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How I write: what works for me...

What works for you?

1:26 pm on Jul 4, 2004 (gmt 0)

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joined:June 27, 2000
votes: 0

I have found I write more coherent stuff when I have been writing for 20-30 minutes. It is like I have to 'shift' gears to hit a style. Also, I start writing with pen and paper. For some reason, this helps me to get into writing mode. Writing gets the chatter out of my mind. Typing tends to, but not always, puts me into editor mode.

I define writing as 'writing without regard for sentence structure, spellling or punctuation.' It is the pure act of getting the idea down. Editing is taking a something that has already been written and improving it. I have found that trying to edit while I write slows me down.

Write first. Edit later. If it is a new idea, I don't edit the new idea as I am writing it. I don't like to use any word processor that points out grammatical errors or spelling mistakes because it forces me to edit. I don't necessarily want to edit, I want to write.

Then, I type.

When it is all in digital form, I look at the piece and see if the order is correct. Did I write about step 2 before step 1? If so, I re-order the paragraphs.

I absolutely don't let the sentence structure get in the way. If I can't figure out how to write a sentence, I write it as wordy as I need it to be to get the idea across for the ruthless editing phase later. As long as the ideas are what I want, it is fine.

Once the order is correct and all the ideas are down in some form, I take a break.

When I get back, I go into ruthless editing mode and correct sentence structure, wording, punctuation, spelling. When I think it is as good as it can get, I put it aside for a day. Or a few days.

It is only after this break I can really see where the problem areas are. Editing at this point is simple: usually, I am just removing redundancies and adding clarity. Then, I save what I have written as a master. I may use it as it is, or use it to write a web version.

This is what works for me. What works for you?

3:56 pm on July 4, 2004 (gmt 0)

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joined:Nov 16, 2003
votes: 0

Here are my steps:

1. Research and Note taking: I locate 2-4 sources on a topic (books, websites etc...) and read them through while taking some simple notes as to the important and relevent points to me.

2. Outline: Then I write up a simple outline, incorporating those points I collected in step 1 into a way that theey are logical and the topic completely covered.

3. Write: I use this outline to know what to write about in each paragraph, this lets me concentrate on each point in detail without digressing from the overall topic.

4. Sit: I let the article sit unedited for a while.. soimetimes an hour... but perferable a week.. basically until I have forgotten what I wrote.

5. Edit: This is pretty much self explainatory.

6. Add fun stuff: The end step is to add photos and diagrams and stuff to help explain the article.

10:29 pm on July 4, 2004 (gmt 0)

Senior Member from CA 

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

joined:Nov 25, 2003
votes: 56

The following steps apply to both "content" writing for the web or "article" writing for print.

I do my "research scribbling" by keyboard, by voice recorder, by pen or pencil on any scrap of paper - whatever is handy at the time. I write/mumble/type in "free flow" without attention to grammar, spelling, or logic order. From initial draft on I use a simple text editor and am constantly editing.

Please note that I am a veerrryyyy slow typist - your writing times might well be less because all ten of your fingers do as they are told.

Step One:
Note: much of this step might already be detailed by a contract proposal.
Decide topic, initial boundaries and scope.
Determine approach to subject.
Create a bulleted outline with brief initial thoughts. (This is important because I am an information/trivia junkie and can be sidetracked easily.)
Average time: 1/2-hour.

Step Two, Part One:
Do initial research. Note: If inter-library loan is required to access off-line material wait time can be weeks. This is the area with the greatest spread of time required (wait time NOT included!).
Average time 4-hours.

Step Two, Part Two:
Organize research into appropriate outline categories. Adjust outline categories as necessitated by the found information. Usually done simultaneously with Part One.
Average time: 1/2-hour.

Step Three, Part One:
Write first draft in strict linear fashion: first bullet category information, second, etc. ensuring my words, my sequence, quotes matched with attribution, etc.
Average time: 2-hours.

Step Three, Part Two:
Note sources for all used information in bibliography (for my own use only) for reference re possible infringement (copyright, plagerism, libel, etc.) concerns. Usually done as doing Part One.
Average time: 1/2-hour.

Step Four:
Put aside for at least a day.

Step Five:
Read for logic flow and for completeness of information at the level appropriate for the particular article: neither too much detail nor too little or missing data. NOT read for grammar or spelling.
Average time: 1/2-hour.

Step Six:
Do additional research as required to fill in holes, answer possible questions.
Average time: 1-hour.

Step Seven:
Repeat Step Three incorporating the new information, adjusting to logic and flow as necessary.
Average time: 1-hour.

Step Eight:
Put aside for a month (if possible) - as long as possible short of that.

Step Nine, Part One:
Write final draft as a stand alone html document (meeting clients site design requirements) incorporating all css design elements and attributes, and including graphics as required. (slightly different format for print article!)
Average time: 4-hours.

Step Nine, Part Two:
Repeat Step Five. Correct for grammar and spelling.
Average time: 1-hour.

Step Ten, Part One:
If thought necessary (rare and depends on subject/material/client) have my lawyer read my copy, source material, and my bibliography.

Step Ten, Part Two:
Present to client for approval.

Step Ten, Part Three:
Make changes as necessary to obtain approval.
Average time (all 3-Parts): 1/2-hour.

Step Eleven:

Total average time (excluding wait and "put-aside" time): 15.5-hours. I ran a database query (I am a DB geek and track all my design and copywriting job breakdowns by DB) and found my shortest time: 2-hours and my longest time: 67-hours. Note: the detail and length of content were much different (I should hope so!).

Note: times may be less if the client is providing the information ... but I still research to confirm their "guarantee" of originality, accuracy, and completeness. About two-thirds of the time at least one of those criteria is not met. I then submit a "Memo of Concern" noting the problem along with a "Change Order Memo" costing the changes if I do them (instead of them). Over 90% of the time they sign the memo and pay me to do the additional work - I love change orders!

10:44 pm on July 5, 2004 (gmt 0)

Senior Member

joined:June 27, 2000
votes: 0

OK..granted...I guess I left out the research part. When I wrote this I assumed I had already done all the research.

'How I research' is a whole different topic altogether.

I think the thing I find so difficult about writing is that I have to 'shift gears' to really get something that reads well. The first few pages are horrible and need a lot of editing.

Its like I have to translate from 'G's Mind' to 'English'.

2:16 am on July 6, 2004 (gmt 0)

Senior Member from CA 

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

joined:Nov 25, 2003
votes: 56

Ah ... you are referring to the processes by which simultaneous serial and parallel pipelining of the trillions of connections within the billions of components of an electrochemically powered 1.4-kg confabulator generate coherent insightful thoughts for the amazement and edification of future generations ... or ... the arcane art of "getting your brain in gear" and invoking a "state of flow".

I have met several people able to fall asleep at a moments notice. I have not yet met anyone able to be "creative" without warmup. Training can provide "first responses" that are appropriate to given situations but that is learned reflex behaviour and not original thought.

It takes time (sometimes until the next day!) to get my mind to a state where work (whatever it might be) draws me in, the outside world recedes, and work simply flows. Such flow is evidenced by looking up after ten minutes to find that ten hours have passed.

This is why I start with reading (initially reading the research, later my previous writing). It conditions my mind to the subject and seems to bring the creative juices to the fore. Then I start to write. I still end up writing better later in a given period than when I started.

Your twenty minutes sounds very reasonable, especially if you are starting cold. I suspect that you can finish one topic and flow into a new one without as much time "getting your brain in gear" around the shift - you are already in "creative mode".

I have a copywriter friend who swears that yoga and meditation increase her ability to ignore the world and get into work flow faster. I tried and just got bored.