The Most Persnickety Writer You Might Know

CC BY, Drew Coffman, Flickr
Drew Coffman, Flickr

Kevin Daniel of The Number Kevin has turned the tables on me by asking “What is your writing process?” as part of a blogroll. As you know, here lately I’m the one asking the questions…this one particularly. Nevertheless, after retracing my writing history—something you don’t care to know—I’m happy to give you a look at how I compose for A ‘Mike’ for Christ.

Whatcha Got, Stephens?

An idea: that’s how it starts—the way it does for most of us. But that idea is produced one of three ways: I’m inspired; I need to work the skill; or I have an opinion.

I prefer inspired writing. My blog is devotional, so usually my content derives from scripture. There’s nothing like being gripped by a verse or spiritual concept. This writing flows easily.

CC BY-NC, Jonathan Kim, Flickr
Jonathan Kim, Flickr

I should probably add that although my blog is devotional, it’s very much the outlet for a serious writing avocation. I write to edify, but I also write to practice writing. I am one who reads books on writing and completes online writing courses. I’m not the best writer, by far, but I take the craft seriously and I’m picky about it. (Ever noticed your comment nipped and tucked?)

When the inspiration faucet isn’t running, I obligate myself to write. Sometimes that’s tough and I have taken time off; but I’ve learned ways to combat the ho-hums. For instance, I will require myself to explore the verse of the day (“Wow! What a Head!”) or I will reimagine or restyle something from Scripture (“The Book of Malchus” and “The Many Faces of Jesus”).

My most creative and most commented posts often spring from these drought seasons. I also like to use magazines—any kind—to jumpstart my mind. My fragrance series…well it was inspired by a Martha Stewart Living!

Opinion pieces are rarer. I hold opinions like everyone else, and I don’t shy away from expressing them. But opinion hardly appears on The ‘Mike’ since my intent is devotional. Plus, I’ve discovered that Christians can be defensive and unloving in their conservatism and prove themselves to be stranded of deep thought on matters. Discussion is always a growth opportunity. Still, this usually means little-to-no current news or hot-button topics…just let Scripture speak.

You, Words—Out of My Head!

CC BY-SA, Ritesh Nayak, Flickr
Ritesh Nayak, Flickr

I may tote ideas around for days or weeks until I know how I wish to approach them. This means I maintain a small stack of ideas and prompts at all times. In-depth Bible study may or may not be part of the process. It depends on what I’m writing and how much I care to say.

Outlining comes next, which can be very formal and has been, usually for large pieces, or it can be chicken-scratched notes of things pouring out of my head.

Then, I talk out what I wish to say—yes, aloud. Call me looney, but that probably helps me most. It pulls everything out of my head and off the memos to be organized verbally. This is the point when I can write, but not without a good hook, or evocative sentence that throws everything into gear. Many posts have been stalled or scrapped because I couldn’t get the first line right.

Man, You’re Picky!

Now the hard but rewarding work begins. The best writing always appears in the revision stage. C’mon, it’s the most creative and enjoyable part of writing! For me this includes extensive dictionary and thesaurus use, copy and content editing, fact-checking, Bible version selection—the whole kit and caboodle. And I must state that writing is as much about “fondling” words and hearing their cadence as it is communicating an idea. Thus, diction is very important.

It’s not uncommon for me to spend full days revising a single post. Yet any lover of words and decent writer will tell you that a composition is never “finished.”

Joan M. Mas, Flickr
Joan M. Mas, Flickr

You write to make it look simple and common, but it’s rewarding when someone notices the skill and effort. Nathaniel Hawthorne says it best: “Easy reading is damn hard writing.”

I try to start the week’s posts on the previous Friday and be done by Sunday afternoon. Ideally, all the major editing should be completed. I write in total silence and by word processor; then I transfer the work to WordPress and start a second phase of revision. I can only guess how many times an article is read and reviewed. Then, having a post scheduled for 12:01 a.m., I watch it go live, reread it and give a final look, and then go to bed.

Blogroll Call-ing

Now it would be nice to learn the writing process of the following writers: J.D. Blom of A Devoted LifeMel Wild of In My Father’s House, and Heather Jenkins of Inside Heather’s Head. Let’s hope they’re reading!

* Read about Heather’s writing process: “Writer in Training”

13 thoughts on “The Most Persnickety Writer You Might Know

  1. Wow. You make my writing look so…unstructured 🙂 Yeah sometimes I anguish over a post for a week, by other times (like today’s post) I banged it out in 15 minutes. Inspired? Maybe. Sometimes when the words come, they _just_come_ you know? In any case, I’d glad you are putting your gift to good God use 🙂

    Bless you!

    • Howdy, Stephen. It’s always good to hear from you. Haha…I think any person who wishes to communicate deep thought will struggle with how best to communicate it–at least they should and not leave room for misunderstanding. Those 15-minute blow-throughs…I love those! Who doesn’t like when mind and spirit are clicking and an edit is hardly needed. Thanks for reading and now to your site!

  2. Do you ever go back and look at early posts? I do sometimes and it proves what you are saying about blogging being practice. It is a great exercise.

    • All the time, Mark–and finding errors is a stab in the heart! 😀 I’m sure you understand everything I mentioned. And since I draw from my own learning experiences sometimes, I reread to glean from the lessons I’ve been taught.

  3. “Then, I talk out what I wish to say—yes, aloud. Call me looney, but that probably helps me most. It pulls everything out of my head and off the memos to be organized verbally.” Amen, I’m with you here, Mike. David talked to his soul, too. Our ears need to hear what our mind is processing. I think it makes a big difference.

    Btw, talking about perfectionism, I don’t know if you knew this, but Leonardo Da Vinci never actually finished the Mona Lisa, the most famous painting in the world! He was commissioned to do the painting but he wasn’t happy with it; so he kept tinkering with it all his life. Now, that’s being picky! 🙂

    As far as process, I’m game. Let me know. But it will have to be in a few days at the earliest. I’m crazy busy right now, but after that I should have some time to think about what I think about. 🙂

    • 1) I imagine that you talk aloud for your sermon preparation and any speeches you might give. It does indeed make a difference. 2) Ah! The dreaded “P” word! I used to be a genuine perfectionist, but the Lord has tamed that pretty much. I think writing is one area where perfectionist tendency lingers; and it makes some sense because there are grammar and composition rules that make writing better in degrees. My goodness–just look at what social media and texting is doing to language! We seem to enjoy like topics: Michelangelo fascinates me. If I could go back in time, I would love to meet him–talk about inspiration! 3) This isn’t anything like “10 Questions”. It’s just you writing your own post as part of the blogroll explaining your writing process and challenging someone else to divulge their methods. I look forward to reading it! Still holding you up in prayer, my friend.

  4. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your writing process. I love that you allow words to simmer and steep, that you respect the process and the Word. Don’t change a thing, Mike, because you are making a difference. 🙂

    • That’s really nice, Heather. Would you be part of this blogroll and tell us your process? I started to include you, but I wasn’t sure how often you got by here. (Please! Please!) Thanks for the comment!

      • I would love to! Do you have a series of questions I should answer or should I just explain the process?
        (I don’t get to visit as often as I would like to…60-hour work weeks are about to do me in!) Thanks, Mike! 🙂

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