Most professional women who work in a knowledge economy are creators. Their companies often require a wide range of articles, from technical pieces to opinions to promotional offers. But unlike physical goods that have a well-defined nature, the definition of a well-written article is subjective. A colleague may find an article terrible and lacking in substance while a boss may find the same article hitting all the requirements she wants. So some women, in the need to produce a well-written article, tend to rewrite one article repeatedly to meet their expectations of the perfect article.
But overworking an article has several downsides. First, the additional time on one article could be spent on getting another work product started. Overworking naturally leads to reduced output. Secondly, overworking to perfection is trying to hit a target that could never be achieved. Every time you reread, you will find new things to fix.
So, how can you tell when you are done with an article?
An article is done when someone else says it is good enough. You will never reach perfection because ultimately it is the consumer who can tell you if the article was good. Only the target consumer can say if you pitched the article right to their stage of life or to their pain problem and whether the article has helped them solve their problem.
So as a professional, your job is to finish writing a good enough article. Your job is to produce and release the article to get feedback on the parts that need fixing. Now is not the time for you to worry about your writing style. As you practice the craft of writing, your style of writing will get better.
Having a writing process in place will get you to good enough. You need to discover your own writing process. But, if you don’t have one already, I briefly describe my own writing process here. I know I produce a good enough article when I follow the steps of my writing process.
Stage 1 of the writing process: pre-writing via free writing
Usually, I have to create my own articles for my job. Articles are not assigned to me. Instead, I assign them to myself (yes, we all play multiple roles). Because I don’t usually have a well-defined brief, I start with the topic of the article and the potential message I need to get across.
Most times I don’t know what the message should be. So, I take the topic and brainstorm multiple ideas around it and I also consider the target audience.
I might produce a mind map first. But, most of my more-defined ideas are born from freewriting.
I use pen and paper to free write. That is just how my brain works but you can use any digital note taking app to free write.
I start with one idea and brain dump what I know about that idea by writing in full sentences. No bullet points. Writing in full sentences helps me to see what exactly I know about the topic.
If I get stuck, I move on to freewriting on another idea.
Freewriting on multiple ideas often leads to a connection between the ideas or a slightly different angle to the same topic.
Once I have an angle, I research to check if anyone else has spoken about it previously.
Stage 1 of the writing process cont’d – pre-writing via research
The research I do comprise two parts.
The first is on what the target audience is searching for. I collate the keywords and the volume search into my outline document. As I said, I’m a pen and paper gal for the first stage of the writing process but I suggest you keep keywords and volume searches in a digital document for reference for a future article. But, my brain works with pen and paper in the early stages of putting an article together so I tend to stick with these tools.
The second part of the research is researching the topic itself. I check for definitions, get some information from authoritative sites or use Google Scholar to check for scientific articles. n addition, I review the table of contents of relevant books on Amazon and may even purchase a few. I constrain myself to at most 3 of each of these sources because research can get unwieldy and too time-consuming. Also, I collate the bits and pieces of information into a Google document.
By the end of this research process, I would have confirmed the message for the article and the outlet to send it to.
Stage 1 of the writing process cont’d – outlining
With the main message on hand and the eventual publication outlet for the article, I typically spend an hour or so outlining the article.
I’m old school so I structure the article into an introduction, the main points for the body, the pieces of evidence for the body main points, and the main points for the conclusion.
Outlining helps me to play around with the structure to ensure there is a logical progression from one section to another.
I also insert the bits and pieces of information from the research into the outline.
My outline is the product at the end of stage 1.
Stage 2 of the writing process – drafting
Once I have the outline, I can sit down in one session of 60 – 90 minutes to write a draft of the article.
I write as fast as I can, dumping the words from my head into the outline.
I write my thoughts sequentially starting from the beginning of the outline because I mess with the logical flow of the article when I jump around from one place to another. This is in spite of having sorted out the logical progression with an outline.
