- Outline. Many times the panic I feel comes from my inability to put thoughts into coherent sentences – much less sentences that have any semblance of structure and order. If this is the case, I find it best to jot down ideas and key points to the topic as an outline. Then I can work to rearrange the key points in a way that makes sense before working to fill in the holes and expand the headings into paragraphs.
- Brainstorm. This strategy works best when the finished piece will likely be an expanded list, or it is a piece on a highly emotional topic. In either case, writing down words can help get the creative juices flowing. Once I have written down several words or phrases, a theme often emerges which can help direct the writing process.
- Freewrite. If my thoughts are semi-coherent, but I’m having trouble connecting the dots, so to speak, freewriting is most helpful. In a freewrite, I will simply write, write, write without worrying about grammar, spelling, or flow. Avoiding self-editing can be difficult during a freewrite, but I remind myself that many of the writing greats like Anne Lamott were staunch proponents of the “crappy first draft” so it’s worth a try.
- Continue the pitch. Chances are the “pitch” started somewhere – whether it was a proposed headline sent to an editor I work with on a regular basis, a 1-2 sentence description of the piece sent to a new editor, a rambling diatribe in my head during my morning run, or a feeling I couldn’t quite name but knew was worth writing about. By combining several of the aforementioned techniques, such as freewriting and outlining – I will take that “pitch” and expand it, without thinking of it as a possible finished piece. I might expand the headline into a paragraph (but usually not the first paragraph since first paragraphs are often the most difficult for me to write), or I will take the 1-2 sentence description and expand them until I’ve written a couple paragraphs. Or I will imagine I am writing a note to a friend about that amorphous “feeling” until the core of the piece emerges.
- Edit. Edit. Edit. This step is CRITICAL. Because it is my reliance on the editing process that allows me to work through each of the various techniques. Without the editing process, the “piece” wouldn’t really be a “piece” at all, but just a jumble of words. Because I know and trust the editing process so well, however, I can silence the mean and nasty voices of Post-Pitch Panic and the ones that like to pipe up from time to time during the drafting stages as well.
So next time you experience Post-Pitch Panic, you can tell those voices to HUSH UP because you’ve got work to do – and that piece isn’t going to write itself!