Recently, I’ve been working on a mini-series that focusses on the writing routines of non-fiction authors. While researching the first two episodes of this series, I noticed one piece of advice continued to come up: writing is easier when you have something to say.
This may sound like it’s only relevant to non-fiction, but it’s just as important when writing fiction.
When you first begin a writing project, you may know what it is you want to say (i.e writing from experience) or you might simply be interested in learning more about a topic.
Often, for me, I have a loose idea of what I want to say, but it is in the act of writing and researching that the message solidifies, become more complex, or changes entirely.
I wish I was the type of writer who could clarify their argument or idea simply by thinking about the story or essay, or by conducting research, but it is in the act of writing that I am forced to articulate the connections I’m making and it’s how I assess the strength of my argument or story.
Is this efficient?
Not if you consider the volume of words that may wind up getting cut, but if writing is the process that helps me get to the conclusion, then maybe it is efficient. Maybe it helps me arrive at ‘The End’ sooner than I could have if I’d only thought about the story. (Obviously, if you only think about your book you’ll never finish it because you never started it!).
In the end, we all pay the same toll fee, just at different ends of the highway. Some writers spend years researching, brainstorming, and outlining before they begin writing. The result is that they produce a very good first draft. Other writers may spend the same number of years toggling between researching, thinking, writing, and editing, producing multiple drafts along the way.
So why does having something to say – no matter how you go about figuring that out – make writing easier?
#1 Because it can guide your structure.
When you know what your ultimate conclusion is, you can walk backwards and figure out what steps (or chapters/scenes) would lead to this result.
#2 It keeps you focussed.
When you start wandering off the path, your message is the beacon that guides you back. It helps you stay clear on what to include and exclude.
When working on non-fiction pieces, you can follow the basic structure of …
- Provide context (introduce the problem/event/scenario)
- Provide evidence and clarify your argument
- Arrive at a conclusion (and potentially give the reader an action step)
When writing fiction, you need to consider whether the overall story or the individual scenes work together to support the message or theme you are exploring.
While it is easy to write a loose and spooling essay or story, it is much more difficult to figure out what it is you have to say.
So, how do you have something to say?
By doing stuff.
By living life.
By having experiences, making mistakes, taking risks, reading books, talking to smart people, thinking deeply about big problems, and looking for connections.
Having a writing practise will make you a better writer. You’ll learn how to start projects and most importantly how to finish them. You’ll get an understanding of sentence structure and language, of how to build an argument or craft a compelling story. It will help you figure out a process and routine that works for you.
Writing can help you figure out your thoughts around a particular topic, but that spark of inspiration, that desperation to share an insight, story, or message will most likely come from living.
When you know what it is you have to say, writing then becomes the container for saying it.
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