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Eureka: A lesson in writing
by Jay Gutman
2017-11-13 10:40:18
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Let's just say I do my writing in three phases. First there's the research phase. Then there's the thinking phase. Then there's the writing phase. Let me break these down for you.

writing1_400First the research phase. This is a phase a lot of writers skip, and skipping this phase is probably the main cause for writer's block. The idea behind the research phase is that you need to be passionate about a subject and constantly scratch beneath the surface. My passions so far have been economics, sociology, anthrpology, psychology, legal reasoning, politics and international relations, religion, philosophy and more narrow areas of research were Jewish studies, African studies and Korean studies. I also do a little bit of research on China and Japan, France and the French entertainment industry and of course North American politics. That's a lot of research areas but the idea is it gives me a broad context for what I can write about.

So the idea in the research phase is you want to dig as deep as you can, let's say until you reach saturation in the research area, or to put it in other words until you feel you know more about the topic than the average person. Being an “experienced” writer I can tell when I watch a movie or read a book whether there's been a lot of research done when writing the script or the book. I can tell within the first minutes of the movie or the first pages of the book how much research has been done to write it. Needless to say if I detect that little or no research has been done, I tend to discard the book or movie.

Now to the second phase, the thinking phase. This is a phase when I stop researching and start thinking about how my articles will take shape. I think about what to write in bed before falling asleep, in the shower, while taking walks, while sipping a cup of coffee or simply sitting down somewhere. You sort of enter a transe phase where your articles are writing themselves in your brain. Usually it's one article at a time, sometimes two articles, rarely three articles or four articles. The thinking phase can be related to a problem that has never been solved, something in reaction to something said in the media or something I encountered in a book that deserves further explanations. I occasionally do a quick search to see if that area has been tapped in litterature or not, but often having read enough books about the topic I know the area is usually untapped in litterature.

Final phase. The writing phase. This is a phase where I translate into words the thoughts I had the previous night or the previous week. Of course it means being more specific than the general thoughts I had but the articles tend to flow rather easily.

Now let me point out some of the mistakes I've seen writers do.

First big mistake is skipping the research phase. I see a lot of writers go straight to the thinking phase, which often leads to, let's put it this way, narrative and logical fallacies in their writing. In some cases their writing will be personal or biased, in other cases their writing will end up being too personal. More importantly, if you go straight to the writing or thinking phase a lot of times you will end up staring endlessly at the blank sheet of paper. Writing tends to flow better when you've done the research.

Now research doesn't necessarily mean reading books. Some writers don't like reading (the irony) but like to collect stories first hand by interviewing people involved in an event or collecting oral histories of events, or visitng places and writing about them by gathering the data first hand. That could work.

The second big mistake I tend to see is when writers skip the thinking phase. When you think your articles or books or plays out, the writing phase tends to flow a lot more smoothly. There's no correct amount of time spent thinking, it could be two hours or it could be two weeks. Some like to take notes (which in my case tends to interrupt the thinking process) while others like myself like to engage in long reflections and day dreaming periods where my articles write themselves ambiguously, before moving to the writing phase during which I write the specifics.

The final mistake I tend to see is one where the line between opinion and facts is blurry. Let's just say that the line is blurry, but fact is data gathered first hand and opinion is a thought on a subject or an object. Fact is universal and opinion is personal. I see a lot of writers these days telling “my immigrant story” or “my struggle as a feminist” or “my struggle fitting in” which a lot of times unfortunately is not a universal struggle. Let's say why don't you write it from this angle: “the story of two immigrant families” or “the struggle of a group of feminists” or “the struggle of outcasts” or the like. In the era of Facebook, a lot of the writing has become personal, sometimes way too personal. Let me tell you this: even when politicians or artists write their autobiography, they tend to focus on the policy aspects or the industry aspects and say very little about their personal life.

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Emanuel Paparella2017-11-13 13:01:42
I can confidently affirm that whoever wrote the first myths did a lot of thinking but little research; which does not necessarily mean that those myths tell us less of the truth than scientific mathematically correct papers; sometimes a myth will reveal much more truth than a positivistic recounting of an historical event. The point being, I suppose, that without imagination and the poetical one is left with rationality and utilitarianism and then it will be ok to use knowledge not for the common good but for sheer grabbing of power.

Murray Hunter2017-11-14 00:34:14
Running is very good for helping you digest your research and ideas and putting loose ends together. I thought of a whole book on a one hour run and spent the next 5 years writing it.

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