March 7, 2017

Writing is a process – a set of predictable, repeatable steps in the journey to the finished work. While there are probably as many processes are there are writers, here are some of the identifiable steps.

Explore: All good writers express a form of curiosity, a sense that something is going on out there. See your world as a storehouse of story ideas.

Gather: Writers collect words, images, details, facts, quotes, dialogue, documents, scenes, expert testimony, eyewitness accounts, statistics and, of course, the name of the dog.

Organize: Before a writer can plan a story, material must be organized. What needs cleaning, stacking, collating, compiling, tossing, filing and indexing?

Focus: The central act of writing is finding a focus for the work. The focus can be expressed in a lead sentence, a summary paragraph, a headline or title, a theme statement, a thesis or an answer to this question: Who did what?

Select: New writers often dump the contents of their notebook into a story. The best, most experienced writers use a small percentage of the research, a process of selection that supports the focus. If you are unable to select between the “good” and the “pretty good,” you may have to go back a step or two, gathering new material that leads to a clearer understanding of the purpose of the work.

Order: What is the scope of your story? What shape is emerging? Writers benefit from a vision of the global structure of the story. This does not require a formal outline. But it helps to have a sense of beginning, middle and ending.

Draft: Some writers write quickly, accepting the imperfection of early drafts. Others want the initial work to be perfect. If you struggle, one of the most useful strategies is to rehearse the story before drafting. Talk it through, especially your opening or introduction.

Revise: Productive and effective writers reserve time and energy for revision, a step that includes everything from story reconstruction to proof reading. Showing a draft to a test audience – editor, teacher, friend – can help you see the unfulfilled potential in an early draft and make the work better.

Taken from Help! for Writers, a self-directed course by Roy Peter Clark at Poynter NewsU.

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Vicki Krueger has worked with The Poynter Institute for more than 20 years in roles from editor to director of interactive learning and her current…
Vicki Krueger

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