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The "How Do You Write" Meme Continues to Spread

Writing_process_1

Beth Kanter has (meta) tagged me to write about . . . how I write. Of course, after reading Beth's post, as well as her inspirations and idols, I'm feeling a little bit intimidated about getting at my 'process," (such as it is) but here goes. . .(And Beth, I know I'm behind on my reading since I'm only getting to this now . . )


Finding Topics

Among my friends and colleagues, I'm known as a combination bookstore and search engine. I read constantly and compulsively and it is this reading that generally is the fodder for my blogging. In a lot of ways, the Web was made for me, since it has placed so many written words within my reach.

On the down side, I am by nature a pretty curious person who has a wide range of interests, so narrowing my writing down to a few topic areas is pretty much impossible. There are too many things that interest me for me to stick to just a few. Which can be problematic when I'm trying to write because there is just a lot of stuff swimming around in my brain.

I do find that I tend to be drawn to a combination of "quick hits"--sharing news or new tools, linking to someone else's great work--and longer, more reflective posts that generally center on something I've been reading. I particularly enjoy doing the "what if" posts, where I'm able to explore the implications of something I've read on someone's blog, a book or magazine, or in the news. But I also like summarizing other materials I've read as a way to spread them to a wider audience who has less time or inclination to read a full book or report.

I've also found that it's really helpful to use my blog as a sort of "rough draft" place to start to think through some ideas. Like Doug Johnson, I believe that the blogging format creates a great place for brainstorming and getting some feedback on your thinking. I've been able to use some of what I've created here to further flesh out other work.   

One thing I do worry about from time to time is the fact that my interests are somewhat wide-ranging. I  keep trying to find the thread between my posts and sometimes I don't see it, other than that they are all things that have been at least momentarily interesting to me. But since it's my blog, I figure it's my prerogative if I want to be writing about everything from technology, to marketing to management to careers.

Another issue for me with topics is getting the right mix of responding to the collective voice and conversation and having my own things to say about something. I suppose there's value in being a blog that is primarily a connector to everything else going on in a particular area, but that's not the blog I want to write. I also know that just following the beat of my own drum isn't necessarily the answer either. I try to pay attention to keeping a balance, although that is also dictated by the time I have available to write something original.

How I Write
This part is a little scary. I've often warned people that they're fortunate that they aren't inside my brain.

Shorter posts are easy, so the "process" tends to kick in more when I'm wrestling with a longer post or more complicated ideas. Usually what happens is that I'll read or hear something and decide I want to write about it. I sit down and start spewing out my thinking directly into Typepad, usually because I'm afraid I'll forget it if I don't get at least something going on.

Pretty soon, I'll have a small book.

I've been told that listening to me when I'm in idea mode is like "drinking from a fire hydrant," so this is the part I definitely try to keep to myself. At this stage, one of three things will happen:

  • Major surgery is required because what I wanted to say didn't actually show up until the last paragraph or two. In that case, I'm cutting, pasting, re-writing and trying to find the core of the idea I was trying to convey. I often write my way to my point, just like I have to create "bad art" in order to get to my best stuff, so it isn't until the end that I finally figure out what I think I'm trying to say.
  • The second option is that I realize that I need to divide a post into a series of shorter posts, so as to not overwhelm people. Sometimes I probably don't realize that until it's too late, but I try to recognize it when I can.
  • And the third thing that can happen is that I either put the post away to come back to later or discard the whole thing. There's a 50% chance that I'll never return to a post when I do this. Sometimes I just get it out of my system and move on. Other times I incorporate the ideas into another post. And sometimes I'll realize that what I was writing was just plain dumb.

One of my major writing issues is that while my thinking is decidedly non-linear (mind maps were made for me), writing is something that has to have a thread. So I really struggle with pulling together the million strands of thought that run through my brain to (hopefully) make a coherent post. I should probably try just doing the mindmapping and posting that--might make more sense to a lot of people.

I'm also always afraid that I have missed some vital piece of information (often I have), but fortunately blogging is forgiving that way because you can always add to it later.

Finding My Voice
This is an area where I've really struggled in maintaining a blog.

Because I've made the conscious decision to blog under my real name, I find that it forces me to more carefully consider what I'm going to say and how I'm going to say it. It's probably a good thing that it's harder to "blurt something out" when you're writing, but that ability to censor means that I also may go overboard the other way.

Vicki Davis writes about the importance of telling the truth and she's very right about that. I try to be authentic in everything I say. But I find that without the cloak of anonymity, I can feel too exposed at times, which causes me to  be overly cautious, compromising my truth and my voice in ways I wish didn't happen.

Balancing "Rests" with "Doing the Work"
I agree with Vicki that it's important to have spaces between posts, time to listen to other people and to reflect. That's usually when I fill in with "easier" posts that link to someone else or don't require a lot of thought to write.

I do try to write every day if I can, though, believing like Julia Cameron and Anne LaMott that it's important to (metaphorically) move the pen across the page for a period of time each day to keep the writing habit going. And if I'm honest, I'll admit that it's a little addictive. I love the freedom to explore my ideas and to share what I write and when I take a break from that, I find that I miss it. Somehow I can't "hear myself think" anymore. So I know I definitely need to do the work every day.

Who's Next?
I'm actually going to go way outside the tech realm and into one of my other areas of passion--the art world. I'm going to tag several artist bloggers to see if their process is somehow different from the tech crowds'. So Christine, Janey, Keri, Misty, and Sarah--you're it.

Comments

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Michelle,

Thanks for taking the time to thoughtfully share your writing process. It is hard to meta reflect and not many people in the nonprofit space take that time. Bravo to you for doing so!

I'm also struck by how much alike we are -- mindmaps were made for me too - I've been called a bookstore and a search engine. Also, some of your writing process is similar to mine.

Thanks for tagging me...i'll be sure to post my process up this weekend!Cheers!

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