You see, blogging is the vehicle by which I can convey ideas I believe can change lives. But my passion is for the ideas more than the particular vehicle used to convey them.
Well, that was my initial thought anyway.
Then a wonderful fellow-blogger commented on a recent post, asking me to talk about my writing — how I write, how I come up with ideas and form the words and sentences around those ideas I share with you.
At first, I balked at the idea. Me? Write about writing? About MY writing? But as I thought about it, I came to the conclusion that words themselves can be made to be extremely powerful and beautiful.
Words are tools that convey ideas. But not only that. They are also art, used to paint a verbal picture, creating hue and texture, capturing the beauty of a context, instructing, motivating and inspiring.
The more effective the art and tool, the more effectively I can communicate my ideas to the hearts and lives of those I hope to touch.
Truth is, I came to realize that writing about writing can also have value. So I changed my mind. The following is the product of that change.
When I write, I follow what can be loosely termed a 4-step process. Here it is:
Step One: Ideas
Ideas come and go so quickly. I can come up with a wonderful idea, blink once or twice and then struggle for the next hour trying to remember what the darn idea was!
Have you ever opened the fridge and then just stood there trying to remember why you opened it? That’s how ideas are to me. They flutter and fly away just about as soon as they land. So I try to throw a net over them as soon as they pop into my mind.
To do this, I keep a small notepad in my car to grab my best ideas before they fade into oblivion while I’m listening to a book-on-tape or a talk program or just thinking.
I keep a larger notebook by my computer. Another one by my bed (never know when the idea of the century is going to jump out at me — I’m still waiting! :)). I also use 3×5 cards as book marks so I can record ideas inspired by the book I’m reading at the time.
I even keep a blank card in my shirt pocket sometimes so I can write down the ideas that come while I’m out running errands. A little obsessive? Perhaps. But it works for me.
In truth, this step is critical to my writing because no matter how wonderful a great idea is, it’s not worth a nickel if I don’t remember it.
I regularly review the ideas I’ve written in my notebooks and cards to determine if they merit promotion to a Word Document. If there’s something about an idea I particularly like, I type it onto a document and save it to a file labeled for that purpose.
This way, I always have something like 40 – 60 different possible posts dangling in front of me whenever I open that file (which is everyday). It’s easily accessible and I can conveniently scan some of the ones I liked best in one spot as I consider the next post I’ll start working on.
Step Two: Writing
At any given time, I’m working on several articles simultaneously — usually 3 to 5. I continue doing this, shifting back and forth until one seems to pop out or take on a life of its own or “speak” to me. Then I hone in on that one, not always completely ignoring the others, however.
As such, I always have several articles in various stages of completion. If things aren’t clicking, I put it aside for a day or two and work on other ideas still germinating and on the page. Then I can start fresh again a day or so later.
Walking through an Idea
I do my best thinking on my feet, walking around, usually early in the morning when the air is cool and fresh and everything is subdued and quiet. I like to talk out loud as I work through a post idea almost like I’m giving a speech or holding a debate. It helps me think.
As the idea starts to formulate in my mind, I take notes, sketching out the basic structure of the article. This sometimes changes dramatically by the time it’s ready to publish, though. I sometimes start down one path only to realize it’s just not going to work as intended and rework it until it feels right. At other times a new idea is simply better and I trash the former.
Adding Meat to the Bones
Once a topic feels like it’s ready to be committed to paper, I type it up on a word document – always! Then I print it out and start writing in details. Sometimes I do this at the computer, but more often than not, it is on the stationary bike at the gym or sitting at my desk or while walking around a room.
Because I work on several articles simultaneously, I have time to let the ideas bump around in my head a bit, letting them marinate a while and mature.
Once the idea is put to paper, I start considering how to convey it most effectively or in a unique or interesting way. I think about the nature of the thing, its causes and effects. I consider whether it lends itself to a particular analogy or metaphor. And I start incorporating those stylistic ideas into the text.
Step Three: Editing
While it’s fair to call this a “step,” I’m actually editing continually even while I write. Still, once basically finished, I begin the editing process with a vengeance. For most of my writing, I probably go through something like 8-10 edits. Sometimes more!
Editing is key.
That’s when I start fine-tuning the language, often coming up with new creative ways of expressing what I want to say.
Again, I do all my editing in hard copy, printed page and pen in hand. The corrections are then added to the Word document version.
I NEVER write directly to my dashboard. There’s just something about holding the paper in hand and moving around while I read it out loud, listening to the way it sounds, listening to the meter and rhythm as well as other stylistic and content considerations.
Sometimes what “sounds” good when reading silently doesn’t sound so great read aloud. But I’ve found that if it sounds good out loud, it almost always flows when reading it silently.
Besides, our brains pick up a lot less than our ears do. Our brains fill in gaps, already knowing what we meant to say. Our ears, on the other hand, are much less forgiving and will more likely catch the oddly-worded phrase or the inconsistent thought.
Adding Analogy and Metaphor
Sometimes the symbolism I use comes to me at the beginning as I first conceptualize the idea. Other times, it comes while editing and I change significant chunks of the article, usually adding lots more text to it.
Either way, I ask myself if I can word something better, if there is a better way to tell the story or convey the information, or teach the principle. I explore what in life is similar to this thing I’m writing about. I also ask questions like, “What does this topic do? How does it act? Does it eat away at our will or potential or self-acceptance? If so, what other things eat away? Acid? Corrosion? Cancer?
Then I use what feels right and think through what else about the analogy might fit? How is cancer treated? How does cancer spread? What else may be associated with it that might have parallels to the topic I’m writing about?
And all the while, I’m editing and reediting and editing some more. Having said that, however, I never edit my personality out. It is very much a part of everything I write.
The next step is to copy and paste the finished article to my blog. I always save it as a draft first to preview what the final product will look like. I’ve caught many mistakes and fixed other problems before publishing this way.
Then I begin searching for a photo to help visually complete the picture I painted with words.
It’s then that the article is finally posted for your reading (and self-improvement) pleasure.
There is some background information about me that I think does pertain to my writing style.
I grew up in my teen-aged years wanting to be a rich and famous rock guitarist and song writer (alas, no vocal abilities). As such, I wrote songs, poems set to music, really. I dabbled in poetry as such as well.
I learned during those years to think creatively, to think in metaphor and analogy, to create poetic ways of expressing my ideas – or at least more poetic had I not tried my hand at such things.
Madness to My Method
There is, however, a major downfall to my way of writing. Because each post is worked and reworked and reworked again many times over, they tend to get longer and longer with each edit as I discover yet another thing left unsaid (this post itself has been subject of that swelling tendency).
I know this is a no-no in the blogging world, and I probably pay a price for it, but I just find it difficult to edit my writing down.
My product often feels like a baby I’ve given birth to (I know – gender incompatibility issues notwithstanding!) and find it very difficult to cut into it too deeply to remove parts that readers would likely appreciate me removing.
And that, my friends, is my writing process in a nutshell. I hope it serves to either inform or entertain.
Galen, I hope I’ve done your request justice. If you would like clarification on anything, please ask away in the comments! 🙂
How Do You Come Up With Ideas for your Posts?
Do you follow any particular process in your writing?
Let me know your tricks of the trade to pumping out solid content! I would love to learn at the feet of those I admire! And that truly is all of you.
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Flickr Credit: gregoryhogan