Wednesday, March 12, 2008

What's your writing process?

Recently, a fellow writer experienced a minor case of writer's block asked some other writers about their non-fiction writing process.

This is something I have honed to a fine art (for me!) and I'm happy to share mine with other writers.

I have a friend who frequently struggles with writer's block. She was taught that her story starts with a strong lead -- and all writing flows from that. I couldn't disagree more!

I never do the lead first. I don't know what it will be until I've gotten the research analyzed, which happens as I go through my notes.

First, I type in my byline! No idea why, habit, but it reassures me each time. Perhaps I feel like I'm planting my flag -- staking out the territory -- declaring my intention to do a story that lives up to my own standards.

Or maybe it's just a habit.

Then, I take all my research and I get it "in shape." I type it in, weeding out stuff that's not germane; as I type it in (or retype), I make sure each chunk is print-ready. In paragraphs, no typos, quotes attributed. In fact, if I'm doing whole interviews (if the article has more than one interviewed, especially) I do it like this:

"First, I take all my research and I get it in shape," Schmoe said.
"I type it in, weeding out stuff that's not germane; as I type it in (or retype), I make sure each chunk is print-ready. In paragraphs, no typos, quotes attributed," Schmoe said.
"In fact, if I'm doing whole interviews (if the article has more than one interviewed, especially) I do it like this," Schmoe said.


Once I have the notes typed in, I save a new copy. This way, I don't accidentally eliminate something from a previous incarnation of the story. I put all the copies in the same folder, and label them in order, usually with an abbreviation of the client publication name, the main subject name, and the number of the copy, like this: TIME Schmoe 3.

Sometimes to differentiate speakers in one document, I will highlight the copy from different sources at this stage. Later, the extra names and highlighting comes off.

After this, I cut and paste the research -- facts and quotes etc. and group related research together in clumps. The shortcuts for this in Word are Control+X for cut, Control+C for copy, Control+V for paste. Again, I save a copy and work from that.

Then, I order the clumps -- first, next, last, etc. -- via cut and paste.

By this time, I have a stronger idea of the precise lead, and I develop that.

Then I go through all of it, smooth the transitions, look for stuff that needs weeded out, holes.
If I have questions that need answered, I write them at the top, above my byline, a reminder to do them.

Throughout the process, I frequently read things aloud. This helps catch things that LOOK okay but aren't.

I double-check my own facts and names, making sure I have titles and companies correct. If numbers are iffy, I make sure they're accurate.

This is how I get to a polished story that's ready to print. Or to be edited.

I'd love feedback about YOUR writing process.

To see how other writers write, check out this forum on Mediabistro.com:

http://mediabistro.com/bbs/cache/t38115_1.asp

2 comments:

Mike Strong said...

I guess better late than never when leaving a comment! I was shocked to see your writing style, not appalled, just shocked because it had never occurred to me to do it that way!

I'm like your friend: lead first. However, I'm not committed to that lead. If I begin writing and I realize that the lead doesn't support my assertions in a story or what I'm writing clearly shows me that I've got the lead wrong, it's time to redo.

My lead is much like your byline: it's a flag to plant...but your friend needs to listen her story and not be committed to her lead...at least that's how I handle it.

You're method is appealing in cases where I have sooooo many notes and I can't see the forest for the trees. Came across your blog on MediaBistro...interesting stuff!

J. Louise Larson said...

Mike, thanks for your note. I do a lot of enterprising work -- stories I dig up myself, or that come across my desk serendipitously. Wow, that's a long word.

On many occasions, the material leads me to the lead!