One of the questions I get asked is how I manage to write so much, given my small amount of free time. I do have a job that keeps me busy, yet I am prolific and intent on learning how to become the best writer I can be. When I am not working, I write speeches, stories, and blogs.
My readers know I recently spent three days learning to write better, by attending the ArmadilloCon writer’s workshop. Each student (including me) had submitted up to 5000 words of unpublished material, which we looked over and attempted to come up with suggestions for improvement. Professional writers likewise did the same for the students. Moreover, there were many panels and discussions on how to write, the business end of the profession, and related topics.
Why would I do this? Why would I spend three days on self-improvement?
The answer should be obvious: my name is not Asimov, Shakespear, Dickens, or Faulkner. I know I have much to learn, and I wish to improve. I have been writing since high school, but only started seriously attempting to improve my communication skills, five and a half years ago. It was then that I joined Toastmasters International, an organization focused primarily on speaking, but communication is communication. I have improved from a speech every 2 months to being able to do 68 last year. Moreover, I have brought home some trophies. And before you say “But that is only oral”, please consider that each of those speeches is a thousand words written before I ever deliver them orally. So for over five years, I have been improving my *writing* skills by scribing original speeches on diverse topics in different formats. One piece of advice during the workshop was “to learn to write, write a lot.” I am proud to say, I am already doing that.
So what do I write about? How do I get ideas?
I have written a blog on this (http://d25toastermasters.blogspot.com/2011/11/how-i-select-speech-topic.html)
but the short answer is that I keep a list, and every time I think of something that might be worth writing about, I jot it down. That can be a nifty subject, a creative title to use, or just a project type needing to be done. Eventually I flesh out the items in the list, adding thoughts, and when I need something to write, I look over it. There is always something for which I can say “yes, I can do that this week.” Moreover, it reminds me of the things that I need to research for future weeks. OK, so I have a topic, how do I write it?
For a short work, an exposition works best. Take a look at the topic, think of an odd number of points you wish to make (3 or 5). Write out each point as a paragraph. Then go back to the start and write the topic paragraph introducing them. Append a conclusion to the end.
Longer works are variations on the same theme. Figure out what you want to say, write the middle, write the beginning to lead into the middle, and then write the conclusion. It varies a little with the kind of thing you are writing, but not much.
But how do you focus and get it done?
Music is a great thing, and these days, I can find albums on the internet. An hour-long album or concert allows me to focus on what I am doing, stimulates ideas, and allows me to type a thousand words without break. Fortunately, I have diverse and eclectic tastes: I can find new things I like.
And that is how I have written 5,450 words of new material, this week.