The Direct Writing Process for Getting Words on Paper

The direct writing process is most useful if you don’t have much time or if you have plenty to say about your topic. It’s a kind of let’s-get-this-thing-over-with writing process. Use it for tasks like memos, reports, somewhat difficult letters, or essays where you don’t want to engage in much new thinking. It’s also a good approach if you are inexperienced or nervous about writing because it is simple and doesn’t make as much of a mess as the other ways of getting words on paper.

Unfortunately, its most common use will be for those situations that aren’t supposed to happen but do: when you have to write something you don’t yet understand, but you also don’t have much time. The direct writing process may not always lead to a satisfactory piece of writing when you are in this fix, but it’s the best approach known. The process is very simple. Just divide your available time in half. The first half is for fast writing without worrying about organization, language, correctness, or precision. The second half is for revising.

Start off by thinking carefully about the audience (if there is one) and the purpose for this piece of writing. Doing so may help you figure out exactly what you need to say. But if it doesn’t, then let yourself put them out of mind. You may find that you get the most benefit from ignoring your audience and purpose at this early stage of the writing process.

In any event spend the first half of your time making yourself write down everything you can think of that might belong or pertain to your writing task: incidents that come to mind for your story, images for your poem, ideas and facts for your essay or report. Write fast. Don’t waste any time or energy on how to organize it, what to start with, paragraphing, wording, spelling, grammar, or any other matters of presentation. Just get things down helter-skelter. If you can’t find the right word just leave a blank. If you can’t say it the way you want to say it, say it the wrong way.

We are not saying you must never pause in this writing. No need to make this a frantic process. Sometimes it is very fruitful to pause and return in your mind to some productive feeling or idea that you’ve lost. But don’t stop to worry or criticize or correct what you’ve already written. While doing this helter-skelter writing, don’t allow too much digression. Follow your pencil where it leads, but when you suddenly realize, “Hey, this has nothing to do with what I want to write about,” just stop, drop the whole thing, skip a line or two, and get yourself back onto some aspect of the topic or theme. Similarly, don’t allow too much repetition. As you write quickly, you may sometimes find yourself coming back to something you’ve already treated. Perhaps you are saying it better or in a better context the second or third time. But once you realize you’ve done it before, stop and go on to something else.

If you only have half an hour to write a memo, you have now forced yourself in fifteen minutes to cram down every hunch, insight, and train of thought that you think might belong in it. If you have only this evening to write a substantial report or paper, it is now 10:30 P.M., you have used up two or two and a half hours putting down as much as you can, and you only have two more hours to give to this thing. You must stop your raw writing now, even if you feel frustrated at not having written enough or figured out yet exactly what you mean to say. If you started out with no real understanding of your topic, you certainly won’t feel satisfied with what is probably a complete mess at this point. You’ll just have to accept the fact that of course you will do a poor job compared to what you could have done if you’d started yesterday. But what’s more to the point now is to recognize that you’ll do an even crummier job if you steal any of your revising time for more raw writing. Besides, you will have an opportunity during the revising process to figure out what you want to say-what all these ingredients add up to-and to add a few missing pieces.

So if your total time is half gone, stop now no matter how frustrated you are and change to the revising process. That means changing gears into an entirely different consciousness. You must transform yourself from a fast-and-loose-thinking person who is open to every whim and feeling into a ruthless, toughminded, rigorously logical editor. Since you are working under time pressure, you will probably use quick revising or cut-and-paste revising.

Direct writing and quick revising are probably good processes to start with if you have an especially hard time writing. They help you prove to yourself that you can get things written quickly and acceptably. The results may not be the very best you can do, but they work, they get you by. Once you’ve proved you can get the job done you will be more willing to use other processes for getting words down on paper and for revising-processes that make greater demands on your time and energy and emotions. And if writing is usually a great struggle, you have probably been thrown off balance many times by getting into too much chaos.

The direct writing process is a way to allow a limited amount of chaos to occur in a very controlled fashion. It’s easiest to explain the direct writing process in terms of pragmatic writing: you are in a hurry, you know most of what you want to say, you aren’t trying for much creativity or brilliance. The direct writing process can work well for very important pieces of writing and ones where you haven’t yet worked out your thinking at all. But one condition is crucial: you must be confident that you’ll have no trouble finding lots to say once you start writing. If you want to use the direct writing process for important pieces of writing, you need plenty of time. You probably won’t be able to get them the way you want them with just quick revising. You’ll need thorough revising or revising with feedback.

Main Steps in the Direct Writing Process

  • If you have a deadline, divide your total available time: half for raw writing, half for revising.
  • Bring to mind your audience and purpose in writing but then go on to ignore them if that helps your raw writing.
  • Write down as quickly as you can everything you can think of that pertains to your topic or theme.Don’t let yourself repeat or digress or get lost, but don’t worry about the order of what you write, the wording, or about crossing out what you decide is wrong.
  • Make sure you stop when your time is half gone and change to revising, even if you are not done.
  • The direct writing process is most helpful when you don’t have difficulty coming up with material or when you are working under a tight deadline.