If you are a person who writes frequently, you might have a writing approach that you regularly rely on. Oftentimes, non-writers are looking for that perfect way to write — that bulletproof way to create great copy.
But in my experience, there is no single perfect writing process. Every writer has his or her own approach. And the right one is the one that works for you. And you might not use the same approach for everything you write. Some pieces just flow from our heads to our keyboards or pens. Others are less straightforward. Sometimes we have to abandon our preferred approach in the name of efficiency and deadlines.
But there is certainly merit in looking at different ways to approach a writing project. Continue to study other writers, and consider various approaches. The more you study about writing, then when it’s appropriate, you will know which writing approach to turn to for your next assignment.
Writing approach #1: Write linearly.
I personally like to write linearly. What I mean by this is I like to start beginning, then write the middle, then write the end. I have written stories where it took me an hour or two (or more!) to write a beginning I could move on from. And when I say beginning, I mean the first sentence or two. But once I hammer out a lead that I like, there’s a greater likelihood that the rest of the piece will flow. Writing the introduction first allows me to get my head around the theme and set the tone and direction for where I am going.
However, there are times when we just need to make progress. And if the introduction just isn’t happening, we might need to be willing to take a different approach.
Writing approach #2: Start with your best.
My son’s preschool teacher, Miss Cynthia, plays a significant role in my son’s life. In his time in her classroom, he has learned a great deal — compound words and who’s on the quarter and how to count in Spanish. But she’s also teaching important school (and life) lessons. We are constantly hearing Miss Cynthia-isms. On their worksheets, she tells them, “Do your best and then the rest.”
This seems to have resonated with my son. (Along with other important lessons like we don’t pull the Easter Bunny’s tail, we don’t fart on Santa’s lap, and we don’t engage in pee fights in the bathroom. Good lessons, all.)
But what she is saying about starting with your best goes beyond letters- and numbers-based worksheets. It can work with your writing as well.
If you are up against a deadline and the way you want to write isn’t working, find something you are confident you can do today. Sometimes the writing process is just about making progress. Maybe you know how you want the story to end. Start there and work yourself toward that ending.
Maybe as you look at the outline you had sketched for yourself — yes, you should have an outline — you can identify one section that seems easy to write right now. I have been working on a long and complex annual report for a healthcare client. We have interviewed nearly 30 subject matter experts, spending upwards of 20+ hours on the phone. We have analyzed last year’s report content and created a detailed outline for this year’s document. In this case, I started the way I like — with writing the opening section first. That helped me set the direction and tone and to position the story for the report.
But after that, it was important to complete the sections that we had the most complete information for. If the subject matter expert hasn’t gotten back to me with critical data, I can’t competently write the section — no matter what order I prefer to write in. So, yes, in an ideal world, I would love to be able to write straight through from beginning to end, because that would help me to think like my readers and perhaps even identify potential gaps in understanding as I write. But with deadlines looming, my co-writer and I had to get information onto the page, section by section — starting with our best, which, in this case, refers to those sections where we have the most complete information to work from.
Writing approach #3: Start with your favorite source.
When I write articles or blog posts based largely on interviews, it can be hard to study all of the quotes and information that I want to include and make sense of it all, especially on a deadline. One way to streamline the writing process is to start with your favorite source/interview. Write the story as if you had interviewed only this one person. Write your transitions and set-ups (though maybe don’t agonize over the specific words just yet), and include quotes from just that one favorite source. When you get to the end, you’ll have a good shell to work with. Now you can use your other interviews to layer in more depth, to offer different perspectives and to vary the voices as needed.