Where do you get hung up?

Read 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?

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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14 responses to “Where do you get hung up?

  1. My weakest step in this process is the reporting one. Once I have all of my information, I can sculpt it into an organized story, as long as I write the lead first. However, I tend to dread the actual interviews.

    I think this step would be easier for me if I had a clearer image of exactly what information I needed and what questions I needed to ask what people. I like the questions listed in the organizing step. I think I would use the one about what the story is about in almost every step of the process. Keeping that at the center of every step would be helpful to me and keep me focused.

    • It’s actually pretty cool how different writers can be! I love the interviewing process, probably my favorite part. It can be totally intimidating but like you said, it is way easier to go into situations like that when you have a clear image in your head of what the story id going to be about so you can ask the right questions.

  2. I get hung up on the draft and revise stage of the writing process. But I also tend to struggle with the reporting part as well. But having those 5 questions to ask myself well be a helpful tool in determining when I have done enough reporting.

    I also found it interesting how the book described “Planners” and “Plungers,” and oddly enough I identify with both. In my day to day I am very much a planner. But when it comes to writing stories I don’t use an outline I just start typing and then eventually “rearrange it to make sense.”

    In the past with the Drake professors who have served as my editors I have found that it’s helpful for them to continue to ask those key questions. What is the story about? How does it serve our audience? Etc. And it helps me either add information to answer those questions or extract information from my story that buries the answers to those questions.

    • I like your distinction of the planners and plungers and how that impacts the writing process. Clark and Fry discuss how the two are divided in separate categories and one cannot take on the process of another. Thus, it’s important to make yourself aware of which brand you are so that you can fully embrace it. By knowing if their writers are plungers or planners, editors can help guide their staffs to write in a more efficient and fulfilling individualistic ways.

  3. I get hung up somewhere in between report and organize. After I am done reporting I feel as though I have all this information and NEED to put all of it into the story otherwise it goes to waste. I am really good at organizing my room, my planner, things I need to do, but as soon as it comes to organizing my thoughts on to paper I get lost. I have so many ideas of where the story could go, I get too excited and try to combine too many things at once. This then, of course, causes the problem of a lack of focus.

    What my editor can do to help me is make me write down my focus. I feel as though this strategy has worked in the past and just seeing it written on paper helps me stay on track. Also just talking about what were the main points I need to state in the story to help keep my focus narrow. Saying things verbally and writing them down helps me a lot.

  4. I tend to get hung up in the early stages during the idea and reporting. I can usually come up with ideas, but they aren’t always focused enough. If I don’t have a focused idea for my story it is harder to report because I don’t know exactly what kind of information I am looking for. Once I get past finding the narrow idea I can easily start my reporting and find sources. I am extremely organized when it comes to writing, so I could identify with the “planners” the book mentions. Even though things are subject to change when I actually go to write the story, I have to make an outline first or else I feel like I have way too much information that I have no idea what to do with.

    What an editor can do to help me is ask me questions about my story ideas. Does it fit the audience? Is the focus narrow enough? How am I going to go about getting sources? Has this story been written before? Can there be a new angle on it? I have found it really helpful when my editors sit down with me and help me formulate my ideas in the brief stage. They shouldn’t tell me what to write about, but if they ask a few questions it can get my mind working again and I can then be on my way with the reporting. Having another person’s opinion can be really helpful.

  5. The process I usually get hung up on as a writer is the report step. I usually find a plethora of information that I believe is necessary in informing the reader, and don’t want to cut anything out. This usually leads to my story being longer than anticipated and a grueling revising session for me trying to get rid of my babies. The five effective tests of knowing when you have too much information were very useful to me, and I’m going to try to stick to them by having a post it note on the wall in front of me when typing a story. That way, I’ll be able to know what is useful and beneficial to the reader and what is only fluff.

    By looking at the next chapter and what the editor can do to help the writer during that specific stage, I’d have to say just sitting down and asking me questions about what I’ve just reported. I’ll answer back what I feel is the most important aspect of the story, leading me to realize that’s what readers will care about as well. If I can’t find a certain source or something like that, I can also turn to the editor during this help stage as chapter nine says. This is an area I need to work on rather than wasting time by myself trying desperately to track down a certain source to no avail.

    • After reading your comment I’ve come to think maybe my issue is partly reporting as well. You said, “I usually find a plethora of information that I believe is necessary in informing the reader,” which would easily explain why I always have to cut something out of my story. I’m the same way. I think I’ll follow the five tests as well now.

  6. I get hung up in the drafting step of the writing process.

    It is as though the line, “What’s the problem? Perfection. Well okay, imperfection. Actually, the problem is expecting perfection on the first try. We deal with our terror of imperfection by procrastinating,” (82) were included to offer me a perfect explanation for my biggest struggle.

