Monday, July 26, 2010

The Most Important Question a Writer Can Ask: Part 2

The most pivotal question you can ask as a writer is "why." We started examining the power of this question by seeing how it can break writer's block. In this post, we tackle that especially tough paragraph, scene or story.

Before junking what's not working, stop and consider the piece. Ask yourself why you're having trouble, and what made you stop trying to improve it? Why did you resist discarding the section or story if you really believe it's not working? Apparently, it still seems important, even though it's not quite right.

As before, to get at what's really happening, answer these questions in detail, with honesty and in writing. Your initial responses may beget more questions, but continue until you've asked everything you need to, or until you see the answers repeat. The aha moment may shine like a Xenon spotlight or dawn like the sun on a cloudy day. Whatever the candle power, the answers reveal why this aspect of the work, or the work itself, is ineffectual.

To delve even deeper, use the rest of the journalism questions—the who, what, where, when and how of what's going on, nor not—until you're out of questions and answers.

Before revising the story or scene, review your responses. Consider how they relate to your work and what aspects of the writing they address, and how. Now make the fixes wherever they're needed.

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

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