See How We Write (Part One)

Now that I’m switching from Broadcast to Print Journalism, I’m meeting new people. They’re nice, mostly younger and make interesting conversation partners… especially when they ask me what is was like back in the good old days of 1985.

One recent conversation with a much younger Editor was interesting. We sat around drinking beer at a dive frequented by the closest thing Houston has to the glorious Gilded Age literary ex-patriots. By that I mean former oil men, a few teachers and ex-attorneys-turned-writers and me, the 48 year old crone mistaken once too often for George Sand.

I’ve GOT to start wearing dresses.

Anyway, the subject of our conversation then centered around writing styles. He asked me how I outline.

Outline?

I told him that it had been YEARS since I covered a murder.

outline.jpg

He balked at my sarcasm and shouted “NO!!!” and then said he was talking about my outline for my stories; the one I use prior to writing my articles.

That made me laugh then I looked at him with feigned dismay. I told him I don’t ever use an outline. I never have and I never will. I then told him that I don’t even write a summary. I sit down, gather my thoughts for a second or two, then I literally shoot from the literary hip. Right, wrong, indifferent—as they kids say, that’s how I do; how I roll.

He looked at me as if he smelled a dirty longshoreman’s unwashed navel and then declared my lack of preparation to be nothing short of sinful and if that wasn’t bad enough, he then droned on to call it thee MOST most ridiculous thing he’s ever heard of. Apparently, he comes from New York City, where EVERY writer who’s any writer, uses an outline and even alphabetizes their notes.

“Notes?” I asked with a fake British accent. “Why, it’s been years since I played a musical instrument!!”

musical-notes.gif

After he fired me, I started thinking.

I began to question if my way of writing was as odd and unusual as Pugsley said it was. So, I thought I’d ask a few of my favorite bloggers–the ones who actually “write” the posts they publish—about their different approaches to Journalism. I explained what the Seed of Chuckie had said to me, then I asked them to please convey to me how they write, why they write and who and what they like to read.

Their answers are as varied as their blogs.

We begin with one of my favorite bloggers:  a one Mr. Joe Drinker from fourbux.com

To say that I prepare to write about a topic, more than just observing what goes on in my life, would be a stretch. Since I only write about what I know about, specifically, what I see with my own eyes, it helps me keep my perspective, and helps me keep it consistent. While I enjoy comedic writing, I really appreciate the author who can blur the line between reality and satire.

When an author takes me along on a written adventure, without telling me how it will all tie back in at the end is my favorite type of read. Since most of what I read all day is either technical work or code, when I read for enjoyment it tends to be fiction. Ray Bradbury is one of my favorite authors, and I’ve always loved E.A. Poe. I don’t have many modern favorites, but I do tend to read every book Michael Chrichton puts out, partially because my mom buys every crime story he publishes, but he had me at Lost World.

What about me, why do I write? I started to write only because I thought I had something to say, but had nobody to say it to. I just began putting it into words, and then hung it out there where the rest of the world could see it. People seemed to identify with some of what happens to me, while other things seem to be unique to my experience, so I just thought I’d keep writing them down.

• • • • •

Our next offering comes from my Vegas honey lamb, scottdammit:

Once I feel the germ of a story growing in my brain like Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease, I start jotting down notes, and usually a title pops out at me. For example, if I was going to write about a medical condition I have I’d titled it,”The Chronicles of Hernia” and go from there. Of course, the strategy changes depending on the length/girth of the project I have at hand. If I’m writing in my blog I usually just write what comes to mind. A novel however, requires much more preparation.

I like to write about people and the funny things they say, do and think. I also like to write about the funny things people say and do when they don’t think.

I like to read blogs, but mostly I’ve been reading about subjects that would interest the characters in my book, so I can fully develop their personalities. Right now, I am reading up on Vodou, Rastafarianism and Santeria.

Authors I like include Mark Twain. I love Richard Brautigan‘s flights of fancy, and Nelson Algren‘s arc-lamp symphonies. I love humorous takes on politics and society (the Daily Show and Colbert Report, e.g.). P.J. O’ Rourke has always been an inspiration. Laurie Kendrick amazes me on a daily basis. (I swear I DID NOT edit that in…LK)

And I write for the same reasons other people breathe. The only alternative is death.

• • • • •

This next summary is from the irrepressible Whore Church:

I approach writing in a very analytical way. If I am writing a paid, non-fiction piece of any length or longer blog posts, I will begin with a single sentence thesis, define a transition statement, introduction, conclusion and several main points. If the piece is going to be long enough I will create a mini-intro, conclusion and sub points for each main point. For short pieces and unpaid brief blog posts I will approach it much the same way but I organize most of the points in my mind, without formal outlining.

If I am telling a story (like I often do at My Redhead Life blog) I will typically just begin writing. In the beginning I know where I want to end up and I may have some mental pictures of scenes I want the reader to “see,” but I don’t do any outlining or much thinking ahead. When I am writing for free I do not edit. The posts are my first drafts and, unless there is a major error, I don’t make any corrections.

I am just beginning to learn to write fiction, but so far I am approaching it analytically as well: Outlining the direction for the characters, creating a one-sentence plot summary as well as plot summaries for each of the “acts.”

I read just about everything except literature. I am much more likely to read Clancy or King than F. Scott Somebody. I knew why the caged bird sang before Angelou.

I tend to read more non-fiction than fiction and enjoy learning about trivial matters of science and technology. Reading humor is always fun, though I tend to read it online. The last humor I read in book form was Lewis Black’s Nothing Sacred.

I write non-fiction for money, religious articles to inform and humor for myself. I haven’t yet figured out if I like writing fiction or why I even would.

