While everyone else is busy dumping buckets of ice on their head, I got tagged to participate in the Writing Process Blog Tour by Jenny Neill. If you haven’t seen it, basically the game is to answer the four questions below, and then tag three more people to do the same. You can follow along on Twitter with the hashtag #mywritingprocess.
Question 1. What are you working on?
I always have to be a bit vague when describing specific assignments, since in many cases I’ve signed agreemerunts promising to keep the details under wraps until the posts are live. However, I can say that right now I’m in various stages of working on about 10 different assignments:
- a list post based on a book/author Q+A for a men’s site
- another author Q+A/book review for a writing site
- a post describing the key differences between two different genres of writing
- an opinion piece on curated news in the age of social media
- a couple of SEO and content marketing posts
- an app round-up piece
- a post on the misconceptions in big data
- two fighter profiles/interviews for MMA sites
In addition to my writing, I typically spend the first two or so weeks of the month working as a managing editor for a couple of brand blogs and an online fitness journal. I then switch to pitching in the last two weeks of the month when the editing dies down a bit. That’s true this month as well. I am always working on new pitches for Wired, since it’s been my long-standing goal to break into their FOB section. I’m also working on updating my resume because I want to apply for some online editing gigs.
Question 2. How does your work differ from others of its genre?
This is a tough question to answer because my work has never fit neatly into any one genre. I’ve done health and fitness writing, med devices/healthcare IT, business, tech, etc. and since I train in BJJ, have always written a bit about combat sports on the side.
What makes my work stand out in these assorted genres?
First of all, most of my writing is pretty quote-heavy. I’m big on reporting and work hard to quote key players when possible, rather than just analysts. I prefer using multiple sources, and actively look for long-form writing opportunities.
Second, I try to back up everything I write with solid statistics or research from credible sources. This may be due to my undergraduate education at Shimer College, the Great Books school where I spent four years debating classic literature and philosophy around octagonal tables. The idea of finding references in the text to support our point of view was beaten into us.
This means that I don’t do well when asked to write posts that are overly simplistic, or when my writing gets edited in misleading ways. Also, I really enjoy it when I have great editors who ask skeptical questions and force me to dig deeper, even if it takes me a lot longer, because it improves the quality of my work and teaches me new skills. (Lately I’ve been thinking that I really want to be able to crunch my own numbers, so I’m actively looking for opportunities to learn data science so I can scrape and clean large data sets, beyond what one can get from simply taking a workshop.)
Last but not least, my writing is a bit on the edgy side. I tell the truth as I see it unapologetically, and go to great lengths to maintain the integrity of my work. This isn’t to say all of my writing is hard-hitting investigative work. I’ve written plenty of fun, fluffy posts and enjoy gushing about products, books, or organizations I love. It does mean that I don’t shy away from taking a stance, even if I know it may be unpopular, and that’s evident in a lot of my work. I named my podcast “The Elephant in the Room” for a reason.
Question 3. Why do you write what you do?
I think my underlying motivation in both writing and editing is to liberate information, especially if it’s inaccessible to the public or to readers in some way. I think it is a radical act to create and share content that will positively impact people’s lives or that they’re really searching for, and to break it down for them in a way that is accurate and easy to digest. That’s why I seek out publications and brands that have a mission beyond simply selling a product, subscriptions, or ads.
I write because I want to dig beneath the surface. I want to figure out what really drives people or events. Writing is a great excuse to get answer. I’ve found that it also gives me a bit of cover to ask a lot of questions that would normally be offensive or be considered inappropriate to discuss. This is especially true if I’m reporting on a field or an industry that’s particularly male-dominated, as I often do.
Question 4. How does your writing process work?
First of all, I use Basecamp to keep track of all of my projects and their respective deadlines. Without that piece of software, I think I’d go insane.
After an article is assigned, I typically start with a lot of research and information-gathering beyond what I’d researched for the pitch. This involves a fair bit of internet stalking as I sleuth out relevant documents or reports, scout out background information, and work to get really great sources and then track them down. Sometimes I have to do additional research after an interview because I don’t understand a key piece of information or something seems amiss.
After I’ve gathered everything I need, I usually transcribe any interviews and cut and paste relevant statistics into Draft. Once the prep work is completed and it’s time to start writing, I need to get really comfortable.
My husband used to joke that I had a “floffice” and a “coffice,” since I’d write from the floor or couch instead of my home office. On cold winter days in Minneapolis, sometimes I’d even work from my “boffice” since I wanted to stay curled up in bed all day.
I do like sitting at a table or desk as well, but it has to be really comfortable. I just moved into a new place and sadly had to say goodbye to my last desk, so the hardest thing for me has been finding a place to sit where I feel comfortable while I save up for this $1100 desk set I have my eyes on.
My home office is sadly filled with boxes at the moment, but even when it’s all decked out, I sometimes get bored sitting at home all day. so I’m always in search of new cafes (or coworking spaces) with fast wifi to work out of. I also play with different music options until I find one that matches my mood and helps me get in the groove. I use Spotify or Songza for tunes, or Coffitivity for background noise.
Once I’m comfortable enough to get started, I read through everything I have in Draft and a loose outline begins to form in my head. Then I just start writing. When I get stuck, I find that switching from Draft to Google Docs, MS Word, or even directly into WordPress can help. Often I have two files open and cut and paste clean copy from the sloppy post into the clean one. Changing the background color or font can also sometimes help, too.
After I’m done with a draft, I’m constantly reworking the lede and headline, which have been a struggle lately. I try to put posts and articles away and look at them later with fresh eyes. I’ll read through for style first, and make sure everything’s appropriately fact-checked and cited (if necessary) on the second go-around. If I’m lucky, I’ll be working with a great editor who can give me feedback and suggestions on improving each piece. One of my goals this year is to focus less on pay-per-hour and do things the long, hard way as long as I am enjoying the process and gleaning insights that will not only improve the specific piece I’m writing but my skills as a writer.
I just got a very nice package in the mail from a Twitter friend (!!) and it had these great college-ruled notebooks, sharpened pencils, and pretzel erasers! I have written almost exclusively with a pen when not on my MacBook, but am excited to give these a go. I’m always trying to think of ways to improve my skills, and perhaps some good old fashioned writing practice will help.
Next up: Sonia, Shane, Holden, and Gideon!
Yes, I was only supposed to pick three people rather than four to spread this meme forward…but I’ve never been good at following rules.
Sonia Simone is the co-founder and Chief Content Officer of Copyblogger Media, and one of my favorite writers and marketers of all time. (I added serial commas to this post just for her.) You can find Sonia on Google+ and on Twitter.
Shane Snow is a NYC-based technology journalist, CCO of Contently, and author of Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success (out September 9th). He’s also one of the nicest people ever. Oh, and he has great hair.
Holden Page is up-and-coming tech writer based in St. Paul, Minnesota. He’s also a copy editor for Lawyerist. Holden covers entrepreneurs, startups, and devices. I made him co-teach a workshop on PR for Startups with me once. I miss him.
Gideon Walker is an entrepreneur dad living in Las Vegas. Formerly a copywriter at AppSumo, he now writes about parenting, marketing, business, and productivity, and is working on his first book, the Entrepreneur’s Guide to Copywriting.