Bob James is the Chief Storyteller and owner at Goodly, a writing and communications agency in Washington D.C. Bob is a graduate of Georgetown University, and holds a Master’s Degree in Philosophy, while I only have a mere Bachelor’s of Science. (That is, I have a B.S. in BS from BSU; even Bob can’t say that!)
Erik recently invited me to discuss “My Writing Process,” a dead-horse topic if there ever were one.
But I’ll beat that horse anyway, just because Erik asked. Here you go:
- Other writers—from the sublime (e.g., Emerson, Faulkner, Sartre, Updike) to the ridiculous (names withheld)
- Pop culture (songs, movies, TV shows, blogs, etc.)
- Current events (AKA La Comédie humaine)
- Memories, dreams, reflections
- Other people’s observations (Take my wife’s. Please.)
How I write the ideas down. My secret sauce is no secret. Writing isn’t thinking. It isn’t even writing. “Writing is revision,” as Tracy Kidder says. “Write once, edit five times,” David Ogilvy urged office mates.” Priceless advice. Your fifth draft may not excel, but it will beat your first by a long shot. And, as you edit five times, be like the birds. An ornithologist mentioned during a recent NPR interview that birds’ voice boxes are lodged deep within their chests. “Birds sing from the heart,” she said. You should, too. Readers like it and will respond accordingly.
How I assure quality. Copy’s never error free, but I try hard to check my facts. In fact, I often spend more time fact-checking sources than writing and editing. (Don’t hem and haw: fact-checking is enlightening.) And I proofread, both twice before I hit publish and twice afterwards. Boring task, but my reputation’s on the line.
How I spread ideas. Outposting has helped aggrandize my scribblings more than any of my other activities. Adman Gary Slack advises clients to invest in “other people’s audiences” more than their own. He’s 100% on the money.
For more advice about writing. If you’re hungry for sound advice, listen to Paul Simon and Chuck Close discuss the creative process in a podcast for The Atlantic. You’ll learn more than you will by reading 50 how-to books, with these four noteworthy exceptions:
- The Art and Craft of Feature Writing by William E. Blunder
- On the Art of Writing Copy by Herschel Gordon Lewis
- Secrets of a Freelance Writer by Bob Bly
- Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark
Oh yeah, don’t forget No Bullshit Social Media.