Diary of an Article – a Day-by-Day Look Inside the Process: Part 1

Hi Everyone,

I thought I’d do something a little different with this post. I usually focus on how my reading, daily walks, and subsequent thoughts inspire what I write. But this time I thought I’d offer an insider view on the writing part. More on that below, but first an explanation and apology are required.

I have left this blog dormant for far too many weeks, because of some circumstances beyond my control at first, and then because I got involved in projects related to those circumstances and let myself stay out of the habit of keeping this blog active.

In fact, I was going to make this post about that very subject. One of the major good and bad parts of being self-employed is that you get to decide, more-or-less, how you spend your time. The good part of that is you have the flexibility to take time off when life requires it, or when something else too good to pass up, like extra time with friends and family, comes along.

The bad part is of course the same. Not having anyone tell you what to do with your time can mean that you let everything become an excuse for not doing the work.

In fact, the subject of this post changed because of one of those opportunities that came along unexpectedly. But I’ve decided that instead of making it another reason to delay updating this blog, I’d make it the subject of my post instead.

So here’s how I went about developing a new article assignment, starting with the usual steps of brainstorming, doubt, research, drafting and polishing.

Day 1 – Monday: Received an unexpected email, just before dinnertime, from a magazine offering me an article assignment I’d proposed months ago, and had just about given up on.

Great news and a nice surprise! But they wanted something a little different from what I’d proposed, and I wasn’t sure exactly what they wanted. Also, though they said they’d extend the deadline if my schedule required it, if possible they’d like the completed article in two weeks. Panic time?

I e-mailed the editor back, telling her I was glad to accept the assignment, and would try to work with her timing, but would prefer 3-4 weeks if possible. I also asked for clarification on what the article should include.

Other than that, I left it alone and went on with dinner and my evening, but in the background started brainstorming how I could approach the subject of the article, and who I could approach for a second interview, since the editor didn’t want it to be all about the one person I’d already interviewed.

Day 2 – Tuesday: Received a reply, saying that up to 4 weeks (September 24) would be fine (though a little sooner would be even better), and providing a little more clarity on what I would be writing about, and the audience it should be tailored to.

I answered, thanking her for the extra time and the information, said I’d try for sooner than 4 weeks, and shared some of my ideas from last night’s and this morning’s brainstorming, asking what she thought.

Re-read the magazine’s writer’s guidelines. Read several articles from the magazine’s current issue, and printed one from the department I’ll be writing for.

Day 3 – Wednesday: I had other obligations that kept me busy most of the day, but I’d promised myself I’d try to do something almost every day, no matter how small, until the article is finished. So in the evening I read some more back issues of the magazine and printed out a few articles that seemed most relevant.

Day 4 – Thursday: Did some brainstorming on my walk, and formed a rudimentary title and idea for a possible ‘angle’ for my article.

Later, I read the articles I’d printed out, analyzing the only two I’d found from the section I’ll be writing for, which seems to be new.

Finally, I started a document to record my working title and a few really rough notes. Not really a draft or even an outline yet, just a starting point. Still feeling lost, but I have more direction and clarity than I did four days ago, and a better idea of the magazine’s style and format.

I have no idea if my article will even remotely resemble my current beginning, but I always feel a little happier when there is something on the page. A start, however small.

Day 5 – Friday: Took the day off from the article. My brain didn’t get the memo though. Kept thinking (worrying?) about how to approach this. No brilliant insights, but I’m hoping that ideas are simmering beneath the surface and will be accessible when I need them.

Day 6 — Saturday: Re-read my notes from the interview I’d already done. I read and underlined and hoped great ideas would jump out at me.

I’m afraid that soon I’ll run out of things to read, and have to actually figure out what to write.

Day 7 – Sunday: Briefly faced the skeleton of a first draft I’d started, and fleshed it out a little. It will take a lot of re-working to turn it into an actual article, but it feels good to have more words on the page, and I tend to develop ideas as I write.

Day 8 — Monday: Finally received a response to an email I’d sent the editor a few days ago, making some suggestions for how to proceed with the article. She reminded me of the word limit, and so reined in the scope of what I was trying to do a little. That’s great, because now I don’t have to do another interview, and I have a still better idea of what she expects.

In a sense, she kept me from making too much work for myself, and eventually for her, if she had to make cuts later. Smart editor.

I added a few more rough lines to my very rough draft and printed it out. Maybe tomorrow I will work on it away from the computer. Reading a print copy, and writing a little by hand, can be a good way to get a fresh perspective and slow down a little.

What I have is still very rough, but I’m starting to see the possibility of an actual article eventually taking shape. Sometimes limits – in words, in time, in scope – can be helpful, narrowing too many possibilities into something more tangible.

Day 9 — Tuesday: Read a few pages from the book written by the person I interviewed, took notes, and started planning some tips I can use for the article.

Since today is Tuesday, and I didn’t want to let another Tuesday go by without posting on this blog, this saga will have to be continued.

Please let me know if you liked this and would like to see the rest of the story next time.