Sunday, April 15, 2012

#HAWMC - Writer's style

Oh, I love today's prompt. Writing with Style. As bloggers, we should be credited immediately, simply for writing. Writing as an art form and means of expression is losing its prominence within some sections of our society today. Nonetheless, that does not make it any less valuable. Like style, writing is personal. So for today’s prompt – what’s your writing style? Do words just flow from your mind to your fingertips? Do you like handwriting first? Do you plan your posts? Title first or last? Where do you write best? Sit down, and I will tell you a tale... a tale of crafting a tale.

First, the way it looks on paper is not the way it comes out of my head. Mostly, the first thing to come to my head is an idea that fascinates me. It's a question that's eating at my brain, or some awful situation that I'm trying to talk myself through, or some article from some "professional" that pisses me off and gets my Scottish up. It's something powerful and moving---an idea that I can't put down. Like that itch you can't reach, and makes you desperately hunt for the back-scratcher. That's where I start. But that's not a good starting point for the reader. That's a good starting point for the writer. Still, I'll leave it at the top of the page.

Next, I expand on the points of my idea. I'll quote sources, explain my reasoning behind this, that and the other. I envision the audience in my head, and what questions they're going to raise. I try to answer those questions as best as possible. I do this in free form, not really caring where I put new paragraph marks or any of that. I'll re-arrange everything later. The point is getting the ideas out on paper. My head doesn't always deal with things in a logical order. One idea quickly branches into the next. I can jump from tangent to tangent like no one's business! But that's not necessarily easy for a reader to follow. So once my first wave of ideas is out, then comes filling in the pieces.

I go back over my big mass of ideas, and I start to re-arrange them in an order that's easier to follow. Then, where the ideas don't flow from one to the other, I'll fill in ideas, adding text so that it makes more sense how we get from this idea to that idea. I read back over it again and again, asking myself, "Now does that make sense?" As I do this, the structure of the paragraphs becomes more clear on its own. There's an intuitive sense, "This is where the new idea starts..." I think that sense comes from just a lot of reading. The more I read edited work, the more I learn how a text should feel as it's read. It's an intuition picked up by a lot of study and practice. (For more information, check out the book, Blink)

Following this, it's also easy to sum up ideas into a logical conclusion. What I learned in school was an introduction goes from broad to narrow, and a conclusion goes from narrow to broad. That is, for the conclusion, now that I've presented my ideas, how do I then apply this idea to the world? How does it tie into something every-day, to which the reader can relate? It's the "Ta-da!" moment, in which everything is brought together. Here's usually the spot where I figure out what I've been trying to say the whole time. I can tie all my ideas into a nice neat little bow.

Now I have to go back to the beginning and see if my conclusion actually matches where I started this whole thing. That's not always the case. Sometimes I'll start writing in one direction and it will take a whole different turn by the end. If that happens, I'll generally toss the first part (as it was only the starter, and the conclusion is what's more important to me). I then write a new introduction that is a better lead-in to what I'm ultimately talking about. The introduction, as I mentioned earlier, goes from broad to narrow. Here's where my professional experience comes in, and working with editors in big corporations. Generally, I want to start with a hook. Something that draws the reader in. It can be an inflammatory sentence (anger is a good hook, but then you have to direct it, like controlling fire). It can be an invitation to an idea, like starting a conversation with a friend. Like a showman, you want to make the reader want to read on. Simple as that.

Knowing how to do that, however, can often seem illusive. I'll write a piece that I think is stunning, and it will flop. Crickets. A few stout followers who always read will read, but no one comes to the show. But then, it will take off, for no apparent reason but that someone found it who passed it on to someone else and, "Wow! Look at it go!" It's not always going to make sense why one article works and another doesn't. Sometimes, you know a piece is going to take off just because of the amount of work you put into it. A year of effort makes for a pretty slick article. Sometimes ideas will stir around in my head for days, weeks, years, before I figure out how to say it. But sometimes even then, it has nothing to me, and everything to do with... whatever it is that makes it finally click. We can't lose faith in our words.

After the hook, I then have to lead the reader back to the idea the got me going in the first place. I've given them a reason to read on, but now I must direct them to what I found so important. "Hey! Come look at this. Check this out... do you see there? What do you think of that?" is basically all that I'm doing. That's the introduction. "Ya know what I think about that?" is all the body paragraphs. It's summed up by, "And that's why I called you over here. Wasn't that cool?" in the conclusion. It doesn't always flow out of my head like that, but that's how I want it to read when I'm done: like a conversation. At this point, giving it a title is generally intuitive; the next-to-final step.

I'll give the article a final look-see, and make sure it flows like I want it to. Sometimes, though, I'll end up reading and re-reading... editing and re-editing so many times that my eyes are dizzy. I will not read the article properly. This I learned from my first typesetting/sub-editing job. We always had fresh eyes look over a document after edits. When you've spent hours crafting a document, we can think the text makes sense when it doesn't actually make sense. Having someone else look at the document before publication can make a huge difference, especially if you can find someone brutally honest. They will tell you what's wrong with the article, rather than just cheer you on for what's right. After someone like that gives it a thumbs-up, you can publish with a clear heart.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I roll. ;^)

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