Writing as a recursive process

Authors. Writers. Books. Poems. Literature History.

I used to think that when writing one would simply sit down, pound out a short story or essay on their laptop, give it a once over, and then submit it to a magazine. Then, the editors would write you back: “You’re a genius! Here’s $3 kajillion dollars! You’ve transformed writing forever!” It turns out, all I really did was annoy a bunch of editors at literary magazines (and filter-bots who could tell my writing sucked using an algorithm, which somehow hurt worse).

One of my early mistakes was not realizing what type of writing process I actually needed to employ or how writing works as a recursive process. Yes, yes. It’s a 10-cent phrase, but it means a lot when you are trying to define an adequate approach to writing and how to understand the moves a writer has to make to be both productive and effective.

The process of repetition

Writing as a recursive process encompasses the writing process itself (prewriting, drafting, revising, and editing), and it is a process that allows you to revisit older steps and kind of jump around during a writing project because, as most approaches to academic writing will tell you, your processes all flow into one another so there is a fluidity between stages. For example, you may have to come back and dress up your introduction with a bit more language even though you are in the revising stages, so, thusly, you jump back to your drafting stage.

When we talk about writing as recursive, we are talking about the repetition of the writing process, which often times stick us somewhere between the editing and revising stage, endlessly moving sentences around, fixing grammatical issues, and adding new ideas. Over and over, and there is no end in sight, because that’s what we do as writers and that’s what writers do to create good, clean copy.

Why is this important?

It’s one thing to say, “Writing is recursive!” and it’s another thing to know what that means exactly. Recursive writing “simply means that each step you take in your writing process will feed into other steps: after you’ve drafted an essay, for instance, you’ll go do a bit of verification of some of your facts—and if you discover that you’ve gotten something wrong, you’ll go back to the draft and fix it” (Stetson).

Thusly, we have to remember that we are always going to jump between stages. Just because you get the draft done doesn’t mean that you are done drafting. Just because you are done with rewriting, doesn’t mean everything is where it needs to be exactly. This is pretty much just a long way to say: writing is work. And, as such, we may always need the constant reminder that it’s okay to go back to old steps in the process, from prewriting to drafting to revision. And, even when it’s all said and done, it’s okay to throw up your essay, or article, or story, and just start again.

“Good academic writing takes time,” says Nancy Hutchison, associate professor of English at Howard Community College. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and there are many steps to writing well.”

This goes for more than just academic writing, of course. This is very much a good mindset for fiction writing, content writing, or whatever. No matter what you are doing, you are not running as fast as you can to get done quickly. We are all guilty of submitting trash because we didn’t take the time to revise and rewrite, and a good way to keep from doing that in the future is to remember your writing steps, remember to take a break, and to remember that it’s okay to revisit your process.

Works Cited

“Writing as a Process: Writing is Recursive.” Stetson University Writing Program. Web. URL: https://www.stetson.edu/other/writing-center/media/G_Part_3.pdf. Accessed: June 14, 2021.

Hutchison, Nancy. “Recursive Writing Process.” ENGLISH 087 Academic Advanced Writing, Howard Community College, 24 Jan. 2020, pressbooks.howardcc.edu/engl087/chapter/writing-process-recursion/.