Recursive: Circling Back On Ourselves


Writing is recursive.

I heard this some time ago, but it’s being brought back to me this month, as I circle back on things. Looking at old drafts, looking back at what I wrote yesterday, last week, last month, last year, 5 years ago.

The writing process is plastered everywhere by now: prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, publishing. But what we forget is the recursive nature of what we do. We prewrite and draft, but in the drafts, we circle back and do more prewriting. It’s not a linear process at all!

Do you remember learning to write in cursive, the exercise where you write loops, making sure you stay within the lines. That’s what this feels like sometimes: each loop advances just a bit, but you must circle back to touch the baseline, the top line, the confines of the story that you’ve created. You’re looking for that perfect loop, but never quite find it, but the more you practice, the closer it gets.

Recursive: using a procedure that can be applied repeatedly.

This is why I try to teach strategies for revision. My daughter’s sixth grade teacher asked the students to pay attention to the process as they wrote an essay. Then, she asked them to write down the exact process so they could follow it again.

No! The point is the the process never repeats exactly. Instead, there are strategies, approaches, tools, ways of working, recursive procedures. And each time we write, we apply different strategies in a different order. The only constant is the recursiveness of the process.

Today, I’ve very aware of circling back on myself; tomorrow, I hope I’m very aware of the moving forward part of this process.

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