How do you approach a new writing project? When inspiration hits, do you sit down at the computer and start tapping away on your keyboard? That old Strike while the iron is hot! adage comes into play here. Or do you have another method?
I doubt that there is any one right way. What works well for one person doesn't do a thing for the next guy. We're all individuals who try to find a method that works best. Here's what works best for me.
If an idea pops into my head for a new personal essay, I don't immediately begin writing. Instead, I let that idea simmer in the back of my mind for days, or even longer. It's there when I'm doing other tasks and when I least expect it, the subject of that new writing project pops into my head. I could be unloading the dishwasher (a job I truly dislike) when a beginning line comes to me. Or I could be walking through the grocery store plucking this and that off the shelves when the idea of how to use personal experiences comes to me. On one occasion, I was having coffee with a friend and some remark she made triggered a wonderful way to end the new piece of writing.
When these thoughts emerge, bit by bit, I try to jot down notes. Perhaps it will be just a keyword to trigger my memory. Other times, I'll write a whole paragraph of notes. It's all too easy to lose the thought. You've probably all read writing books that urge you to keep a pad and pencil on your nightstand so you can write down something that comes to you in a dream or while lying awake with insomnia. It's probably a good thing to do. When the light dawns, you may have no clue what revelation had come in the night.
Once I have several thoughts on how I'll proceed, I write the first draft. I rather like the term rough draft better because it will definitely not be a smoothly honed, finished product. When I've come to the end of this first effort, I put it in a file and let it sit for a few days. If I go back to start editing right away, I miss many errors, places that need clarifying, or words that should be cut. Days later, those things are much easier to see.
After the rough draft has had time to rest awhile, I edit and revise which often takes longer than the original writing. It's one of the most important steps in the process. I'll read it over when finished and see if I am satisfied or if I think a second edit is needed. Either way, I'll return the piece to its file and wait a few more days.
Upon looking at it again, I'll know if a little more editing is needed or if it's ready to be submitted. That submission might be to my online writing group for a critique. I love to have other eyes on my writing for they see it in a completely different light than I do. If I really feel comfortable with the end product, I'll skip the critique group and start finding a market to submit to. That submission process is the topic for another post.
My 10 steps for a new writing project:
- Inspiration hits
- Let the idea simmer in back of my mind
- Hope for bits and pieces to come to me over days, or even weeks
- Write them down, or keywords, and save somewhere
- Write the rough draft
- File it for several days
- Edit and Revise
- File it again for awhile longer
- Final edit
Have I ever gotten an idea and sat down immediately to work on it? Yes, I have on occasion but I try to use the 10 steps above more often as it usually results in a better piece of writing. As stated at the beginning of this post, different methods work for various people. Give more than one method of writing something new a chance. Then decide which way works best for you.