I’m writing this ‘how to write’ piece because one of the most commonly asked questions from our many readers is: ‘How do you start?‘ (writing, that is).
For instance, Richelle writes: “ I was curious to find out how you center yourself and clear your thoughts prior to writing.”
So I’ll try to answer her question – and Associate Editor Roger Childs will also give you his formula too. (See below)But first, here’s the rest of Richelle’s comment:
“I’ve had a difficult time clearing my mind in getting my thoughts out. I truly do enjoy writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are lost just trying to figure out how to begin. Any suggestions or hints?”
It’s not lost time!
Well, the first point, Richelle, is that those first 10 to 15 minutes when you’re not writing are not necessarily lost.
They can be used as ‘thinking time,’ when you prepare and clear your mind for the task ahead.
Here’s how I do it:
One: I think about the key points I need to make (or there may just be one major point, plus details fleshing out the argument). Then I note these down.
Two: I think about my readers (the audience if you like). Who are they; and what is the best way to reach them?
Three: After this preparation period (and it can take 15 minutes, so don’t worry about this), I try to come up with a ‘catchy’ introduction. This is the shop window, and it has to capture the readers’ attention.
Four: I then follow my notes and go through the points in order.
Five: Finally, I always try to sum up the whole piece with a good exit paragraph. This should leave the reader with a feeling that he or she has read something worthwhile.
It’s very important that, whatever else you do, you take the third step quickly. Don’t worry about writing something Shakespearean! You must get something going, even if it is second or third best.
There will be plenty of time later to refine and improve your writing. Anyway, journalistic writing usually has to be done quickly and so it’s not like writing ‘ the greatest novel yet.’
Have a look at your piece and see it answers the key questions: Who? What? Why? When? Where? and How?
Then revise everything you’ve written and ask yourself two more questions:
- Have I got my message across to the people who’ll read it?
- And have I written this in an interesting and clear style?
Then discuss it with your family and friends and get their views.
Finally, don’t resent fair criticism. Use it as a lever to raise you writing standards even higher!
Endorsement of the editor’s views, by Associate Editor Roger Childs
I agree with Alan’s approach and just have a few additional thought on the whole writing process.
- Once you’ve decided on your topic jot down any ideas and examples that come to mind, preferably in a word document on the computer. Don’t worry about the order, because you can easily change things around.
- Any good piece of writing needs an introduction, a body with the main details and a conclusion. As Alan stresses, the beginning needs to be a grabber so that the reader is hooked and wants to read more. A topical, even provocative quotation, can be part of the attention grabbing. The final section needs to pull your subject together with some high interest summary points.
- Presentation is important, however this will depend on whether you are writing an essay, an article, a letter to the editor, whatever. For us, writing for an online paper, we have to make it easy on the eyes, so we use short paragraphs, catchy sub headings, visuals and sometimes bulleted points, to keep the viewer interested.
- As Alan emphasises, you need to think about what the reader/viewer expects. Sometimes you can grab and keep their interest by surprising them!
- Get someone to thoroughly edit your writing, and as Alan says, heed good advice.
- However, do what works for you!