Where do you get hung up?

Posted by Jill Van Wyke

We read Chapters 8 and 9 in “Coaching Writers,” which discuss the writing process, but we didn’t get a chance to discuss it in class. Review the chapters. 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?

Post your response by 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 13. Return Monday evening to comment on your classmates’ responses and continue the conversation.

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34 responses to “Where do you get hung up?

  1. If I have to think up an idea of my own, or if my editor doesn’t give me a clear story idea, the idea stage is usually where I get most “hung up.” I know that part of being a good writer is being able to see stories everywhere, but I’ve never mastered this. I get most anxious when I’m supposed to come up with a story idea and then pitch it. One thing I could do to get through this would be to force myself to come up with ideas throughout the day. Even if the story idea is dumb, at least I’ll be starting to see stories everywhere, and over time I would improve.
    Getting over the rough patch of not being given a clear idea is a bit easier. To fix this, I would go to my editor and ask questions until what he/she wants is completely clarified.

    Once my story idea is solid, the rest of the process usually goes smoothly. Sometimes I’ll get hung up on a lead or ending, but that’s never anything that a few revisions can’t fix.

  2. I get hung up in two stages, either the idea stage or the organizing stage. If I get hung up on the idea stage I can never come up with an a good enough pitch. My problem is I have a lot of things that I would like to write a story on but then I feel like I may be biased. I try to avoid any story with a very personal connection but then I don’t have a story I’m really interested in.

    However, when I do get a good solid idea that I like a lot, then I may get hung up in the organizing stage. Specifically, I get hung up in the interviewing stage. I am always afraid I am wasting someone’s time. I also worry that I don’t have enough things written down and that I will miss something important. The worst feeling though is finishing an interview, realizing that I didn’t ask enough questions, and can’t reach my source again.

    • I definitely agree with you on the interview part! It’s difficult to get all the information you’re looking for in such a small amount of time, especially if the interviewee is not a fan of sharing and opening up. You have to learn to become prepared with tons of questions for back-up in cases where the conversation is not flowing very easily. Interviews can be hit or miss.

  3. I generally get hung up in the organize position, I often get too close to a story and I can’t see what the main ideas and points are. I have problems really finding the lead of my story. The best way for me to get a great lead is to talk the story through with an editor or another person. If I have to explain what a story is about to someone else then I can pinpoint what’s most important to a story and why it’s important.

    • I think I may get too close to my story too. At that point I would really appreciate guiding questions from an editor. I feel like I get lost in the information in the story. It would be great to have help organizing my thoughts. I get so exhausted with all of the information. Even the who, what, when, where and why doesn’t seem like enough.

    • We need to meet up for some brainstorming sessions Ashton!

  4. There are a few things I have a really hard time doing. I end up focusing on getting sources and interviewing and then when I sit down to write me draft, it’s the day before and I’m rushing through it. I have a ton of information and I still stress that I’m leaving out too much information. I need to do a better job on narrowing my focus in stories so that I can get the best possible information into it and leave the ‘fluff’ out. This goes along with procrastination, because when I wait I have no time for anytime to look over my story until my editor sees it. If I have just one set of eyes besides mine seeing it, I think that would be a good thing. I’m definitely more of a ‘plunger’ right now, but I’m trying to develop some ‘planner’ habits to see if this will help my writing process. The last article I wrote, I created a simple outline and it really helped.

    I think starting as soon as I get an assignment will really help. Also, even if I’m waiting on sources to get back to me I should start writing the story anyway. I had quotes from my main source, but didn’t start writing until I heard from two more secondary sources. It would have been more beneficial if I would have started writing after the first interview and filling in after the fact, instead of waiting last minute.

    • Lately, I’ve also been trying to start assignments early even if I don’t have all of the information/sources I need. I used to be a terrible procrastinator and would always end up stressing myself out the day before an article is due. Since I transferred to Drake, I’ve been starting my articles early even if it means only jotting down a few sentences to get me started. So far, it has been really helpful.

  5. I generally get hung up during the idea and draft stages of the writing process. Most of the time I am the absolute worst at coming up with ideas. Rarely do I automatically come up with a good idea or concept, but when I do I cherish that moment. Coming up with an original idea or a unique twist on an old one makes me feel so accomplished, as though from that point on I can do anything. However, then the draft stage will come about and I get hung up again. It takes me forever to write a story most of the time because I am horrible at writing leads. I want the lead to be absolutely perfect, so I easily overthink it, causing myself to spiral down into madness.

