Where do you get hung up?

Posted by Jill Van Wyke

For Wednesday, you’re reading Chapters 8 and 9 in “Coaching Writers,” which discuss the writing process.

As a writer, at which point in the process do you typically get hung up? What can you or your editor do to help you through that “rough patch” in the writing process?

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22 responses to “Where do you get hung up?

  1. I think I get hung up at the reporting stage. Though I have gotten better over time, I am still more of an introverted person. Just getting myself to do the interviews is hard. This usually causes problems with my reporting. I try to write down as much as I can, but sometimes if I am focused on writing about one thing, I miss something else that would have been perfect for the story. I am most comfortable with writing my questions before the interview, but that technique doesn’t always work. It can be nerve-wracking for me when an interview takes an unexpected turn and my prepared questions no longer apply. I don’t think on my feet very well. I think my editor would have to really narrow down the focus of my story with me so that I can stay on track with my questions. That way I know what kind of questions to ask even if I don’t have them written down already.

  2. I have a difficult time brainstorming original story ideas that can be broken down into manageable pieces. Many of my ideas are too tightly focused to contain multiple parts. From reading the two chapters of Coaching Writers, I learned that it is best to break down the story into related chunks. “Decide what to say and how to say it”(pg. 75) was a piece of advice I took advantage of. Part of organizing is planning ahead, both for the interview and story layout. In the future, outlining the entire process will help me to be better prepared.

  3. I often have trouble moving from the reporting stage to organizing. After interviewing and completing research, I am usually overloaded with information and ideas. I usually figure out a different focus for my article than the one I had originally planned on. I read over all of my notes and try to make sense of it all and shape it into a cohesive outline in my head. Chapter nine in Coaching Writers talked about the debriefing process that goes along with organizing. I think that spending a few minutes talking about the reporting and where to go from there would be very valuable. It is so much easier to approach writing when I have clear focus that I am confident in.

    • I completely agree that it is more comfortable to go into a story feeling confident rather than a feeling unorganized with a mess of information. I’m gulity of feeling over whelmed when I get bombarred with information during interviews, espeically information that I wasn’t planning on getting. I never know what to do or where to go with my focus if my information is a mess on my paper. I hope this process gets easier with more experience!

    • I’ve had that same issue: Approaching a story with a clear focus, only to learn new information that sends your story in an entirely new direction. It’s jaunting. It’s even worse when you learn that you’ve got much, much reporting to do given the unexpected information, yet you’re on deadline.

  4. My weakness is, with no doubt, the reporting stage. I always seem to get really intimidated when it comes to interviewing process. I get really tied up in my ideas and where exactly I want to story to go, that when I dont get the answers I was hoping for, I have a hard time thinking of a different focus and move on to new and unprepared questions. I’m a really organized person, so when something happens that I dont expect, I have a hard time dealing with the situation. Obviously, I know reporting is a HUGE part of writing a story, and I always suck-it-up and do what I have to do to get a story complete, but I just wish I wouldn’t get so stressed out over reporting.

  5. I can say that I am so horrible when it comes to the interviewing process. I would have a piece of paper in front of me with the list of questions to ask and if I don’t get the answers that I need, I find it hard to come up with another question off the top of my head so that I can get the answers that I want. I also just get really intimidated when it comes to interviewing someone that I don’t know. Obviously, as a writer, I have to get used to this because interviewing complete strangers is what I have to do for a career in this industry. With the reporting and interviewing stage, I think the more I do it, the more I can improve. I also need to learn how to think on my feet and learn a how to listen and write down quotes at the same time. I struggle a lot with that.

    • I feel the same way about interviews…they make me so nervous, even though I have never had a source who was unfriendly or unhelpful. (Although some are more helpful than others!) I think it’s important to just go do it, and to expect some errors. That’s all part of the learning process.

  6. I tend to spend too much time during the organizing phase. After I’ve identified the story idea, conducted the interviews and reported thoroughly, I spend a lot of time going over my notes and creating a mental outline. I do a lot of pacing; a lot of finger-tapping. But as soon as I start writing, I’m golden. I generally don’t get hung up during the writing process. However, I do have this awful habit of rereading every paragraph after I write, looking for potential errors. It’s a little time consuming, but I feel like I save time by revising as I write.

  7. I too am a more introverted person and often get nervous or anxious before and during interviews, but I often find that partway into the interview I relax and my reporting becomes much better. I often times focus only on writing down key facts or quotes and spend more time listening so I can accurately paraphrase what they are telling me. I also struggle with idea generation as many of my ideas are too general and need to be broken down. Sadly, I also struggle in the editing phase as I have difficulty detaching myself from my writing in order to make the hard decisions.

    • I have found that writing down key points and really listening to the speaker allows me to absorb more of what they are saying. Then, immediately after the interview, I type up my notes and add any extra details I recall from our conversation.

  8. The organizing stage of the writing process tends to be the hardest for me. By the time I have reported and written a little about the subject, I need to step away and come back and organize. I know that I tend to digress in my writing and come back to thoughts when first trying to get everything out.

