Tips for the Different Stages of Feature Writing
A few months ago, I started freelance writing again and finished writing three feature articles for two publications. In the process, I have learned or, perhaps more accurately, re-learned a few things. The gist of what I "re-learned" is that writing features consists, at least for me, of stages. In this article, I will share with you these stages of writing as I re-discovered them and also share the things that I have "re-learned" during these stages.
I have re-discovered that procrastination, still, is the number one thing a writer has to hurdle. So how does one get over this initial hump? Well, the trick is to just start doing something. Anything. Outline. Transcribe interviews. Anything that's related to the writing project. Eventually, you'll gain momentum and move on to the most important part, which is writing.
Also, an editor's deadline really helps, and forces you to write. If your editor did not give you a deadline, ask for one.
In transcribing interviews, it is not necessary to write down the entire questions nor to transcribe everything. Just listen to the tape and take down notes as if you're only interviewing the person at that very moment. You don't have to write everything down word for word. Just note down the important parts. This really saves time.
Finding the Lead
Finding and starting out with the right lead facilitates the writing process. For the articles I wrote, I found that the best leads were the anecdotes about, or related by, my interviewees. The right lead sets the tone for the piece. And this tone is, actually, already with you -- it is the sum of all your impressions and observations while you were doing the story. You know you've found the right lead when the writing flows and the paragraph transitions are easy to come by. The most probable explanation for this is that one is writing organically. That is, one is writing from within, from the truth of the piece, and thus the writing is generous and need not be wrung out of one's self.
Writing the First Draft
When writing that first draft, just get it over and done with. Just pour out all that "muck" as one of my former fiction teachers put it. And to paraphrase Anne Lamott in her wonderful book Bird by Bird, just write that shitty first draft.
For me, the most enjoyable part of writing is the process of revision. It is when you get to sculpt the piece into its final form. The initial phase of the revision process is the cutting and pasting from the interviews and notes, making the pieces fit, as it were. Thanks to the word processor, this has become an enjoyable and easy task.
Then, when you feel you've done all that you can for the piece in terms of substantial revision, comes the polishing of the individual sentences. Running the spell and grammar check of your word processor -- I use Microsoft Word -- signals to the writer that he is near the end of the road.
Throughout the entire revision process, I usually save and/or print several drafts to help me view the piece with a cold and an objective eye each time. Printing a draft also gives me a sense of accomplishment. It's as if I was holding, each time I print, a prototype of the future product, and this gives me impetus to go on with the writing process.
Sending Out the Article
Sleeping over the finished article before sending it to the editor is really a good idea. When you wake up, you have fresh eyes and a fresh mind with which to go over your article one last time. I have, for example, slept over this article and I was able to see better which sentences worked and which needed more work.
So those are the steps that I usually go through during the writing of a feature article. What about you? What techniques do you use to motivate yourself to produce that finished written work?
Dino Manrique is the owner/publisher of FilipinoWriter.com. You may reach him at filipinowriter (at) gmail (dot) com.