• • • • •

We’ll end Part One of this interesting look into the minds of some of my favorite American writers and bloggers with what emonome.com has to share:

I almost never prepare when I post in my blog. If I feel like like saying a word or two about something as it’s crossing my thoughts, I’ll start writing and stop only when I’ve written enough and have run out of ideas. A lot of writers outline what they eventually write about but I can’t bring myself to do that. I’d rather let my words surprise me. I sometimes just post a video and have no set topics, either.

My blog’s sub-headline is emon@random which is a license for me to find shelter in any form of information/entertainment I come across out there and which can be shared with the masses.

I love to read comedy. As they say, comedy is truth. It took a great deal of maturity to come my way in order for me understand what that statement means. I try to not limit myself to specific genres, however. I avoid political works because I don’t find reading them particularly interesting.

My favorite authors are Dave Barry, Stephen King, Jhumpa Lahiri, Seth Godin etc. I also read a lot of non-fiction books. Books on business, history, film, media, music marketing etc etc.

Ah the big question: why do I write?? Well, I write because I have the need to share my thoughts with people. I write because it gives me pleasure when people read my work. I write because it makes me think about myself and the world that surrounds it.

I write, therefore I learn.

• • • • •

Brilliant, huh?

Stay tuned for Part Two next week.

16 comments

  1. Hey LK! Great stuff from the fellow bloggers. I swear I don’t remember making sense when I answered your questions. But you’ve edited them in perfectly! Thanks!

    To the Seed of Chuckie: Kiss the outlines of my ass! 🙂

  2. Laurie,

    Thanks for this. It was a nice little peek into the minds of some of my favorite bloggers! I’ve always wished for the ability to prepare in advance, but it will never happen in writing and it will never happen in life. I’m learning to embrace my method of writing (another one who ‘shoots straight from the literary hip’) rather than feel like there’s something wrong with it. Yes, I wish that I could write what I want, when I want, and how I want. But, as Emon said, one of the greatest pleasures of writing is letting my own words surprise me. I don’t want to give that up.

  3. Nicole,

    Writing is what you do…how you prepare is just that: how you prepare and you can do that in a million different ways. Hell, even doing nothing is doing something.

    That made sense before I wrote it!!

    Always let your words surprise you. Allow them to flow and fill your soul. They can and when you know you’ve written something good, there’s no better feeling. It’s like a connection has been made. You spirit feels complete. I don’t want to get all Oprah on you but I think all writer’s know what I’m talking about.

    If you can’t write what you want, when you want to because of your other job, then keep the blog going. It is your canvass–your literary freedom. You can write whatever you want.

    My blog has been a life saver for me.

    The nummy rum flavored ones.

    Thanks for stopping by and happy vacation in Transylvania! This is the perfect time of year for a vacation there…How I envy you!

    Bring me back a bat.

    LK

  4. Laurie:

    Congrats on the new position. Unfortunately, “print snobs” are abundant in the world of journalism. You tend to find more of them at dailies that are more than 50 years old and, the more time they’ve spent at that paper, the higher their nose tends to be. I have a friend who started working as a sports jockey at a small paper out of college. Ten years on, he’s the sports editor, but still gets greif from the old-timers because “kids don’t know what it’s like to be a “journalist”. I’m a respected music journalist who’s been writing off-and-on for some publication since high school, I have some experience in broadcast news,too. However, all that counts for nothing with the guy who started as a beat hound back in ’61 and brought Kennedy, Watergate and Vietnam to breakfast tables all over the city (however admirable that may be). I write for glossy monthlies and “blog”. At best, I’m just a soft news jock with no idea how to be a journalist.

    Give ’em Hell, Laurie. I know you can!

    @ Frontier Former Editor: No offense, friend. I know you well enough not to count you among the conceited.

  5. The allegations are not true. The last time I hung out with a squirrel was back in March:

    http://whatpushesmybuttons.wordpress.com/2007/03/28/sauget-does-not-heaven/

    So that’s wayyyyy before any of this campaigning stuff. That and I only fed him popcorn, not campaign advice. So that’s probably being used against me right now.

    No worries Key: definitely no spy here. Not sure where those allegations are coming from. But I’m a keycoon supporter all the way.

    Although I did hear a rumor about a black bear also jumping into the presidency. I’m trying to get the source nailed down.

  6. Wow LK, that was both humbling and really entertaining at the same time. And it certainly explains a lot about some of the other bloggers we’ve come to read and love, doesn’t it?

    Cheers,

    JD

  7. I actually do a little bit of writing for some trade publications and other journals. I have this technique that never fails.

    First, I get myself a general idea. Sometimes they even give me one, but I try not to let their agenda mess with my creative instincts.

    Then I mull it over when I have some free, uninterrupted time. Mowing the lawn is the best for this because it’s mindless and I can’t hear anything but the John Deere motor. I do a rough outline in my head for an hour or so while I’m on the tractor, then come in for a cold beer.

    Then comes the most Zen-like part: I just let it percolate in the back of my brain. It’s like I have a bunch of pieces and they start moving around by themselves, trying to fit themselves together.

    After a few days of this comes the most important part of all: The editor will call or email and give me some gentle motivation, something like “You friggin’ idiot, why do you always wait until the very last minute before you submit something?!”

    Then I finally sit down at the keyboard and the article practically writes itself.

  8. the how is i drink until my brain itches. then i beat my keyboard into submission.
    why? cause i’m drunk and my brain itches.

    right now, i am reading jack gilbert, mark helprin, and short stories by a.s. byatt.

  9. I never, ever outline. My writing is more like mental bulemia. I sit down, stick my finger down my throat, and hope I don’t get it all over myself. I also never proofread or revise, which is why I’ll never amount to a professional writer. But, I sure do feel better about myself afterwards. Do I look thin to you?

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