    • Haha! I do have some similar problems as Sam (mostly the spiraling down into madness part…) But in real life, I also have a huge problem of writing leads and for me, that’s one of those things that has to be perfect before I can move on and write the rest of my story. I think it helps if you sit down and ask yourself: “What is this story really about?” And then write the answer in one sentence, that’s your lead or at least the beginning of it.

    • I totally agree with Sam. I think the reason we feel this way is because editors, and professors, drill into our heads the importance of a good lead. So this freaks us out, and when we can’t come up with a good lead at first, everything else goes downhill. Maybe as future editors, we should address these problems with our writers individually before they even start to write. That way, if they have ‘lead problems’, we can approach them in a different way.

    • I agree that the key is to ask yourself questions about your story before you even begin typing. For really challenging stories I tend to make an outline for it. Including the purpose, audience etc.

  6. According to Clark and Fry, there are 5 main parts to writing a story. I generally get hung up on the idea as well as the organization parts. I can recall my first writing and reporting class; the professor said, “OK, go write a story. Be sure to include quotes; you have an hour and a half to turn it in.” My mind literally races and I’m struggling to come up with story ideas. I remember having anxiety from the pressure to come up with an original idea and then having to get it done in an hour and a half. Clark and Fry explain two reasons as to why editors give fuzzy assignments: they didn’t realize they were fuzzy, or they forget reporters cannot read minds. Now, I’m sure my professor was trying to see how we young writers could handle the task, but I will always prefer some direction.

    My struggle with the organization stage is that I tend to be one of those writers who skip it altogether, as mentioned in chapter 8. When I’m in the reporting stage I can kind of start piecing my story together. I start thinking where I want to put my quotes and what might work well for the lead. So in fear of forgetting all my ideas, and instead of writing an outline (because that’s just too logical), I sit down and start typing. At times I will stop typing and stare at my computer, but I’ll push through and make it to the revising stage. I really like the tip in chapter 8 to find the sections of your story by simply asking “what do your readers need to know?” I think this may help me in the organization stage. It’s not an outline, but it forces me to think about the most important parts of my story.

  7. The root of my writing problems starts with the idea stage. Either I can’t come up with a good pitch, or what I want to write about isn’t timely or is way too broad. I just can’t sit down and list story ideas. For some reason, I get story ideas at random moments, and I think they are really good, until I try to pitch them to a group and then they don’t sound as good as they did in my head.

    Because the idea step is probably the most important step, you can see how that influences the rest of my writing. Because I start with such broad ideas, breaking it down to something more specific usually frustrates me, and I don’t feel good about even writing that story anymore. So then my drafting phase is bad and so on and so on. Basically, I have a writing problem. (Whoops!)

    • Hah! I’m sure you do not have a writing problem… it’s never as bad as it seems to you. You are your own worst critic! After reading everyone’s posts, it looks like many of us struggle with the idea stage. It’s nice to know we’re not alone. I think someone mentioned in a previous blog post that they carry a journal or write down story ideas whenever they see them. I like this concept because I think it will help to get in the routine of seeing story ideas in our every day lives, and then maybe the ideas will start to come more easily!

  8. I definitely get hung up on the organization stage. Coming up with ideas for me is never an issue. In fact, my ideas are usually incredible detailed and complex and always way to ambitious. After coming up with some crazy idea that I inevitably become absolutely obsessed with, I spend days struggling to find a focus that is able to both fit the entirety of my idea, while still being sane enough for another human being to read. This is about the time where I lose myself within 10 pages of incoherent notes, during which I usually have a mental break down and highly consider dropping out of school, until I suck it up and start writing.

    • This sounds very much like my writing process. Once I find an idea, I dive headfirst into research and do not resurface to write until it is late and I have a jumbled collection of half-written sentences and quotes and no story. And then of course I have to go back and edit my work as I go, because I haven’t found a solid focus within my pages of notes.

  9. The idea stage is definitely my biggest problem. I come up with an ok idea, go to a pitch session, and realize how awesome everyone else’s ideas are. Then I go back to the drawing board and come up with an entirely new story concept. It usually works out in the end, and I have a better story because of it, but I was immense amounts of time brainstorming that I could use reporting and writing.

