The writing process is a road map for writers. Get it down on the inside of you and every writing project becomes easier to manage and complete. Ignore the process and that same project is tedious, difficult to manage, and never find the light at the end of the tunnel.
In this series of posts, I am taking the time to break down the writing process into simple parts so you can get an in-depth look at each one. Once you learn all the details of each part, you are ready to put it all to work efficiently in real time.
Phase 2 is all about organizing. In the last post we discussed the need for organizing hard copy files as well as digital/electronic files. That is only half the battle when it comes to keeping things straight. Therefore, this post is about how to organize your thoughts.
Organizing All That Information
It’s crucial to the writing process that you know your content, or your material, very well. Depending on the size and scope of your topic, you collect, organize, and manage a lot of detailed information.
A common question I am asked by those wanting to start a project is where do I begin? And usually that statement is followed by a litany of supporting facts that reveal the would-be writer has only a general idea of what they want to write.
So, it’s a fair question as to where to start. And honestly, nothing is set in stone here. There are countless ways to achieve your goal. What follow are the basics. Take them and adapt them to your style and to your specific project.
You know this term. At least, you’ve heard it used. In its simplest definition, I say it is finding out everything you can think on a particular subject. And it has everything to do with the writing process.
Sit down by yourself or with a group of people you feel free to think out loud with. Thinking only of your topic, write down every thought that comes to mind. Sometimes it is a word or phrase, a fragment, an incomplete thought, a question. Any idea or thought is fair game when brainstorming.
If the well of ideas and thoughts runs dry, ask some exploratory questions to get the flow going again. Depending on what your topic is, you might ask questions such as these:
- What does it do?
- How do you do it?
- Where does it come from?
- Explain the cause and effect aspect of the topic
- How does it happen?
It is not hard for you to come up with the questions that will open more doors of thought in your topic. Keep asking, keep jotting down everything that comes to mind. Several sessions scattered over time may be required to get a full complement of ideas. Don’t be impatient and stop too soon.
Very often brainstorming leads to follow-up research, and one of the most commonly used sources is the internet. You can find just about anything there if you know where and how to look. These days, the writing process is made much simpler by its use. Taking the time to learn some helpful tips for searching in Google is a worthwhile use of a little bit of time. Check out some of those tips here.
As you gather information from the web, be sure you gather up everything that you need. Depending on its use, you will need the specific information that applies to your topic. But you are also smart to collect the citation information that may be required as you write.
Although the rules may be slightly different for presenting citation information in various types of writing, the basic information is basically the same. When citing web sources be sure to note the following for each piece:
- Title of website
- Article title
- Publication date
- Date you accessed the article
Carefully saving each document in an appropriately organized system of folders (see the post about ways to set up your system) insures you can find it easily when it is time to use it.
Discussions with others
The old adage, two heads are better than one, is a true saying. Adding some other people’s thoughts and ideas to the mix often brings out more depth to your concept. They bring added clarity to points you already make as well as make new points you hadn’t considered.
Therefore, it is valuable to have discussions at various times along this part of the writing process. The more information and ideas you can start with the better. And depending on the nature of your writing topic, having as broad a knowledge base as you can often results in less revision work later.
When talking with others about the concepts of your writing project, invite people you are comfortable working with to make up your group. They need to be honest, relaxed, and free to make suggestions of all kinds. It is not an exercise in bashing your work or concepts; it is a time of constructive conversation and evaluation.
At some point, it is time to start outlining. Before you conjure up dreaded high school English assignments, I’m not talking about outlining for a grade. I’m not talking about formal outlining necessarily at all (unless your writing is an academic piece–that might be a little different).
In the writing process, the most useful outline is simply what is called a working outline. It’s informal while still retaining the purpose of outlining, which is organization of material into related groups or progressions (such as a timeline of events, etc.).
We can spend a lot of time on another post discussing the details of how to create an effective and efficient working outline. Suffice it to say here that at some point in this phase of the writing process you need to create one.
Depending on the nature of your project, the outline helps put people, places, events, etc., in the proper sequence, in the right place at the right time. In narrative pieces, the plot is woven into place through the outlining.
The ultimate purpose of the working outline is to help you keep everything in the right order as you write. And it helps you write in all the details, background, asides, etc., that make your story come to life, that make your writing pop and hold your reader’s interest.
Quite distinct from all the brainstorming, hunting, and gathering of the first part of this topic is the incubation time. At this point, the research and brainstorming, for now, are stopped. It’s time to let everything you’ve come up develop and come together.
During this time, slow down and just look at your material. Feel what it’s saying and doing. Stay relaxed and maintain an open mind. Pay attention to anything and everything that comes up in your thinking. The most random thought might just be that missing piece you couldn’t quite put your finger on earlier.
Many writers find it helpful to move their thinking totally off topic by engaging their minds in something else. Don’t even think about writing for a time. Allow your mind to roam freely from thought to thought. You just might be amazed at what pops up out of that randomness to add life and depth to your project.
That’s a wrap!
You may have already guessed it, but these elements discussed today become a cycle of their own. It is not uncommon for them to repeat a few times (or many) as you continue to develop your topic and gather your material. Don’t be in a big hurry.
You may need several brainstorming sessions at different times or more than one discussion. It’s nothing to return to the internet over and over again! And then incubation follows. Finding your flow through your topic is the fastest path to actually writing. Take your time and do quality work here. The payoff is tremendous.
I trust this has triggered some thought in your mind. And I hope you take this information and apply it to your own writing project. The writing process is your friend once you understand it!
Thank you & God Bless!