Tuesday, December 29, 2009

It's That Time

This, for me, is the hardest stage of the writing process.

I pitched the story, and it was accepted. The editor and I agreed on a word count and a due date. I started interviewing, and started researching, and submitted a broad outline. I interviewed some more, and researched some more, and then some more.

Now I have 40 pages of notes -- a Word document of 15,237 words, and a long PDF file with a statistical report -- to whittle down into an engaging, comprehensive, informative and tightly-written article of 3 pages (1,500 - 2,000 words).

I know what I will do. I will make up 4-5 section heads and put them in a new document, to be minimized to the bottom of my screen, and go through my notes (minimized at the top of my screen), cutting and pasting salient quotations and statistics and references under the correct subject headings. I will decide which of the interviews I've conducted makes for the most compelling "lede" (introduction) and put that interview up top.

I'll go through all those notes and re-order information in each section, paying attention to stories and quotations and ideas that transition well from one to another, or to the following section. I'll make decisions about whom to quote and where -- highlighting terrific quotations in pink or purple-- minding the fact that I need to quote each person I interviewed at least once, to show off how many interviews I did and thereby establish expertise. Boring quotations and extraneous or repetitive information will be highlighted in grey, to be essentially ignored from now on.

I'll close my 40 pages of notes and move my new outline to the top of the screen. At this point I feel more confident and the process gets easier. On yet another fresh new page, I'll start writing the story, weaving together concepts and facts and quotations in a way that must, because of the nature of my client's publication, be accessible to laypeople but interesting to readers who are already experts on this subject. When I'm done, I'll probably discover that I've gone over my word limit by about a third, and I will go back to cut, cut, cut. By then I'll feel happy and proud and I'll work eagerly, looking forward to hitting the "send" button.

But right now, I'm neither happy nor proud.

Forty pages of notes.

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