Composing Strategies

Enhance your creative potential and ability to communicate effectively by experimenting with different writing strategies.

Writing theorists and researchers have found there is no one perfect writing process. The strategies you need to use are likely to vary from project to project. The amount of time you give to each writing strategy is influenced by the genre of the writing task, your personality, schedule, and writing habits. Your background as a writer and unique circumstances influence how you develop, design, organize, and share writing. People who are blind, people who are especially introverted, people who approach English as a second language are all likely to have unique preferences when it comes to inventing, freewriting, revising, editing, and so on.

But this doesn’t mean anything goes. You’re kidding yourself, for example, if you think you can always write a document in one or two drafts. You’re undermining your creative potential if you try to plan absolutely everything before writing. It doesn’t make sense, for example, to edit documents–e.g., check spelling, grammar, punctuation, and style–before revising. Why invest time perfecting prose that may need to be deleted because it’s off the topic, unnecessary given the audience, or out of place in the document?

A writer is not so much someone who has something to say as he [or she] is someone who has found a process that will bring about new things he [or she] would have not thought of if he [or she] had not started to say them William Stafford

How Do Researchers Visually Represent Composing Processes?

The following image map of composing processes represents one depiction of “the writing process.” Over time, writing teachers, writers, and writing researchers have presented other visual representations of the writing process. Before computers and word processors became available, for example, writing textbooks tended to overlook designing as an important step in the writing process.Our descriptions of writing processes are changing in response to new communication technologies. Collaboration, in particular, has been enhanced by new document sharing and editing tools. Today’s Web editors and word processors offer unparalled control over the design of our writing.

What Do Research and Scholarship Tell Us about Effective Composing Strategies?

By conducting interviews, case studies, and protocol analyses of writers at work, researchers in the field of composition and rhetoric have uncovered important insights regarding effective writing habits. Below are a few of the important insights researchers have discovered regarding how college students and professionals manage writing processes:

Successful writers often describe their composing strategies as recursive. By recursive, they mean that they engage in a variety of writing strategies in a non-linear manner. For example, they may begin by collaborating with others, then try inventing on their own, then consult authorities and scholars via research, and then return to collaborating. From composition research and scholarship, we know that many students do not plan or revise as much as professional writers. Unsuccessful writers may become trapped in a single composing strategy. For example, they may get stuck researching, thinking they need to read absolutely everything before writing. Inexperienced students may believe they receive low grades because they weren’t “born writers” when the real truth is that they aren’t really employing the invention, revising, and editing strategies that more successful writers use.

Playing the Believing Game

Playing the Believing Game refers to the importance of trusting yourself and your writing process, of setting aside doubt and giving yourself room to work through a number of drafts until you express your intentions. As much as you can, give yourself positive messages when first starting to write a document.

Sometimes when you’re writing you’ll know exactly what you want to say and do.  But there are other times when you are less sure, when you just know when you get it wrong.  At times when the writing task is more exploratory and speculative, Sondra Perl, a compositionist, suggests we need to follow our “felt sense”– our nonverbal feel of what we hope to say.

Work With Your Felt Senses

Admittedly, this advice — to play the believing game and trust your felt sense — may sound ridiculously “touchy feely.”  Fortunately, from studying the composing strategies of successful academic writers (as well as blocked writers), we can offer additional advice to help you navigate the early stages of the writing process.  To help you improve as a writer, I strongly encourage you to learn more about the effective habits of successful academic writers by scanning the following documents:

  • As mentioned in the Play the Believing Game section, in the early stages of writing, you want to play the believing game and trust your felt sense. In other words, when first beginning a project, you want to try and ignore negative, critical thoughts.
  • In contrast, Play the Doubting Game is more critical and analytical. During Play the Doubting Game, you want to attack your documents–and invite your friends and peers to attack your work.