? Absolutely! But they do not follow a strict order (at least not for me – other authors might be more disciplined in their writing schedules and processes).

I do not claim to know the “correct” way to plan and write a book. I am a total novice, and most of the time I have no idea what I’m doing, but when I wrote my first, this is what my process looked like:

Aurella the Witch Writing Process

  1. Initial idea popped into my head – wrote out my ideas in no particular format at all. (Prewriting)
  2. Wrote out a brief synopsis, list of major characters and their characteristics, started a brief outline. (Prewriting)
  3. Started a detailed outline. Came up with some rules of magic and added them to the outline. (Prewriting)
  4. Worked on the outline some more. (Prewriting)
  5. Went back and added stuff to the beginning of the outline. (Prewriting and revising?)
  6. Got so detailed on a plot point in the outline I ended up writing an entire scene within the outline (this happened several times).  (Drafting)
  7. Continued where I left off on the outline. (Prewriting)
  8. Eventually finished the outline. (Prewriting)
  9. Started drafting first chapter. (Drafting)
  10. Revised the first chapter. (Revising)
  11. Worked on next chapter. (Drafting)
  12. Had an idea for something later in the story! Added it to the outline. (Prewriting)
  13. Went back on the chapter I was working. (Drafting)
  14. Went back and revised first chapter again. (Revising)
  15. Idea for something in the second book! Started an outline for book 2. (Prewriting)
  16. Idea for second book! Wrote out an entire scene in the outline because I got excited. (Drafting)
  17. Went back to where I was in my first draft of book 1. Continued drafting, revising, and editing chapters. (Drafting, revising, editing)
  18. Continuously went back to the outline and added, rearranged, and took things out. (Revising)
  19. Idea for book 3! Started an outline for book 3. Wrote out a scene so I wouldn’t forget how I wanted it. (Prewriting & drafting)
  20. Finished drafting book 1. (Drafting)
  21. Revised and edited a billion times while sporadically adding stuff to the book 2 outline as ideas came to me. (Revising & drafting)
  22. Had an editor look at it. (Editing)
  23. More editing and revising. (Editing & revising)
  24. PUBLISHING! (This process was another long, messy process that I will not get into here..) (Publishing)

And currently, I am working on marketing my first book, revising my second book, and prewriting/drafting my third book simultaneously. Probably not smart, but when I have an idea I just have to write it down, even if it doesn’t correlate with what I’m currently working on. Also, when I am stuck on a chapter, I get writer’s block, and sometimes the only way out of that is to work on something else. Isn’t writing something better than writing nothing? And honestly, I don’t think it’s possible to plan everything out from the beginning. Some of my best ideas come to me while I am in the process of writing.

As you can see, this was/is a very messy process and was definitely not linear! It wasn’t even circular – it was just all over the place. Again, I do not claim to know the right way to write a book, for all I know my writing process is incredibly ineffective, but ask any writer and most will say they spend most of their time revising. And the thing about Revising is that it requires one to go backand change things. Sometimes that even means going back to square one and returning to the prewriting process. Bottom line: writing be messy.

In class, I’ve always taught writing as a linear process. Not only that, but I set aside specific days for each step in the writing process, so each kid is expected to be on the same step as everyone else. Monday – prewriting; Tuesday&Wednesday – drafting; Thursday&Friday – revising; Monday – editing; Tuesday – publishing. (That’s ridiculous, everyone works differently, and who am I to say where they should be on their writing journey as long as they are truly focused on improving?)

Because of these mistakes, my kids really struggle with (or don’t even try) revising. They think that once they’ve written their draft, they are done. They don’t want to go back and change things, because the way we (I) teach writing is that you must move forward, not backward. They’re more focused on completing their assignment then on producing their best writing.

I know that next year I need to do some major changes in how I teach writing. I want my kids to enjoy the process the way that I do when I write. I want them to revise over and over until they truly feel like they’ve done their best work. I want them to be comfortable receiving feedback and using that to improve their work.

Teachers, how do you teach writing? How do you get kids to take pride in their work and really try to make it the best they can? What do you do for kids who are reluctant to revise?