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I have this approach to writing that could be viewed as nonproductive. When I worked in daily newspapers and came back from reporting a story, I would often talk it through with colleagues--telling the story helped me to figure out how to write it. Inevitably, the most interesting and crucial pieces to the story became evident in the verbal recitation. I could then sit down at the keyboard and rattle it out in plenty of time for that day's deadline.

Obviously I couldn't do this all the time, but when I did, I found the writing flowed more easily after having verbalized the key points with someone who often prompted fresh realizations and/or potential approaches. It wasn't unusual to be recounting something I was not really that focused on only to have a colleague say, "Well, there's your lead."

This kind of rehashing isn't feasible in my current environment. So I come back from an event or a meeting with a client, my head full of facts and my notebook filled with quotes, but no fellow writers with whom to bounce the story around.
 
So I:
1) Go through my notes with a highlighter.
2) Stare at the screen.
3) Draft a lead that I immediate erase.
4) Get a cup of coffee.
5) Go through the notes again. Organize collateral material.
6) Try a new lead. Erase it.
7) Play a game of solitaire.
8) Write the first five paragraphs in a burst of inspiration.
9) Stare at the screen some more.
10) Do a forced march through the rest of the story, knowing I will come back to it in the morning and revise, revise, revise.

Fortunately I'm a fast writer and my assignments don't back up due to this round-about approach. But I'm curious what others do to jump-start their writing assignments. Maybe some of you are lucky enough to have other writers/editors with whom to jawbone the story. Others may have certain little tricks to get things moving on the screen that you'd be willing to share.

I just know that when I tell a co-worker who wanders into my office that a game of solitaire is sometimes what I need to loosen my brain for writing, he or she is bound to give me that look that says, "Sure, you slacker."

2 Comments

It helps me to write the middle bit first, sometimes with the help of a hand-sketched mind map.
The lede is the hardest, and it usually comes out of that conversation you describe (whether with someone else or just myself) that helps me to decide "what is the point of the whole thing?"
The ending comes last, and by that point, is relatively easy.

I had several colleagues in the newsroom who could do this but whenever I've tried it, it slows me down even more--maybe I'm too linear? I do know it works for a lot of people.
BTW, love your old-school j-spelling of "lede." I no longer use the term "graph" because people think I'm talking about an actual graph, not a paragraph. Also, no one any longer seems to know the term "cutline."

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