Resin Heroes

My writing process – 10 years in

Each year I write 24 columns for The Fort Wayne Reader along with a handful of other longer pieces that I post to my site. Since I know the publishing schedule of the Reader throughout the year I can plan ahead. I write most of my stuff in WordPress which is the CMS for my website. In the CMS I have a page setup that lists all the dates the Reader hits the stands and I plan on what I’m going to write around these dates. Like this year the movie Man of Steel was released in theaters June 14, so when I was planning on what to write I took note of that date and scheduled a column on Superman for June 7.

As the year progresses more and more dates are filled in. These slots aren’t always permanent, sometimes I’ll schedule a topic months in advance but end up writing about something else if things change. For example, I was originally going to write about the movie Riddick back in early September and had that date scheduled on my calendar for some time. But after I had an interesting experience selling some comics on eBay I wanted to write about that instead and Riddick got bumped.

With the calendar I’ll also figure on things I’d like to write about but don’t have a specific date on when to write them. I currently have things jotted down like “Planet of the Apes movies” since there’s a new one of those coming in 2014, “the need for a trilogy?” as in why do movie series HAVE to come in threes and “Parker comic books” since I dig those. But if I’ll actually write anything about those topics is anyone’s guess but they’re all a possibility.

Here’s how the schedule for early 2014 is shaping up:

  • 1/18 – The Americans?
  • 2/1 – ?
  • 2/15 – Summer movie preview ++
  • 3/1 –  Hannibal?

“?” in my notes means that the topic is still tentative, but the dates coincide when the new seasons of The Americans and Hannibal premiers so they work. The “++” means I’m definitely going to write about this topic but I haven’t written anything yet. Or, more precisely, I haven’t written enough about it to make me feel comfortable that the writing process is over and the editing has begun.

As I write this I have four columns all in various states of completion. The way the due dates for my columns work is that I need to send them in two weeks before they’re published. So, my The X-Files column was published on a Friday and the next column was due the following Monday.

Here’s how the next four columns are shaping up:

  • 10/4 – “The Online TV Revolution”:  This column won’t see publication until early October, but I first wrote down the idea for it in early August and also jotted down some basic notes for it then too. I see that there are about a dozen revisions to this column before I got this one in a good place and got down to basic editing and word choices.
  • 10/18 – “HALLOWEEN Maximum Overdrive”: I started planning for this column back in July. This one was actually an easy to write once I settled on the idea that Maximum Overdrive is actually a nearly great movie. There were only around five major revisions before I got this one in a good place. Part of my process too is sitting on nearly finished pieces for a few weeks so I can reread with fresh eyes, so who knows what I’ll think of this one next week when I read it?
  • 11/1 – “Ender’s Hunger Games”: Right now I’ve got about three major edits to this one but since it doesn’t print for a while it may change greatly between now and then.
  • 11/15 – “Doctor Who”: Since this one has to do with the Doctor Who anniversary I’ve been planning on writing something about it since last winter and actually started writing it last summer. Unfortunately, since much of what I wrote was about the new Doctor’s all being relatively young I had to rewrite much of what I’d already written once a new, older, Doctor was chosen as the lead earlier this summer. While this doesn’t print for nearly two months as I write this, I think it’s in a good place and I don’t foresee any major changes to it between now and then.

The actual writing process

I don’t write as much as I rewrite. Usually, I write columns in one one of three ways:

  1. I write the bloody thing starting at the beginning and ending at the end in one go. I can usually only do this with a topic that I’m really jazzed about or know a lot about it.
  2. I start in the middle of the article, write for a bit, figure out what I’m really writing about, write the introduction and go back and finish. This is the way I write most of my longer stuff. I find it easy to get something on paper and work out my ideas that way. There’s usually a lot of changes when I write this way and a lot of what I write gets cut out but this technique works for me.
  3. I start writing on a topic and keep writing and writing until I find some way into the material and go from there. Usually, 3/4ths of what I’ve written this way ends up getting tossed since I’m literally writing just about anything that comes to my head towards a theme and there’s no rhyme or reason or order to it all.

And with all of these techniques, I’ll write and write until I get all my ideas down and then shape this into one coherent article. Then, as said, I’ll file it away for a few weeks. This works best for me in editing to catch weird phrases, long sentences and, what I do a lot when writing, clean up when I use the same words over and over again. (I noticed above I say “write” a lot but I’m not sure there’s any better word so I left it.)

When I get to editing pieces usually the structure is sound so there’s not a lot of moving things around at this point. Generally, I’ll go through the column several times the week before it’s due and will clean it up more and more with each successive pass. Finally, I give it one last look and send it off the weekend it’s due.

If I could change anything about my writing process…

While I don’t think my process is perfect it does work for me, but I do wonder if I changed some of my process if what I wrote would turn out any better? Sometimes I think how I write is too dry and technical, and that maybe my process of writing then editing and editing and then editing some more is where all this dryness comes from? I wonder if maybe I adopted a more conversational style and edited less if what I write would be better?

I wonder too if I made things funnier if they’d be better? But my big worry is that the dreaded “snark” monster would rear it’s ugly head in my writing. The art of snark is done right by a very few but is practiced by millions of devotes who seemingly hate pop culture in general and snark over everything and I don’t want to be one of them.

But honestly, when I go back and re-read columns that I’ve written years ago, barring the early ones, I really can’t tell which ones took a long time to write or which ones came easy and were done in 30 minutes. Some of these columns I like and some I don’t care for and I’m not sure that realistically there’s anything I could easily do in my writing process to change any of that.