Writing is a journey. It takes time. Sometimes it’s exciting and adventurous. Sometimes it can be tiring and overwhelming. But it’s always worth it. It’s time to reflect on my own writing journey while I’m actually in the middle of doing it — the so-called reflection in action process.
Why do I write?
For me the reflection in action process begins with the exploration of the greater motives of writing. I’d like to refer to George Orwells “Why I write” where he defines four motives that — according to him — exist in different degrees in every writer:
This motive goes back to the desire to seem clever, to be talked about and to get acknowledgement from the readers. George Orwell states that writers share this characteristic with the “whole top crust of humanity” such as scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers and successful business men. I would lie if I said that this motive doesn’t exist in me as a writer. Especially in the age of digital media where everyone is able to publish their own stories in a matter of seconds, attention and acknowledgement is becoming the most important currency. However, I wouldn’t say that my main motive in writing is sheer egoism.
Orwell describes this motive as the “perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement. The pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story”. I carry this motive with me for as long as I remember. As soon as I was old enough to read and write myself, I started to devour books and write down words and sentences I wanted to keep — just because the sound and the arrangement of the words brought joy to my heart. Today, this motive manifests itself not only in me writing stories but also in other aspects of my life, such as the love for decorating my own home, playing the piano or simply creating something that wasn’t there before.
The essence of this motive lies in the urge to see things as they really are. While the motive of “Aesthetic enthusiasm” was implanted in me since my childhood, I only found out the real meaning behind the motive of “Historical impulse” in my journalism studies. From a journalistic perspective, writing is all about finding and displaying the truth. Observing the world and translating it into words. Journalists often refer to this motive as objectivity. Although it’s practically impossible to be fully objective just because we cannot detach ourselves from the subjectivity of human nature, objectivity remains the guiding star whenever we write about a topic in a journalistic way.
With “Political purpose” George Orwell doesn’t mean writing about politics or politicians but he is using the word in a much broader sense. It’s rather about the “desire to push the world in a certain direction, the desire to alter other people’s idea of the kind of society that they should strive after”.
Why do I write? It’s hard to find an ultimate answer to this question. Actually, I find all four motives being reflected in my own writing process. Those motives do not stay the same but they are changing depending on the mood I’m currently in and the subject I’m writing about. While the motive “Historical impulse” is very strong when I’m writing about something in a journalistic way, this motive fades into the background when I’m writing a story that is based on my own opinion or experiences. Just like now.
Where do I begin?
When it comes to the writing process itself, I always sketch out a rough storyline before I begin to write. I jot down my initial thoughts, take some brief notes and ideas that come to my mind. Oftentimes, those notes have no connection to each other, they are just fragments of words on a blank page. Reflecting on this habit as I’m writing about it right now, I probably do it to combat writer’s block. We all know the intimidating task of starting. The fear of the blank page. For some reason, the first words always are the hardest for me. In those moments, I try to remember that we don’t write on typewriters anymore. There’s the option to change, delete and edit afterwards. That’s also the reason why I just write down what lies on top of my mind and not focus on phrasing or spelling in the beginning. I’d rather put my ideas down on paper first and spending time on refining them later on.
My initial thoughts are written down in a document. That’s when I begin to group those notes together in a way that makes sense, throwing away the ones that don’t. Most of the times, I begin writing somewhere in the middle of the story until I make my way through. Title, subtitles and lead are always the last elements I think about. Those words usually take up the most time in my writing process. Although title and introduction don’t consist of a lot of words they are the most important ones. The main purpose of those elements is to set the scene. Only if the title invites people to read further, they actually will.
Finally, I’ve found a title that sounds nice and an introduction that’s quite compelling. But the writing process isn’t over yet. Now begins the fun part — at least for me. The editing process. When editing my own work, I like to step back from the writer’s perspective and look at the story in three different ways. Most of the times I take a break between the writing and editing part.
- At first, I revise the storyline. I like to think of this as if I’m looking at the story from afar — the bird’s eye view. Does the story make sense? Is there an essential element missing? Is the structure logical? Is there a recurring theme that can act as a framework? Does it need more storytelling elements?
- If the storyline is clear and precise, the “real” editing process comes into play. Now I zoom into the sentence level. Do I like how the words sound? Do the sentences work together? What about their length? Are there some words that need to be rephrased or deleted?
- Lastly, it’s time to proofread. I read through the story one more time to spot spelling mistakes and errors.
After undergoing the whole process of coming up with the initial idea, creating a storyline, putting it into words and revising it one would think that the writing process finally comes to an end. It doesn’t. It never does. In the beginning, I referred to writing as a journey. Well, this journey has no end. There’s no arriving at a point, where you reach your ultimate goal. There will always be more topics to cover, more sentences to revise. At one point, you will need to stop. Ultimately, you will reach a place and this place will feel right for you. And that’s the exact story you want to share with others.