Friday, July 23, 2010

The Most Important Question a Writer Can Ask: Part 1

The most searching, most revealing, most important question you can ask yourself as a writer, maybe in life, is "why." Over the next several posts, we'll examine how to unlock the power of this question to break writer's block, untangle scenes and work through critiques.

First, let's tackle writer's block. Ask yourself what about your writing project has you stymied, why you can't write. What's holding you back? Answer these questions in detail, with honesty and in writing. These three keys—honesty, detail and writing—unlock the power of "why." If you follow this approach, you'll notice that you've begun writing.

Now apply the rest of those journalism questions—the who, what, where, when and how of what's going on, nor not, with your work—until you're out of questions and out of answers. At this stage, you can see a lot more clearly the underlying reasons why you were stuck.

Now go back to the manuscript, but before revising, review your responses to the questions above. How do the answers relate to your work? What aspects of the writing do the responses address, and how? With honesty, drill down to the ore in your line of reasoning, then go to the section that had you stymied and use what you've learned to continue writing.

For my online editing workshop, see On a Clear Day: Editing for Clarity and Publication.

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