If you’ve never had to crank out 13,000 words in two weeks you may not appreciate what I’m about to share this week. Writing on a deadline is a very common thing for a freelancer or an author signed to a publishing house. Your fee is guaranteed, but only if you deliver on time and the quality is as near perfect as any mere mortal can be. It helps to get organized. I know some writers believe outlines are for 5th grade English classes, however it’s the best way to determine the scope of any assignment or construct the plot of a story. If you don’t know how to outline, spend an hour online and learn to outline. In many instances an outline will be the only mode of communication between you and a client. The outline will be like a second contract between you and the buyer. When they review your work they are going to reference the agreed upon outline.
Once you’re organized and know what you need to do, it’s time to set some goals or milestones. I typically like to do three drafts of an article. The first draft is very rough; just the facts, random quotes I want to use and outline bullet points. The second draft looks more like an article that someone would want to read. I print the second draft and mark it up with a red pen and jot down notes and questions all over it. The third and final draft is my edited, polished, and often times expanded version of draft number two. I’m a very lean writer, which is often a blessing and a curse. I can produce original pieces without a lot of fluff and filler. Which works very well for non-fiction, however, in sales writing and fiction a little fat is needed to season the writing. I sit down with my deadline and set milestones for when I want to get each draft done. The final milestone of course is project completed on or before deadline.
Now I’d like to share with you how I get from a topic and guidelines to a finished product for a client. I’ve been blessed with an inquisitive mind and so I’m always reading and learning something new everyday. As a result I know a little about a lot of things, even so, I still have to start with research. Research can take on many forms; an internet search, a trip to the library to get a few books, or interviewing an expert in the field. It can take a few hours or a couple of days to digest enough information to begin writing.
When I feel I have a good understanding of the material I begin to “Write Fast”. Writing Fast is almost like a stream of conscious exercise except it’s focused on answering questions that are implied in the outline. For insurance, if the first Roman numeral is Brief Overview of XZY, I create the heading and then just write as much I can about the topic and when I can’t come up with anything more I stop and move on to the next section. If I get to a section that I just can’t say anything about I make a note to research more and keep going until I get to the end of the outline.
The next step is what I call “Write Slow”. Writing slow is when you go back and fill in the quick disjointed writing of the previous step. This is when you will write in complete sentences. You’ll breakdown your run on sentences into two to three shorter ones. This is when paragraphs begin to form and proper punctuation is put in place. The flow of transitions and tone are considered at this point.
Now you’re ready to print a copy and proofread what you’ve written. I know that it’s possible to mark documents using the review functions in Word, but I find my errors easier on paper. Sometimes when I’m looking at the computer screen for hours my eyes start to get tired and switching to paper helps me to refocus and find what I’m looking for. For the most part spell check will catch things as you type, but you’ll be surprised how many typos get through. You will also find missing words and the wrong words, like form instead of from; or bear instead of bare. You have to comb through the document one word and sentence at a time.
The final step is to polish the piece until it shines. To polish your writing you have to go back to the outline and see if you have answered all the questions. Have you answered them in a way that would be satisfying to the intended reader? When you read it does it move you, or increase your interest in the topic? Does it deliver on the promise made to the reader in the introduction or prologue? Is the overall tone and language appropriate for the intended audience? If the answer to any of these questions is “No”, you’re not done yet.
I hope that helps you on your quest to produce best writing possible. Take pride in your work and you will handsomely rewarded.
Until Next Week,
Nicole D.P. McLaughlin
- Easy Steps to Attack the Writing Process (english.answers.com)
- Does It Help To Outline A Project? (kristibernard.wordpress.com)
- Write Your First Draft Fast (business.time.com)