A quest of pen and paper: a journey through the writing process
Nearly everyone knows the steps of the writing process: pre-writing, drafting, revising, editing and publishing. It’s an orderly and methodical approach to go from an idea to a published post. Yet in practice, writing can get messy fast. In fact, writing often involves bouncing around the process, skipping parts entirely or adding your own steps.
This post dives into the process and offers practical tips along the way. So grab your mithril shirt and Elven cloak, and join me on this adventure we call ‘writing.’
Before actually starting the process, consider these initial steps:
What should I write about?
The beauty of writing is that you can cover anything, but that can also overwhelm with options. A good strategy for where to start your writing journey is by narrowing down your ideas to just a few themes. Then consider your specific topics. For instance, the Voxus PR blog covers public relations and marketing. A frequent subject for us is social media.
With a focus in mind, start a running list of specific things to write about. Once the ideas start flowing, you’ll soon have enough topics in mind to fill a content calendar.
Go bold or go home
Don’t fear an ambitious idea. Even if a piece will require a great deal of effort, just give it the old college try. Some of my best blog posts started with a big idea. Even though they took some heavy lifting, the payoff was worth it. This effort has led me to write personal favorites like “31 days of public relations lessons” and “Voxus finds 26% interested in paying for news per article.”
Once you have ideas, the next step is to begin the actual writing process.
Start with the end in mind
Often, the goal of writing is to support a specific objective. For example, an ebook could be used to drive lead generation. Or, a blog post could inform prospective customers about your expertise. No matter the content type, always keep in mind the intended outcome. Uncover the goal of your writing with questions like these:
- What is the purpose of the content?
- What information does it need to include?
- Will my target audience find this interesting or useful?
Interrogate your content while drafting to keep it interesting, focused and more successful.
Take copious notes
My writing often begins with handwritten notes. At this step, I’m thinking about what I might want to say and researching information. Everything that seems like a worthwhile addition is penned down for future reference. This step is relatively unstructured as my aim is to foster a free flow of ideas.
Outlining as a roadmap
A well-known step of the writing process is outlining. And for good reason. Transposing rough notes into an orderly structure can help you get from point A to point B in a logical manner. Bullet your notes into main ideas and supporting points to ensure your writing takes on an order that makes sense. Don’t skip this step!
Overcoming a blank screen can be one of the most daunting hurdles of the writing process. Even more than facing down a Balrog. Sure, you have a great idea and notes to match, but you might not know how to make your words take flight.
In this case, just start typing.
In my experience, writing is hard but editing is easy. First, get words on the page then focus on transforming them into something worthwhile. You don’t even have to start at the beginning. Tackle it out of order if you need to (like I am doing while writing this): write the body, then compose an introduction, draft a conclusion, and wrap it up with a catchy title.
At this point, don’t worry about perfection. And don’t stress about whether someone writes differently than you. After all, the two great authors George R. R. Martin and Stephen King once swapped notes about their approaches. Martin even asked King bluntly, “How the f— do you write so fast?”
Keep a notepad at hand
A brilliant idea could strike at any time. When that happens, jot down your thought immediately – or risk losing it forever. Keep a notepad within reach and get your idea down on paper right away. Later on, worry about where to integrate it into your piece.
Variety is the spice of life
With a framework in hand, look for ways to make your writing more interesting. This can mean varying your sentence structure and length, adding quotes, or considering different words or phrases. Even consider eye-catching punctuation like an en dash (–), em dash (—) or colon (:).
Look for these opportunities as variety will help keep a reader engaged.
Rubber ducking it
Back in English 101, my professor once asked about an essay, “What are you trying to say here?” So, I explained it simply. He responded, “Good. Write that.” That’s when I realized I didn’t have to needlessly complicate my writing.
This verbal explaining of my writing was similar to the practice known as “rubber duck debugging.” This method is most commonly associated with programmers, where they explain their code – line-by-line – to a literal rubber duck in an attempt to find and fix errors. Writers can use a similar method to fix their content.
To improve your writing, uncover any hard-to-understand sections and try explaining it to a duck or something else. This might help your content become clearer and more succinct.
Choose clarity. Every time.
Clever writing is fun, but it risks flying over the heads of readers. Unless your cleverness makes perfect sense, it’s best to err on the side of caution. Choosing to be clear is usually the best advice, even if it comes at the expense of deleting your brilliant phrasing.
Bilbo’s quote from The Fellowship of the Ring, ” I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve,” might be fun for casual reading. But it doesn’t make for easily digestible copy.
“If it doesn’t add anything, remove it.”
While watching commentary of a Pixar film, a director said something along the lines of, “If it doesn’t add anything to the story, it’s a distraction. Remove it.” This same approach should be taken in writing. If it’s unnecessary for your goals, hit the “delete” button.
You should take every opportunity possible to reduce the word count or even remove entire sentences. It can be tough deleting your own carefully selected words, but it usually makes for stronger content. Look for any long sentences or paragraphs and see what can be shortened up and made more succinct.
With the hard work out of the way, the fun part comes with buttoning everything up and sharing your writing. At this step, consider an interesting headline and load your copy up into a CMS, newsletter or any other template. Consider sharing your content on social media for an even larger pool of readers.