I love storytelling. It is a blast to gather pictures, do interviews, ask questions, and dig in and develop a story. The really hard part for me is the actual writing of the story. Short articles, technical documents, user manuals, and blogs posts are easy, but for me long form magazine stories seem much harder. I think it is partly because of the much higher quality standards I demand of myself with a magazine story. I want the story to be compelling, interesting and easy to comprehend, and with print work you can’t go back and edit or update things after your work has been published. Once it is committed to the printing press the story is fixed in time forever.
And like many writers, the hardest part is where to start. As any editor will tell you, the title of the story and the first paragraph are the most important part of the entire article. Readers will determine in just a few seconds whether they will invest the time to read the article based on the title, the pictures in the story and the first paragraph or two. So you want the first paragraph to be the best.
But if I waited until I had my best ideas and thoughts in my head to start writing, I would procrastinate forever. I have learned to just get started somewhere, create some type of outline of the story, and then fill in the parts later. My typical workflow is to have all my story notes on screen, either in another window or in my Word document. I try to create some type of outline for the story, either in my head or on my screen, and then start fleshing out the story from there.
When I write I don’t just sit down and start pounding out what is in my head. I know some writers are able to do that but that is not how it works for me. I might work on several different parts of my story, write 4-5 paragraphs in one section, skip to another section and write a few more paragraphs, and then come back and rewrite my first attempts. I have found for me it is more important to get what I am thinking onto the screen first, let that percolate a bit, and then come back and rewrite for clarity.
My writing environment is also important. I have learned I can’t write long form stories very well at my desk. There seems to be too many distractions, to many things I need to do other than write. It is sometimes hard to write at home for the same reasons. My best writing is done somewhere that is relaxing, comfortable, and without distractions. Ideally I need high speed internet connectivity to I can do research while writing, but often I will just pull into a park, sit under a shade tree, pull out my laptop and get to work. I also have a very comfortable “writing recliner” in my office. It is a nice big comfy leather recliner where I can lean back, kick off my shoes, pull out my laptop and go to work. I have wifi so I can do research, but my phone is across the room and my normal desktop computer is inconvenient to reach. I can sit for the several hours necessary to concentrate and write, yet still be near my desk if needed.
I have found that writing is much easier if I have done plenty of research, have lots of notes, and have a good feel for my subject. For me it is easier to write first person experiential stories, but much more challenging to write third person. Yet I prefer to write third person, because it allows me to tell stories about other people and subjects, which I find much more fascinating than what I might be doing.
I used to say “I hate writing, I love having written” but as I become more experienced at writing I have learned I really don’t hate it at all. I hate getting started, but once I have completed my research and have everything ready to go, the hard part is getting started. Yea, it is still work to craft a story but it could be worse, I could be digging ditches or busting concrete – which I have done before. Writing is much better. Mentally difficult but physically much less exhausting. And it is very rewarding.