    At the same time, I get hung up in every stage of the writing process. Maybe it’s a sign I shouldn’t be a writer… haha but in all seriousness, writing is hard, and there are always going to be obstacles. It sounds cliche’ but it’s true.

  10. I usually got hung up in the idea phase. Usually it’s because the assignment is just too vague, and I end up trying to tackle more then I should and start to loose focus. I’ll go into an interview with the widest range of questions ever, and only end up using a small portion of the answers I receive. I’ll start writing the article, realize that I have too much information that’s completely irrelevant, and freak out. If I come up with my own idea, or my assignment is really focused when I get it then usually I’m ok, otherwise, I’m a mess.

  11. I seem to come up with several ideas that I think are good and struggle with narrowing it down to one. I also struggle with getting public opinions. I’m not good at walking up to strangers and asking their opinions.

    I also struggle with pacing and focus in stories if I have too much information. Editors have helped me a lot with these problems, generally by narrowing my focus and suggesting interesting points of my reporting.

  12. I typically get hung up in the revision stage. When I write a story, I feel that all the information I gathered is important and needs to be shared. The reader needs to know the details of the facts. They need to know what I know, so I throw everything in there. When it comes time to revise, without assistance, I get lost on what to cut and what to keep.

    Sometimes it’s just about wording as well. I get “too wordy” sometimes. I have a way to describe it, I just can’t get it out in short sentences.

    • @rebecca I agree, I have a hard time revising. There are certain quotes I feel are the ‘money’ quotes, so I know those need to go in the story. After that, it’s hard to distinguish which chunks of information, besides the important standard who/when/where/why questions that would benefit to my story. I always find it more beneficial to talk to Professors or editors and see what their questions are about the draft. If they see major gaps in my piece then I know I’ve left something big out. Sometimes we get stuck in a story and think everyone who reads it will understand what we are trying to say. It’s best to get as many eyes on your story as possible (I have a problem with this as well and I’m slowly working on it.)

    • I also agree that it can be difficult to revise. After putting so much time and effort into your story and then having to cut sections out, it stings! As the writer we can see why certain items might be important to our story. I’m slowly beginning to learn to think more like an editor and think about the readers.

  13. I’m going to be very honest, I get “hung up” in almost every stage of the writing process. It’s easy to come up with ideas, but finding an actual story within that idea can be tough, especially if there is not a lot of information on it or if similar stories have already been written. Reporting isn’t terrible, but missing certain elements of the story can be bad for the next stage, organizing. I’m a perfectionist. So when I expect my first draft to be near perfection. I’ll spend hours on the micro things like sentence structure and what words sound best where, instead of looking at the big picture early on – which can sometimes come back to bite me in the butt when editors want to change the organizational structure as a whole. I think the best thing for me to do is to slow down. Take a step back and think about what I want the entire piece to say. What will stand out to my readers most, what will be most important, etc.

    • It’s the same way for me, Andrea! There are so many places a writer can go wrong. Like you said, missing one little detail in reporting could affect the whole story! Taking one step at a time is really good advice. Sometimes I try to do it all at once – not a good idea!

  14. I usually get stuck on the drafting step. I take so long doing a first draft, that I don’t give myself time to revise. Obviously, this is a major problem. First drafts do not meet the standards of…anyone. The scenario at the top of page 82 in “Coaching Writers” is my writing process in a paragraph. After some really good reporting, I imagine myself sitting down and the story just pouring out, the greatest thing a Word document has ever seen. Instead I sit down and type sentence after sentence of pure gobbledygook.

    Recently, I was writing a story for The Times-Delphic. I had spent at least 30 minutes writing and re-writing the first sentence. I was hoping for a short quip that would engage the reader and make them think “Hey! This girl is a genius, a master of words.” I finally asked Lauren (Horsch) for advice. She gave me the exact advice in the fourth paragraph on page 82, get it down. Get anything typed out, and then make sense of it. I haven’t had the chance to test it out again, but in that instance it helped a lot. Hopefully, in the future, this will save me time and I may finally be able to revise (and get to word count).

    • “Get it down” is definitely good advice, and something I need to work into my writing process. Like you said, I also want readers to think I’m “a master of words” (don’t we all?). I hate looking at my computer screen, knowing that I need to revise my lead, but still moving on anyway. I would rather edit as I go, but I know that isn’t good time management. It is something I just need to get used to!