    After kind of throwing everything onto the page that I know I want to include, I often get tired of looking at the material and don’t bother to organize it that well. An editor could help me in this stage by going through and helping me prioritize the content the way we see fit and then give me their feedback on how the organization could help the story. For example, if they said “maybe lead with this rather than having it in the body—this seems to be eye-catching.”

  9. I get hung up when it comes to the draft of a story. I always have more information than I need, and it can be overwhelming. I tend to over report (which is bad and good). I want to include all of the good quotes and it takes me forever to break them down and start a story. The lead of a story just kills me though. I want to be clear and concise, but I want readers to think “Holy crap! I need to keep reading this story!” This is where I end up being stuck the most.

    Once I’ve finished a draft of a story, I never, ever want to look back on it until I absolutely have to – This is because all I see is what I want to change, and then my story becomes a completely different story. I’m my harshest critic, and it shows when I have to edit my own piece. I much prefer giving my story over for a first-round of edits and then taking it over after.

    • It’s hard to decide what to use if you have a lot of great quotes and details. I also can get stuck on deciding what to use and what to leave out. Hopefully it will et easier with practice. I have to think/write out my focus again and fine tune it according to my notes. Only then can I start drafting.

  10. My main problem is starting a story. Once I’ve organized all the information I’ve collected/I’m reporting, I spend most of my time on coming up with the perfect lede. When I have my intro, though, I usually have no trouble with the rest of the story.

    Like Lauren, though, I usually put too much into the story, and my word count is commonly over. However, having edited others’ work on DrakeMag, I would much rather have more than less. it’s much easier to take in than ask for more–or have to research myself if we’re on a tight deadline. Having been on both sides, I know how helpful it can be for someone else to edit my work. Once you start writing a story, you think everything is important–when there’s an unbiased third party reading, he or she can help discern what can be cut.

  11. I think my main rough patch is the reporting phase. I love talking to people about the topic and seeing where it takes me, but I rarely have pre-thought out questions. I rely too much on what the people I’m interviewing are going to say to me than my own reporting skills. On some levels, it can be a really great thing. Letting the interviewee talk often leads me to interesting points that I never even thought of and taking me in an often times more intriguing direction. On the other hand, if the interviewee doesn’t really enjoy talking or doesn’t have a lot to say, we both kind of get stuck in the interview and neither of us has anything to say.

    In order to get through this, I think I need to figure out a true direction to the piece before hand and really brainstorm questions for the interview. At least if I have an idea of what the story should be about, I can still go off into a different direction if need be, but I’ll have a back-up plan.

  12. I definitely get hung up during the “fine-tuning” phase. When I sit down to write a story, I start writing without stopping until it’s done. I love to sort through all my information from interviews and research and organize all that in my article. To me, that is simple. What I have a rough time with is smoothing out the article. I struggle with making sure the lede and ending work great with the body of the story. I can usually write a whole story without getting hung up, at least until I’m ready to be done and my lede and/or ending don’t sound right.

    • I am the same way. Once I write a story, I find it so hard to fine tune. I feel like I gave it my all the first time, so sometimes I don’t want to put forth that last extra push to make it great. I could use some help with that aspect of the writing process for sure.

  13. I get hung up on my leads. It happens almost every time, and it almost keeps me from working further on the rest of the piece. I’ve started to ignore my own perfectionist instincts and just work on the rest of it, which is a helpful tool – usually a good lead comes out through the writing process. Usually I write something later on that works better as my lead.

    I also struggle with my own editing. I swear, I can look at a word or sentence and change it countless times. I’m never completely happy with it. In order to avoid going crazy, though, I typically work with a tricky sentence, leave it for awhile, then come back. I usually have someone else read over it, and I read it out loud. This is where a good editor could be valuable: I can always use someone to help me work through rocky spots in my work by being constructive and honest. I want to know what I’ve done wrong, but I also want to know how I can improve my mistake.

    • I bet it’s the English classes coming out! I know that sometimes I find it difficult to write a lede because I am thinking of the way I would start and English paper, or vice versa. In my opinion, perfection runs deep in writing majors, but that can be a good thing! The difference between journalism and English is that journalism steps back and tries to make things a bit more personable instead of professional. Being an English buff myself, I’d be happy to exchange drafts of our writing whenever!

  14. I often run into problems during the idea step. I have found that my editors give me stories that I either am not interested in or don’t understand what the message is. I run in to dead ends easily when this happens, just like Coaching Writers says would happen. The reporting also becomes so much more of a chore rather than something I enjoy, which usually comes across in the article. Part of the fault falls on me, especially when I don’t ask follow up questions that may help to solve the problems I am having with the focus. But, at the same time, I also think my past editors could be more clear with the overall goal they want in the article. My feeling is that if the article is assigned, it should have a clear and certain goal that the editor can explain to the writer easily.

    I organize my information pretty well, but I would like to apply some of the tips that Coaching Writers provides in Chapter 8 and see if they help my writing process. I often forget to ask myself the important questions because I am so rushed to get to a deadline, which affects the article in a negative way. I also have a bit of trouble in the revising step, just because I get so lazy. I think overall that my writing strategy could approve by trying out some of these ideas and see what works and what doesn’t as opposed to accepting my style as it is and not figuring out a method that makes me a better writer.

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