    I suffer from too much thinking and not enough doing when it comes to writing and allow myself to become overwhelmed by the differences between my expectations for an article and what is a realistic output for the time and resources I have available.

    The book suggests that an editor would step in and help at this point. In my experience a conversation with my editor include a basic yet helpful hint. Just start writing. Once the page is no longer blank the task gets easier and the pressing deadline is not a ticking time bomb. I’ve come to realize that a first draft is not perfect but it has a lot more potential than a blank screen.

  7. The step that I get stuck in is the organizing step. Often I can’t go into the perspective of the reader, and what makes sense to me logically may not make sense to them because they didn’t do the reporting. This takes me down the, “…too much time, effort, and agony,” route as the books notes.

    The book also mentions how a length limit can determine how you outline a story, a helpful mechanism, but for me that just puts me back on the long route of organizing. I end up cutting a lot of things out of my stories or figuring out how to minimize them in compact but still present ways because of what I mentioned before. Perspective is an issue for me.

    The main thing that helps me to reduce this organization issue is to create an outline (even for a short 500 word article) that guides my writing beforehand. I’m a planner as the book mentions, while editors really help me in the revising stage. Here is when I need an editor to take the perspective of the reader and tell me if I’m giving enough information in a logical order. That’s the best kind of help for me in my organizational issues.

  8. I always have trouble with the reporting. As I’m researching and interviewing sources, I develop new ideas and I find that there might be a better story to tell. This tends to set me back, because I end up changing the main idea of the story. I’m then obligated to start the process all over again.

    I also struggle with narrowing the focus of my story. At times, I’m not sure what information is unnecessary and should be cut. This makes it difficult to revise and improve the story for the final version. I’ve also noticed that the stories with a broad topic go over the word count by a ridiculous amount. Maybe I wouldn’t have this problem if I narrowed the focus.

    In the past, editors have helped me brainstorm new and narrowed topics, which makes it easy to start writing. Assignment letters that are very detailed are also helpful. I think it would be beneficial for my current and future editors and myself, if I forced myself to write assignment letters that clearly state what the story’s purpose will be before I even begin to write.

    • I struggle with narrowing the focus of my story as well. I usually go WAY to broad which really hurts me when I am trying to write a story for a specific audience.
      That’s awesome that your past editors have helped you brainstorm ideas, a lot of the times I am too scared to ask for help because then I think they think I can’t do it- which I know is not true. It’s just that sometimes editors come off as intimidating or want you to be perfect.

  9. Like many others, I also get stuck in the reporting step. Although I love interviews and gathering information, I usually come back with an overwhelming amount of facts and quotes, most of which I don’t even use in the story. However, just having that sheer amount of information can make the process overwhelming.

    An additional problem comes into play when I don’t have the couple facts or quotes I need, but instead have four pages worth of notes I don’t need. Searching through my confusing, scribbled notepads and listening through countless minutes of tape is a huge job and often sucks up a lot of time and energy before I even start writing. As Coaching Writers says, it’s not a bad thing that I overreport sometimes, I just need to keep track of the information as I go along. “The problem is not the bulk of reporting, but his failure to organize as he gathers” (77).

    Thus, to help me through this writing process rough patch, an editor could give tips and ideas for how better to organize as I report. Maybe if I heard the process of other writers, it would give me some ideas to adopt. An editor could also help me by asking key questions ahead of time so I can narrow down my focus in reporting and not collect so much off-topic information. Although it’s always good to keep an open mind while reporting, having an editor narrow my angle down and discuss the kind of information I need to gather may help be report and write more efficiently.

  10. I can definitely relate to the reporter described on page 76, the one who records and transcribes everything. I’m always afraid of missing something important. In the end I believe this often harms me more than helps me, because it does not allow me sufficient time or energy to edit the piece and tighten my focus.

    Tightening the focus is another problem I struggle with, somewhat because of over recording and transcribing, but also because a lot of the times before I sit down to write a story the idea of it is still fuzzy. I have a tendency to do as much interviewing as possible with hopes that I will find a story within the answers to my questions. However, I ask too many, and their answers are too broad, and I get lost in the wrong topics, and I’m interested in everything and by then I have completely lost any chance of a well focused article.

    I think the last effective test discussed in chapter 8, I can explain to a smart outsider, and the debrief step mentioned in chapter 9. The first tool is for my personal use. I believe it would help me focus in on a topic if I could explain it in a few minutes to someone who did not previously know anything about the topic. The debriefing step would help me simply because talking aloud about my ideas, especially with another person that will ask helpful questions, helps me organize my chaotic thoughts into concise ideas.

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