All Things Writing

The Craft of Writing

Finding the Way In 01

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Scarecrow 01Call it the angle. Call it the clothesline that will support your information. Call it whatever you want. It’s the organizing idea of a piece of writing. I call it finding the way in and to me, it’s the most difficult part of writing. To be honest, there are times when I just can’t find it. I can live with that. At least I can until I see an article on a topic I wanted to write about. Suddenly the way in is so obvious! Even if it’s not a way I would have chosen, I can see that it works. And the worst part of that moment is that at least five other ways flash into my mind in what can only be called a bleem. If you’re a writer, you’ve surely had this disheartening experience.

Take chili peppers. I saw a cooking show that had the contestants use chili peppers that ranged from the low end to the high end of the Scoville scale. I was instantly alert. Here was an excellent science story! I could feel it. I began researching, aka “reporting.” I looked into where the peppers are grown. I looked into festivals and events that focused on the chili pepper. I investigated Scoville and the use of the Scoville scale. I identified famous chili people. In short, I did a wonderful and thorough job of background reporting and when I was done I had – nothing, nada, zilch, nothing. Just a handful of note cards and a head full of information that I am now trying to purge. Yes. Purge. Because I recently read a wonderful piece about chili peppers.

The way in? The search for the hottest chili. Elegant. Effective. An excellent way in to everything I had researched. The only problem with it? The piece was not written by me. I was still trying to find the way in. If this were the first time this had happened, I could have shrugged it off. But it is the fourth time this has happened. How was it that this other writer had been able to come up with the way in while I was still sitting here mulling it over?

I’m sorry to say that I next resorted to sulking – and I do mean sulking. In fact, I sulked for the rest of the week. While sulking, I entertained some uncharitable thoughts, too. Maybe the other writer had an editor or writing group to bounce things off. (Sounded like sour grapes to me, too.) Maybe the other writer was just oh-so-lucky. (Even sulking, I recognized that was a ridiculous thought.) Maybe the other writer had better training as a writer and had learned a process along the way that I had not. (If so, so what? It had been earned.)

All this sulking was making me not like myself very much. I was feeling more like a disgruntled child than a professional science writer. Clearly it was time to give the pity party a rest, get rid of the tiny violin, and use my energy for the power of good…

to be continued

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