The past several posts laid the path for self-publishing. Some readers expressed that they needed more information on how to start writing, so this column is a primer for some and a review for others. These tips apply to fiction and nonfiction writers whether the focus is a blog post, magazine article, manuscript or website copy.

Let your stream of consciousness flow

Some people want to write their story, either as a memoir, a cautionary tale, or a self-help book. Others have characters living inside their heads.

One of my editing clients told me she had to get “those people out of [her] head. They have to go live somewhere else!”

Whatever your reason for writing, start with writing what comes to mind. You might write what you planned to write, or you might feel compelled to write something altogether different.

Plan the next writing piece or don’t

After you’ve determined a topic, do you prefer to write from an outline as a “planner,” with even one loosely defined project in mind, or do you write stream of consciousness as a “pantser”?

New writers often ask which is better. The answer lies in what works for you.

One of my coaching clients is process driven. She needs to set up structures and deadlines to feel accomplishment when she writes. She wondered how she could write a productive draft but write whatever comes to mind. This intelligent writer wants to stay on topic.

Write whatever comes to mind

If you write from an outline, don’t feel obligated to focus solely on the topic scheduled for the day. Have you ever experienced a situation where you planned for one thing but reality took a turn? Perhaps you met someone for coffee to get to know him better. You had planned a little small talk to get to know each other’s businesses a little better. Surprisingly, you found you both have an interest in bees, and the conversation moved toward your mutual interest: where you get honey, fantastic facts about bees, and the upcoming Beekeeper’s Association certification class. The conversation did not follow the agenda or outline you set, but you and your new associate connected at a more meaningful level.

The same can be true with writing. You might intend to write about the importance of spending time with your children, but a flood of memories pour onto the page about fishing with your grandfather.

Follow the rabbit trail

You can see vividly that tender hulk of a man on his knees, teaching you to bait the hook with real worms—none of that plastic mess. You feel again the joy you experienced when you caught your first bass the size of your hand, and he cheered.

He reached out with a strong, leathered arm to get the dancing fish into a net or onto the bank. You remember squealing in fear of the glistening, slippery fish flopping at the end of the line. The waves broke against the bank and retreated slowly, leaving foam behind. The memory of Grandpa’s sparkling eyes rekindle your exhilaration in his delighted approval. Oh, and that fishy water. The fish swatted its tail one last time and got water on your face and mouth before Grandpa could release the hook. His smile ruptured into a hardy laugh when you pitter-patted the ground, wailing about the yucky fish.

At this moment, you look down and see your child-size feet in summer sandals. Grandpa wore those dark-rimmed glasses and a floppy hat. They were so out of style. Oh, how you miss those days with Grandpa on Lake Wateree.   

You might have thought the little story above went down a rabbit hole. Maybe it did, but the ideas, the emotions, and the vivid colors and sounds brought you into the scene.

A writer must capture stories and memories when they are most real, while she can see, hear, feel, taste, touch and relive the feelings. This expressive writing is what you want to capture in first drafts.

You relive the moment and paint word pictures. This is how the reader will live through your character. Your writing resonates when you involve them in the experience.

After you’ve written all you can about the topic, you can reread, reorganize, add, cut, and save some things for later.

Remember: You don’t publish your first draft.

If you need help getting your draft started or taking the next step in writing, you might benefit from personal coaching. Email me for more information.

Remember that I write this blog for you, the readers. Write when you have questions. I’m happy to help.

Beth Crosby

Copy Editor / Writing Coach

Beth Crosby is a copy editor and writing coach with a background in newspaper journalism. She tells writers, “Never publish your first draft!”

Beth works with writers, authors, and publishers. Her goal is to empower writers to share their messages by bolstering and encouraging them through writing coaching and editing. She believes that published blogs, articles, and books should be clear, concise, correct and consistent. Contact her today at beth@editorbeth.com to see how she can help you.

“If you want your next project to be as polished as possible, I can ensure readers remember your manuscript, message, email, blog post, or other writing project for its quality and clarity, not its errors.”
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