By Brian Lothridge
Let me start by saying I love/hate writing.
That may be a weird thing for an accomplished professional writer and storyteller to admit, but it’s true. It’s one of the most fulfilling things I do. It’s also one of the hardest things I do. I strive to find words that will impact people. Whether I am writing a news article, a blog post, a sermon or a grant proposal, I want my writing to stir up emotions or move people to action.
Getting there is a process. While the writing process in different scenarios may vary, my best pieces emanate from a few basic steps.
4 Building Blocks: A Basic Outline for the Writing Process
Here are four building blocks that are central to my writing process:
I have often written without an outline. This approach is often appealing to me when I am pressed for time. I sometimes tell myself that it will take too much time to create an outline so it would be faster to simply write. Alas, in professional writing settings, it’s often the only approach we have the luxury of taking.
My best writing seldom comes from this spray-and-pray writing approach. Being able to write a structurally sound piece almost never comes spontaneously. In reality, it often takes me longer to write a piece without an outline. Without an outline, I tend to go off on tangents that I later edit out. I spend a lot of time wondering where to go next.
An outline keeps me focused. I decide ahead of time what I want to say and how I want to say it. Outlines may take time, but I spend less time writing overall and my writing is more focused and impactful.
My writing isn’t perfect. No one’s ever is. Not mine. Nor the best writer who ever walked this Earth. The best writer in the world needs an even better editor.
I never turn in a first draft. There are always things I need to change. So a first draft is exactly that: the first — but not the final — draft.
This takes some pressure off as I begin to write. I don’t need to reach perfection the first time around. I’m happy to fill in my outline with imperfect sentences and paragraphs. It’s more important for me at this stage to just write.
Perfection comes later.
I will admit, however, that my internal editor voice is at work with every word I type. This can sometimes lead me to take forever to finish a paragraph. I can write faster when I remember the first draft will be perfected in the revision stage.
Self editing is crucial to the writing process. I can assure you that my first draft isn’t my best work. I have to reread the piece a few times.
I see if the piece says what I want it to say. I fix spelling and grammar problems. Spell check may be helpful (but helpful hint: automatic spell check is far from perfect). I rework sentences that are wordy or unclear. I remove sentences — sometimes even whole paragraphs — that are redundant, tangential, or don’t otherwise add to the piece.
This may feel painful. You may love every word you write and think you can’t bear to be without them. You can. Your writing will benefit from an honest revision. Your editor will thank you, too. They were going to cut those words anyway.
I’ve written the first draft. I’ve revised it — maybe a few times. Second, third, fourth draft, who’s counting? I’ve come up to my deadline and the piece needs to be sent to the editor. I do one last check.
I read the piece and ask, “Did I say what I wanted to say?” I asked this in the revision process, but this is my last chance to make sure that goal is accomplished before an editor sees it. I don’t want an editor to tell me I missed the point. I want them to tell me how I can make the piece better.
Now it’s time to send the work out. This isn’t easy for me. I always fear that I have missed something or could have written something better. However, if I hold onto the work forever it will never be read to impact anyone. Don’t be paralyzed by this fear. Do the best you can in all of these steps and be proud that you have put out quality work.
You’re Not on Your Own. We Can Help the Writing Process.
These basic steps in writing a piece will help ensure your work is well crafted. Writing, no matter the purpose, may be difficult but know you are not on your own.
I have 15 years of writing and editing experience. I was a news reporter and editor for eight years and have spent the past seven years as a pastor and writer. I have experience with a variety of internal and external communications including newsletters, blogs, social media, political advocacy, grant writing, and more.
Now, in collaboration with Southern Tier Communications Strategies, LLC, we develop and launch strategic communications (including grant writing, content marketing, blogging, social media and other forms of website development for improved website traffic and lead generation).
Your organization’s story matters. Let’s amplify it. Check out my website or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, email STCS President and Founder, Kelsey Boudin, at email@example.com.