There is a process that occurs in all forms of writing. Like many things in life, taking each step in it’s turn speeds the work and improves the outcome. Understanding that process can help you do better work, faster, and enjoy the process more.
This is “getting an idea”. It may come from something else you read, a video clip or movie, or just out of the blue. Most of this step is done in your head. For some it may just go “poof” here I am, ready to go. If this is you, just know that I despise you. For most of us good ideas are elusive.
Because they are elusive you need to be prepared. The muse tends to rise at the most inopportune times. When a great idea comes along do not say to yourself, “That’s a great idea – I’m sure I’ll remember it.” Trust me, you won’t.
Keep pad and paper by your bed for those nocturnal envisions that wrench you from sleep. Keep a pocket-size pad and compact pen or pencil with you always. Or – use a small digital voice recorder to take verbal notes – especially handy if you are driving!
Don’t worry about details yet, just get down the bones.
Get your facts and information together. Depending on what you are writing, you may need to research factual data, do interviews, visit and photograph a location, build a collection of character profile sheets, do some brainstorming. Get all the bits and pieces you need together and organized. Outline the piece if that’s your style.
If committing that much info to a sheet of paper is too constricting, use sticky notes. Then you can rearrange, add, and remove bits as you see fit until you’re happy with the result. But bear in mind: this is a starting point. You’re just laying out the bones in their places.
Take your notes or outline and flesh out the bones of that skeleton. Do not stop to correct spelling, punctuation, or change the text. Write. Get a first draft done, start to finish.
Now that you have the complete piece down as a first draft, go back and read it over, but look at the big picture not the details. Does the piece flow from topic to topic? Does it do or say what you intended it to? Hack out the bits that trip you up as you read, add some where it seems a bit hollow. Reorganize if it still doesn’t flow properly. Don’t be fussy about spelling and grammar details, you’re not done. Taking time polishing text that may be removed will just waste time and effort.
Give that fleshed-out skeleton a trim physique.
Now we polish. But first it’s a really good idea to do the one thing you do not want to do: lay it aside and work on something else for a bit.
The problem is that when you try to proofread a piece you just wrote, you are too close to it. Your brain knows what you intended to write and will try to see the text that way. Distract your brain for a few days then come back and read it with a fresh and open mind.
Correct those spelling and grammatical errors. Polish the prose. Tweak the dialogue. Dot the i’s and cross all the t’s. To continue our analogy: give it a manicure, makeup, and style the hair.
To do that, read it out loud. Don’t worry if you feel foolish; read it out loud. Read it to your dog or your desk clock, but speak the text like you were reading it to a live audience. You will be amazed at what you catch that you will not catch if you read silently.
If you change a sentence, go back and read that entire paragraph out loud again. Does it still make sense? Have you left artifacts behind like a doubled word, missing word, or a change in tense? Reading it out loud will catch them.
It is always a good idea before publishing to have a second set of eyes read the finished work, just to be sure your brain didn’t manage to pull one over on you somewhere.
But otherwise you are ready to publish. What that means and how you do it depends of what you are writing and who you are writing it for. If it is an essay for school, print it out and give it to your teacher. If it’s a blog post, copy it into your editor window and click [Publish]. If it’s for a magazine or newspaper, attach the file to an e-mail and send it to your editor. Self-publishing a book? Follow the distributors’ instructions and get it out on as many platforms as possible.
Wooing a major print book house? Good luck with that.
In most cases, publishing a piece means only that it has been made available to the public. It does not mean the public will find it, much less read it. To do that, you need to let the public know that your wonderful piece is available. This may be done via advertising, social media, book signings, speaking engagements, promotional tours … so many ways. Not all are appropriate for all types of work.
If I write an article for a magazine, taking a stack of that magazine to the local book store and offering autographed copies probably isn’t going to get many copies sold. Unless I’m Steven King … and I’m not.
Sometimes it’s as simple as asking a few friends to read your on-line article and if they like it, share it with their friends who would also like it.
Just get the word out any way you can.
Now … go write your next one.