If I need to get statistics or do additional research, I put placeholders for this information. Examples of this are [REF] which means I need to get the appropriate reference and ‘…GDP’ which means fill in the GDP information for a country.
I don’t stop to look up any information. I did this in the past but found research while drafting slowed my progress to getting to a first draft.
At the end of stage 2 of the writing process I know I will have a complete draft of the article.
A complete draft helps me to fine-tune the message of the article which I do in stage 3, rewriting.
Stage 3 of the writing process – revise message and research
Yes, I have two steps for research in my writing process.
My first research stage is not exhaustive but gives me a general feel of what people are saying about the topic and idea. The first research stage helps me to produce an outline and a draft of the article.
The second research stage is to refine my message for the audience of the publication outlet and fill in specific information I need for the article.
First, I read over the conclusion of the draft. I have noticed that by the time I get to the end, my message may have slightly changed. So I refine the message in the conclusion and then return to the start of the draft. As I reread from the beginning I may include sentences to flesh out the evidence supporting my main message. I also rewrite to align the article toward the refined main message.
Because the second stage deals with specific information, it is also not exhaustive. Once I find the relevant information, I double-check with another source (if possible). If I can’t get another source, I judge whether the first source is a reliable source. Of course, I may link to opinion pieces so those don’t need extensive double-checking.
Stage 3 of the writing process – rewrite
Now that I have all information for the article, I rewrite the article for clarity and a bit for style. My background is in physics, not journalism or creative writing. So, I rewrite for clarity and if the piece requires emotion, I try to choose more appropriate verbs. I don’t always provide extensive descriptions of a particular situation or too many emotions. As I learn the craft, I will practice including other elements to improve my writing style. I also don’t obsess too much about style because editors of publication outlets might suggest changes to the article so that the article is relevant to their readership.
Because I create an outline upfront, I tend to not have to make any changes regarding structure. If you don’t use an outline, you may find you will have to move around paragraphs and sentences during the rewrite stage to improve the logical flow.
Stage 4 – final read over and edits
After the rewrite, I leave the article for a few hours or a few days. If the article is between 3000 and 10000 words, I let it rest for 1-2 days to forget what I wrote. When I’m reading over the article and editing it, I need a fresh mind to quickly identify any errors.
I read the article out loud and fix grammar, spelling and punctuation as I go along. Also, I search for words I tend to overuse or misuse and find suitable replacements.
If the article is short, stages 3 and 4 might meld together in that I will first fill in gaps then rewrite the article. Usually, I keep the stages separate to focus my mind on one part of the process at a time.
Stage 5 – release for feedback
Once I’m done with an article for my job, I write a brief note to my boss or colleagues and I explicitly invite their feedback. I might source photos or design some figures for the article and insert them before sending the article for feedback.
If I am submitting to magazines or scientific journals, I write a submission letter. In the letter, I attempt to persuade the editor why my article is suited for their publication. This submission is the end of my writing process. The other steps are related to persisting with getting the article published.
Sometimes my articles are rejected. I get a bit depressed when this happens. But, a little distance from the article helps. I give myself one day to recover from the sting of rejection and remind myself that maybe the publication outlet was not the right home for the article. The next day I work on resubmitting the same article to another outlet. I may do a rewrite to align the article as close as possible to the publication outlet’s guidelines. Most times, I do this within 24-48 hours of being rejected.
Once the article is accepted, I use the feedback from the editors to quickly make corrections. I stop work on my current article if I have to. Finally I resubmit the article for publication and may work with a line editor to refine parts.
A writing process gets you to good enough to release
The next time you think you are likely to try to perfect an article, use a writing process. A writing process helps you to create an article of sufficient quality and it prevents you from reworking an article extensively. Also, it gives you an end-point for your article where you can stop and release it.
The benefit of releasing and getting feedback is that any further adjustments will be to improve the article for a specific outlet.
You need feedback to improve the article. So trying to improve beforehand will lead to wasted time and effort.
You can invest the saved time and effort into another article or project.