Work in Progress #2: To Write or Not to Write

CNW Bagel ShopI mentioned in my last blog that I would talk about when to stop researching and start writing. The truth is, I’ve already started writing…but only sort of.

I’ve found it really helps to get the first three chapters of a piece down as quickly as possible. So, as soon as I’ve read four or five key books on my topic, I break the material down into what I think the chapters will be and a write as much as I can. For some reason, I tend to get bogged down at chapter 4 or so because it’s at around that point that it becomes clear what kind of targeted research I’ll need to do, both for the chapters to come and for the ones I’ve written.

Getting those first few chapters down early on (even though it may be months or even years before I get back to writing the rest of the book) helps me in a number of ways. First, it establishes the tone of the piece, which may well change as I revise. But it’s comforting to know I’ve at least found words and a voice and a sort of authorial personality that work for the present.

Also, it’s pretty scary to do years of research without ever writing a word. The longer I wait to write, the more panicked I start to feel: What if I can’t find a way to turn all these interesting facts into a story? What if I’ve done all this research for nothing? So the beginning chapters tend to calm me down.

I said that these first few chapters are only “sort of” writing. That’s because it’s only when I come back with most of the research done that I really start writing in earnest. “Writing in earnest” is a process that includes an extra step, which I’ll talk about in the next installment.

Work in Progress Posts

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