Even with the fairly steady flow of assignments lately, getting started on a new project is not high on my list of favorite things. In fact, I’d be a little embarrassed to let people see an article in raw form—bits and pieces of sentences all over the page, notes to myself (things to look up, reminders to include a person’s title, statistics to double check, etc.), and even a rough outline to guide me as I write. Friends, here’s a trade secret—that article you’re reading in a magazine didn’t look like that when the writer first started working on it. That short little 800 word piece may have taken the writer hours (and many cups of their beverage of choice) to put together. It’s not pretty.
Much as I love landing new assignments, I loathe getting into “the zone” and getting started. Sometimes—but not as often as I’d like—a brilliant lede will come to me and the story will flow on its own. But more often than not, I rely on an outline to help me get my thoughts together and determine the final story. I’ve been a fan of outlines since college, and wouldn’t have much of a writing career without them.
But before all of that…I have to psych myself up to put butt in chair and write. Anything!
If I have a fairly long stretch of writing time ahead of me, I work on smaller projects just to get my mind working. I’ll typically work on my writers’ group newsletter, answer email, or put together blog posts. On a good day, by then I’m usually ready to tackle the work at hand. If I have my interviews ready and my outline in place, I’ll work on the final version for as long as I can. I’ll take a break every hour or so, or switch between projects if I feel myself getting a bit stale, but once I get into “the zone” and my thoughts are really clicking on a certain article, the time flies by. If I only have a short turnaround time, I’ll put together a fairly detailed outline so that the final story all but writes itself—I mostly fill in the gaps in my outline. They’re the best days. On not-so-great days, I’m struggling to put every sentence together. It happens. Especially if there’s been a lull between assignments. But I’m usually able to get myself back on track fairly quickly.
What about you? How do you psych yourself up to write?