My Go-To Writing Process

I was recently in a meeting and asked about my creative writing process, and I was initially perplexed over how to answer such a question. Did I have a tried-and-true routine?  Could I give him an elaborate step-by-step guide for what goes on in my brain while writing? After mulling over the subject, I realized that whether I’m creating website copy, a biography, or an academic research paper, I tend to follow the same basic writing steps.

1.       Ask a lot of questions

For me, this step involves getting to know the client or subject for whom I’m writing, and really understanding the goals of the process. If writing for a business, this step requires asking really probing questions about the product, company, and target consumers. If I’m writing an academic paper, this step involves determining the goals of what I’m producing and what the professor or review board expects. Should it be persuasive? Educational? Observational? This is where I really have to wrap my mind around why I’m writing in the first place.

2.       Know your audience

No matter the circumstance, before I even whip out my yellow legal pad or open a Word document, I have to figure out to whom I’m writing. This is where I decide what my tone should be, and how my personality will come through in the writing. If writing for a client, I need to make sure my voice aligns with the objectives discussed in step #1.

3.       Dig deeper to find the hook

This next step requires additional exploratory research, where I try to gather as much information as I possibly can about the subject, product, business, or market. I usually surf the internet to find everything I can about a company history, major competitors, case studies, past campaigns, user reviews and sentiment, and Social Media presence. I’ve also found that personal interviews and focus groups, when appropriate, result in many of the “a-ha!” moments used later on. And though tedious, this  is where transcription comes in mighty handy.

This step also generally involves the tried and true “SWOT” method – an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Though it’s not exactly fresh on the writing scene, I find this method to still be one of the best for discovering the “big idea” or “hook” for my writing. That is, the key piece of information that guides the writing and makes it different from everything else out there.

4.       Create your skeleton

From this point, I develop an outline for my writing. This often involves separating big ideas into headers, which serve as my writing guideposts. From here, I organize all accompanying information in bullet form below each header. This helps to remind me of the major themes I took away from my research. For academic papers, this is where I make sure to include reference information and get my citations ready for later – a BIG help for when the writing finally commences!

5.       Get it out on paper

Once my skeleton is ready, I begin my first round of writing. The initial attempt is often disconnected and tends to be a bit long-winded. I may spend time on header #4 and then jump to header #1. I rarely write my introductory paragraph at the beginning.

I’ll be completely honest; even with my skeleton intact and an excess amount of research under my belt, this first round is always the most intimidating for me. My brain goes into warp drive and I feel as though I can’t get my thoughts onto paper fast enough. Because of this, the writing can be a bit scrambled and quite verbose.

6.       Refresh, Rewrite, Repeat

At this point, I really have to make myself step away. I’m usually cross-eyed with coffee jitters, and that is just no way to be. So take a walk, grab a bite, do a series of sun salutations in your cubicle – do whatever your natural “Refresh” button requires.

Then, I sit back down and edit. I rearrange the flow and generally delete an extraordinary amount of content. I make sure what I’ve written is consistent with the voice I set out with. With fresh eyes, I check for all of those infuriating grammatical errors that Spell Check simply cannot compute.

I’m also notorious for saving every single version of my writing after each round of edits – just in case I need to refer back to an earlier version later. Finally, after what seems like endless repetitions of this final step, I am left with my finished product.

So this, friends, is my writing process. I don’t necessarily follow it faithfully for each writing assignment, but it’s definitely the baseline for the majority of my writing. If you’re struggling to get a grip on your own writing process, I hope this offers you some ideas on how to develop your own writing voice.

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