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Write That Down! Compulsively Collecting Content for Your Writing
Have you ever read someone else’s writing and thought one of the following things:
The answer is: content.
Written, content is king. (Duh, right?) But every book, article, report, manual, sermon, lecture, poem, even bathroom stall graffiti has this one thing in common. The content is well written. But one important step that many writers fail to address is the compelling collection of content.
Everything you write has the potential to be spicier, funnier, smarter, more interesting and more relevant. And the steps you need to take to make it happen are as follows:
1) Open your eyes and ears
2) Write it down
3) Write it down
4) Develop your own system
In this article, I’ll walk you through this process using one of my favorite pieces of content as an example.
Step 1: Open your eyes and ears
April 4th, 2004: The anniversary of Martin Luther King’s death, the day my friend Drew ran the St. Louis Marathon, and the day I came to the conclusion that Americans are the most impatient people in the world.
After the race I took Drew out to lunch to celebrate his incredible achievement. We finished our meal at The Pasta House at the Galleria and headed to the parking lot. A few spaces down from my car in the vacant lot I found a tattered, torn box. God I hate garbage.
“One second Drew; I’ll be right back…”
I looked closer. A plastic bag that read Kay-Bee Toys gently brushed against my jeans like a suburban tumbleweed. Leaving a credit card receipt and canceled instructions for a toy truck on the sidewalk.
I picked up the receipt and noted the date and time of purchase: April 4, 2004. 11:56 AM.
My watch reads 1:41 PM
Unbelievable. What I hate more than garbage is impatience.
Well, this is one of my favorite images that I have used in various writings/speeches before. Now, that wasn’t the whole story. And I’m sure based on that incident, I could have used other metaphors or taken a different angle on trash. But I chose impatience. Because impatience kills me! However, the only reason I am still able to share that experience is because I followed the first step, which was to open my eyes and ears.
I could easily get in my car and take Drew home. But I noticed that big, colorful pile of trash, and had to go there.
Do you ever notice, hear, smell, see or feel such things? Have people walked by with phrases stuck in your head? well That means you have the writer’s ear. And the next time it happens, don’t walk away. Be curious. Don’t be dirty, but take an interest to the point where you can discover some valuable content.
Step 2: Write it down
Then, you must capture it. This is the part where many writers fail, perhaps because they are not prepared with content capturing tools If you’re a writer and you don’t always have a pen, paper, notebook, journal, camera, tape recorder, or charcoal rubbing sheet with you, you’re missing out on some great content. In fact, I can’t think of a single possession more valuable to my successful content collection than my pen and notepad. It’s leather, the size of a business card holder, and I can’t go anywhere without it. ever And I can whip it out and be ready to write in less than three seconds, unlike a cowboy’s gun or a guitar player’s pick.
A notepad like this is easy to find at any luggage store. They cost about 15 rupees. Or, if you’re more of a journal person, great! But whatever content capturing tool you use, make sure it’s always easily accessible in your car, bag, office or on your person – because you never know when inspiration might strike. The whole point is; You don’t want to find yourself saying, “I wish I had written that down!”
Now, you don’t have to write much. All you have to do is record a few sentences that explain what happened. You are free to write some details as well, but focus more on capturing as opposed to creating. This will come in handy when you look at your notes later. And do it fast. If possible, write it down as it happens. This is why you should always have your capturing equipment ready. Because names, jokes, and phone numbers aren’t as forgettable, content is something the mind easily displaces.
Step 3: Write it down
Next is the fun part: transferring a valuable story, anecdote, moment, experience, smell, sound or conversation into a useful content. At the end of the day (or week), reread your notes. If you’re like me and feel like a monkey trying to write the Hebrew alphabet, this process can take a few minutes. Still, looking back at what you wrote will bring the experience back to life. And then it’s time to write.
Start a new document on the computer, or grab a blank piece of paper if you prefer the “old fashioned way”. Enter that specific part of the content. Look for themes, lessons, big pictures, connections, and symbols in your experience so that it would be suitable for a book, article, or lecture.
For example, the story you read about the box of discarded toys was written about a year ago in my seven journals. In fact, the exact phrase I read on the page is:
“4/4/04 – Toy Truck… Impatience… Galleria lunch with Drew.”
To give you an idea of how this process comes full circle:
1) Just now, I browsed through my journal…
2) Saw that story about the trash…
3) and decided to include it in this article.
Step 4: Develop your own system
The great thing about compulsively collecting content is when you start searching for it and when you start recording it, it shows up everywhere. Unusual, unexpected, interesting and different writing ideas will magnetize you!
I started taking this whole “content thing” seriously in 2004. I was working on a new book and I wanted to use lots of great stories, illustrations and examples to back up my ideas. So I developed a system. And this is the last step of the process.
Here’s what I do. It may not work for everyone, but perhaps building such a system will spark some ideas for yourself. It has several components:
All technical terms aside, I think there are two main differences between “people who write” and “who are writers”:
Those who write…must have natural writing skills, creative ideas, excellent grammar, unique style and tone, and a passion for the pen.
Writers who… have everything from the last paragraph and the awareness to keep their eyes and ears open for great content, the readiness to capture that content, the discipline to transfer that content to writing, and the organization to create their own systems that turn thoughts into things.
who are you
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