I seem to float back and forth between writing shorter pieces, like my book reviews or other pieces that are based largely on personal experience and opinions. These generally don’t include huge amounts of research and reference, or extensive searches for images. They represent the vast majority of my writing, but not what I really want to spend my time on.
Where I really want to spend my time is on “long-tail” stories, ones that keep getting views, comments, and likes for months and years to come. I would love to rank some of my stories on page 1 of Google, but there’s a long way to go until then (unless you specifically search for me).
I wanted to take this opportunity while I work on my next long-tail story, to share with you the process that goes into crafting one.
Like all stories, this one starts with an idea. I use a Trello board to help me keep track of my story ideas, and where I would like to publish them. Some are shared between my three main workspaces (this site, two Facebook pages, and Medium.com), while some only exist in one of those spaces. It all depends on the subject and audience.
Because my Trello board is a dumping ground, story ideas usually sit there until I’m ready to write them. It’s not uncommon for me to have an idea that’s not ready to write about and to just let it marinate and percolate for a while before I start writing. As I’m working on this next long-tail story, Trello tells me that I put the idea on my board almost a month ago, and it will likely be another few days to a week before I publish the story.
Once I’m ready to start writing, I first read as much as I can about the subject and try to find sources that are informative, reputable, and accessible. This means reputable news sources, information aggregators such as Wikipedia, other bloggers, textbooks and academic papers. I try not to use sources that are pay-walled so that everyone can have access to the information that I’m basing my writing on.
Sometimes this means that I find information that is new to me, and then I have to take in this information, analyze it, and figure out if this new information will change my story at all. Often, it does. I’m no good as an author if I allow my personal biases to be the source of my writing. If I want to write a good long-tail story, then I need to be open to the possibility that my research will change what I’m writing about.
From there, it is all chump change. By this time, I’ve done more than enough marinating and percolating to be able to put it all on the screen in a reasonable amount of time. Once I’ve written it, I’ll go back and make sure all of my links work and that they link to the right place for what I’m using them. It’s no good linking to a source that doesn’t make any sense for that part of the story. While I’m doing this, I’m annotating and editing my work and looking for holes.
I know, I make it sound easy…but it isn’t. This whole process can take weeks or months to bring a story to fruition. It’s not uncommon for me to close my laptop with a dozen or more research tabs open, hoping to resume my research at the next available moment.
What about you? How do you write stories that will last? How do you make sure that what you write is worth your readers’ time. I’d love to hear from you!