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Write That Down! Compulsively Collecting Content for Your Writing
You’ve read someone else’s posts and thought one of these things:
The answer: content.
In writing, content is KING. (Duh, right?) But every book, article, report, book, lecture, speech, poem, even bathroom graffiti, is one thing. Content is the stuff that is worth writing about. But the most important thing that most writers cannot achieve is a strong collection of content.
Everything you write will be more expressive, fun, witty, interesting and meaningful. And the steps you should take 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 take you through this process using one of my favorite pieces as an example.
STEP 1: Open your eyes and ears
April 4, 2004: the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s death, the day my friend Drew ran the St. John’s Marathon. Louis, and the day I came to the conclusion that Americans are the most patient people on Earth.
After the race I took Drew out to lunch to celebrate his amazing performance. We finished our meal at the Galleria Bar and headed out to the parking lot. In the empty lot a few blocks down from my car I saw a broken and damaged box. God, I hate dirt.
“It’s time Drew; I’ll be right back…”
I walked over to take a closer look. A plastic bag that reads Kay-Bee Toys slowly creeps up my jeans like tumbleweed in the city. On the platform was placed a credit card receipt and canceled instructions for the toy truck.
I got the receipt and wrote down the date and time of purchase: April 4, 2004. 11:56 AM.
My watch read 1:41 PM.
Believe. The only thing I hate more than dirt is patience.
Well, this is one of my favorite images that I’ve used in any type of writing/speech before. Now, that’s not the whole story. And I know that based on that incident, I can use other metaphors, take a different angle on the dirt. But I chose patience. Because I’m dying of patience! The only reason I’m still able to share that experience is because I took the first step, which is to open my eyes and ears.
I was able to get in my car and take Drew home. But I saw that big, colorful pile of dirt and just had to go there.
Do you see, hear, smell, see or experience anything like this? Have people walked by and said phrases that stuck in your head? Good. It means you have a writer’s ear. And when it happens, don’t go away. Be curious. Don’t sniff, but pay close attention to where you can find important things.
STEP 2: Write it down
So, you MUST catch it. This is the part where many writers fail, maybe because they don’t have the same content capture tools. If you’re a writer and you don’t keep a pen, paper, notebook, journal, camera, tape recorder, or carbon paper with you at all times, you’re missing out on something great. In fact, I can’t think of a single item that has contributed more to the successful collection of my content than my pen and notepad. It’s leather, the size of a business card holder, and I don’t go anywhere without it. Again. And I can whip it up and be ready to write in less than three seconds, unlike a cowboy’s gun or a guitar player’s jacket.
A notepad is easy to find like any luggage store. It costs about 15 dollars. Or, if you’re a journal person, great! But whatever content capture device you use, make sure it’s easily accessible in your car, wallet, office, or on your person at all times — because it’s not you know when the spirit will strike. The whole point; you don’t want to be found saying, “I wish I had written that!”
Now, you don’t need to write much. All you have to do is write a few sentences explaining what happened. You are free to write some information, but focus more on capturing rather than creating. This will come in handy when you look at your notes later. Act quickly. If possible, write down when something happens. This is why you should always have your hunting gear ready to go. Because unlike forgetting names, jokes and phone numbers, content is an easy thing to change the mind.
STEP 3: Write it out
Next comes the fun part: transferring an important story, story, time, experience, smell, sound, or conversation into a useful piece. At the end of the day (or week), read your notes again. If you’re like me and feel like you’re writing like a monkey trying to write the Hebrew alphabet, it might take you a minute. However, looking back at what you wrote will bring the experience back to life. Now it’s time to write.
Start a new document on the computer, or if you want “the old fashioned way,” grab a blank sheet of paper. Write that part of the content. Find topics, lessons, larger pictures, links and tips in your experience to make it perfect for a book, article or story.
For example, the story you read about the discarded toy box was written in one of my seven books about a year ago. In fact, the exact phrase I read on the page was:
“4/4/04 – Toy truck…patience…lunch at Galleria with Drew.”
To give you an idea of how this process comes full circle:
1) Now that I have checked my journal…
2) Saw that comment about the garbage…
3) Then decided to include it in this article.
STEP 4: Develop your own system
The best thing about collecting content is that when you start looking, when you start recording, it’s going to be everywhere. Weird, surprising, exciting and unusual writing ideas are waiting for you!
I started taking on this whole “content thing” in 2004. I was working on a new book and I wanted to use a lot of information, images and examples to support my ideas. So I developed a system. And this is the last part of this process.
Here’s what I do. It may not work for everyone, but creating such a system will inspire some ideas for yourself. There are several parts:
Aside from all the technicalities, I think there are two main differences between “A person who writes” and “A person who is a writer”:
WRITERS…Natural writing skills, creative thinking, good grammar, unique style and tone and passion for the pen.
PEOPLE WHO ARE CONTENTS…they have everything from the last list PLUS the knowledge to keep their eyes and ears open for the best content, prepare to capture that content, learn to transfer that content to documents and manage to create their own systems. which turns ideas into things.
Who are you?
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