I’m adding another ‘thank you‘ to Jamie’s to those of you who participated in the recent NHWN poll. Great feedback.
Onward! In April, I wrote about a 24-hour short story contest I find to be fun, stressful, inspiring, challenging, entertaining, and a great exercise for my muse. Do you see the ups and downs in that last sentence? I have a lot of emotions when writing for a contest, assignment, or a client. And I like that. If I didn’t have a mix of emotions, then I’d take that as a sign I’m too comfortable. Growth comes from pushing into the ‘uncomfy zone,’ not from the same ol’ same ol’.
With the next rendition of the contest coming this Saturday, and based on survey feedback, I thought I’d delve into some tips for writing a story or article with a deadline of a day or less.
These tips can also be applied to blog posts, interviews, and more.
- Know the assignment. If it’s a contest, be familiar with the rules. If it’s a client project, make sure you’re clear on the deliverable. If it’s an article, blog post, or interview, know the key points to be covered.
- Write out initial thoughts – brainstorm. Turn off your internal editor (easier said than done sometimes, I know) and start freewriting ideas. Make lists, mindmap, scribble, draw, whatever it takes to get initial ideas downloaded from your brain. Use a timer, or write until you run dry, whatever works best. For me, a timer keeps the internal editor from speaking too loudly.
- Step away. Turn the paper over, minimize the window, close the laptop, walk away from your desk, or close your eyes. I find it helpful to change gears completely and go for a walk, have a snack, listen to music, read e-mail, or anything that doesn’t relate to the project. The mind is still turning ideas over, and likes to do so when you aren’t paying close attention.
- Come back with fresh eyes. Read through your notes. Highlight the items from your brainstorming that catch your eye and cross off the ideas that are too typical. What else leaps to mind now? What strikes you as interesting, original, or fun? Shift perspectives — if you’re the reader, which of the items, which focus/approach, would be most interesting or refreshing?
- Pick one idea. Yes, just one. Which one floats to the top of the list? Start with that one. (You can always go back to the list later if you need to.)
- Free write. Write on that one topic you’ve just chosen without worrying about what you don’t have. Assignments can need research, quotes, pictures, or other background material. Don’t worry about that now. Write your story/article/blog post with what you know at the moment. You’ll know where you need to insert details later. Leave a blank line, capital letters (XXX), or symbols (???), if you need to. Most important, is that you write without worrying about spelling or word count.
- Repeat step 3.
- Write your second draft. You know the topic now; your muse is partnering with you to get the story written. Fill in the blanks.
- Repeat step 3. A great time for a treat because you’re almost done.
- Read with an editor’s eye. Clean up the grammar and punctuation. Get within your word count. Give your story / article / assignment a nice polish.
- Sleep on it. Similar to step 3, but, it’s the final stretch. The words are on the page and fulfill the guidelines. You have time to relax and let the piece simmer.
- Make final revisions and submit before your deadline.
And my favorite step — 13. Celebrate the milestone. I do the “whoot whoot” and fist pump the air and/or do a happy dance. It’s a great feeling knowing a task / assignment / contest entry / what-have-you has been completed and submitted.
It’s like using the fine china or crystal today instead of waiting for “a special event”. Celebrate the moment, the accomplishment. The piece didn’t exist in any form 24 hours (or less) ago, and now it’s done, dusted, and submitted.
Now for the next project!
If you have specific questions, please ask.
Lisa J. Jackson is a self-employed writer and editor. She loves writing about NH people, places, and activities. She writes fiction as Lisa Haselton, has an award-winning blog for book reviews and author interviews, and is on the staff of The Writer’s Chatroom where she gets to network with writing professionals on a weekly basis. You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Biznik.