I'm closing in on the final version of a short commissioned essay. Because it's so short and I've been working on it without interruption for a month or so, I've had the opportunity to think about the discrete stages of my writing process.
The big picture isn't a surprise: I've always maintained that I hate writing and love rewriting, and that remains true. But starting and finishing a project in such a short period of time has revealed to me that there are actually many intermediate stages in my process, rather than just writing/rewriting.
The major stages look something like this:
Stage One: I hate every minute I'm at my computer and have to resort to all kinds of tricks to make myself stay there.
In this stage, I'm mostly just trying to conquer the fear of the blank screen and convince myself I have enough matter to write about. I throw everything I can think of into my document: block quotes I intend to analyze, bits and bobs of thoughts and topics; half a paragraph on this, half a paragraph on that.
Stage Two: At this point, I no longer hate every minute I spend writing, and occasionally have passing moments of pleasure or insight--but it still requires an act of will to get through a few hours/pages a day.
This is the stage where I start to rough out my ideas and expand on the bits and bobs from Stage One--but, at least initially, it's without much effort to connect those ideas or fit them into a larger argument.
Stage Three: I can't stop working on the project. I resent having to eat or go to bed, and feel dazed and unable to hold normal conversations when I stop working.
This is the stage where I really try to force everything into order and coherence, to build an overarching argument, to make everything line up, and to sound good. This stage is still a struggle--but if there's a part of writing that makes me happy, it's this part.
Stage Four: Wait, I'm not done yet?
After Stage Three, there's inevitably still tinkering and fussing, the sense that things aren't quite right, that a turn of phrase sounds wrong, that the argument isn't set up as effectively as it could be, etc. This stage can be pleasurable--it's immensely satisfying when a problem gets solved, or there's a paragraph (or even several pages!) that I'm totally happy with, but it's frustrating when it drags on too long.
(And of course, every stage does drag on too long. Always.)
How about you? What's your writing process like?