Notes from a Writer’s Workshop.
1) Take notes. Ideas are all around you. The key is to capture those ideas so you can later turn them into a story. One suggestion is to uses a spreadsheet to capture story ideas for easy reference. Look for what other people are talking about — what engages them, what gets them excited. You can find passionate conversations anywhere from the dinner table to in-real-life get togethers, to Facebook and Twitter. At The Good Men Project, we hold weekly Friday calls for all contributors, which are great idea-generating sessions for engaging posts that fit The Good Men Project brand and conversation. All ideas generated are fair game to write about it. We often look for multiple posts that all give a different take on similar topics. And—especially if you take the idea and bring it down to the story level—your individual story, with your individual worldview, is going to be different than anyone else’s.
2) Writing is an iterative process. When Andrew Smiler writes a first draft, the first two paragraphs that he gets down on paper don’t even make it to the final draft. He knows it’s just him warming up–writing teachers often call it “throat-clearing”. James calls his first draft the “slop draft” — get all the thoughts and words out of your head and articulated. It’s then not unusual for writers to take at least 2-3 more days to get to the final. In that time the writer is often moving sentences and paragraphs around, looking for nuggets of insight and honing sentence structure, and constantly clarifying. Andrew sets time limits for himself and works towards a schedule — he knows he has a post due at GMP every week at a certain time slot so he creates buckets of time and works towards that goal. His final paragraph never comes until the 2nd or 3rd draft.
3) Writing is a subtractive art. James notes that writing is like sculpture, but first you have to actually create that chunk of marble out of words. Then hone it and shape it into something. Andrew sometimes takes the sentences he deletes, and adds them back into his spreadsheet of ideas. They become thought-starters for the next post.
4) You write best when you know what you’re saying. Sometimes it’s the iterative process (above) that helps you get there.
5) The more personal your story gets, the more universal it becomes. If someone “doesn’t get” what you’re trying to say, it’s probably because you are too abstract and theoretical. Ground things in your story, paint pictures with words, and your ideas will come to life.
6) Write titles as you go. This helps refine your main idea, and at the end, you also have a great title—the number one reason people will click on your post.
7) How insights work. As a writer, you go through your rough draft, and you write. And as you write, you get an insight. You need to keep that path of words, so that the reader follows your storyline and they will arrive at that same insight at exactly the same time you did while writing it. That will give them that same “aha” experience you had, and make them want to go out and share the post with all their friends because they say to themselves “Oh, that writer just put into words something I felt all along but never knew how to articulate! I’ve got to tell everyone I know!”
8.) A note on GMP’s editorial focus and process. Keep in mind that at The Good Men Project, we’re constantly looking for reasons to accept a post and not to exclude it. Most important to us is that it is on brand—something that illuminates men, manhood, masculinity and how men are changing in the 21st century. Then we look for whether the ideas are organized and the story well told. But we want your stories, we want to help you succeed.
9.) Want to create a post that garners a lot of comments and buzz? Write about something that people will express an opinion about.
10.) Use meaningful words. Write in an active voice. Write for clarity.
If you’ve always wanted to write for The Good Men Project but haven’t yet, check out our submissions guidelines and send us your story. Or email our publisher [email protected] with questions or ideas.
Photo: jimmybrown / flickr