      • Elizabeth Robinson

        This is definitely one of my major issues when I write as well. I always over-analyze my lead and spend probably too much time on it. I like the idea of just getting it down, getting any words out that I can, trying to come up with some sort of idea that will lead me to a good lead. I feel like once I’m satisfied with the lead, the rest of the story seems to just come kind of naturally. Unfortunately, I spend so much time trying to be satisfied with the lead that it takes me a long time to actually get to the rest of the story.

  15. After reading these chapters, I realized that I get the most hung up during the organization phase. I say “after reading” because I previously thought my problem was with drafting. However, the bullet points on page 80 pinpoint my writing process almost to a T (I have yet to turn in a story late…knock on wood). I thought what I was doing was drafting quickly, when in reality, I am wasting my time attempting to organize and reorganize. I also have a problem with “killing the babies” as they wrote on page 81. I have a hard time deciding what to take out because I want my reader to be completely informed. Although I know that can be accomplished even if I take things out, it is something I’m still working on.

    • I have the same problem with editing myself down. I want to spew out as much information I have, just to make sure the reader knows everything that they need to know (and more, probably…) I’ve always had a hard time figuring out what’s the most important information in the story and what can be left out.

  16. I have enormous difficulty with the organizing step, especially since I have come to college. I have no trouble finding stories, I have pages of ideas in a little notebook that I carry around in my purse. But my true love is reporting. I can research a subject endlessly, often reading and interviewing for weeks before I actually put pen to paper or, in most cases, fingers to keyboard. So I am thoroughly knowledgeable about my subject when I start to write, but my research piles up and is rarely organized. A lot of it gets scribbled into a notebook, recorded on my phone, written on a scrap of paper, or typed up in a separate document, so I have trouble sorting through it when it comes time to write. I am definitely a scribbler (p. 80), it takes me hours of writing and coffee, but I usually surface with a good product. Unfortunately, because I have edited it so many times myself, I don’t take too kindly to edits which is something that I am working to change. And now I know that I should really keep better track of my notes…

  17. McKenzie Anderson

    When reading this chapter I realized that I struggle the most in two of the stages. The first, of course, is the idea stage. Sometimes I can get down a really good idea, but it usually has a very broad focus. I have a really hard time narrowing my ideas and finding a very clear focus before I can go out and report. Either that or my idea is too narrow and when I start reporting I realize that there’s no way I’ll get enough information to make this idea fit the word count. Editors in the past have been very helpful with asking me questions about my ideas to get it narrower, but not too narrow.

    The other stage is the revise stage. Sometimes I get so stuck on my first round of ideas that I can’t get them out of my head. I have a hard time throwing things out completely and starting sections over again. Obviously I know that my first draft won’t be my best by any means. But when I go to revise I have to tell myself that it’s ok to delete a lot in order to improve my story.

  18. I would say that I struggle the most with the revising stage. Like I said in my idiosyncrasy post, I (like McKenzie) get caught up in my original thoughts and don’t want to change. Often times when I’m reporting for a story a lightbulb often goes off and I get an amazing idea or plan for my story. Although I know that a writer is never done writing or revising, it’s hard for me to part with an idea or thought that I think is good and works in the story. I think a key to getting over this dilemma is to have people read my writing. Although receiving criticism is one of the worst parts of writing, there is the potential for it be one of the best parts as well. That is, as long as your editor knows how to coach rather than tear up your work.

  19. Elizabeth Robinson

    I always seem to get really hung up at the very beginning of my story. I’m fine when I’m given a basis for a story, but when it’s on me to come up with a story completely on my own, I sometimes struggle. I can come up with stories, but I’m not usually very confident in how good of a story it is. I tend to second guess myself, therefore putting off starting the story in an attempt to come up with a better story idea. While trying to come up with a quality idea is a good thing, it often causes me to waste time mulling over my story decision and I end up wasting time.
    Once I’ve actually started my story, I spend a lot of time on the lead. I feel like the lead has to be just right before I can continue with the rest of the story. The majority of the time I spend working on the story goes into the lead. I like getting feedback on my story, but when it’s on the lead, I once again spend a lot of time trying to perfect it. I think it’s good to spend time trying to make sure my story is the way I want it, but at the same time I need to work on being more efficient.

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