Poynter’s Writing Process and Resources for Writers

Looking to become a better writer? Poynter's Roy Peter Clark offers some steps for writing to help you on your journey. Here are our 10 favorite online writing courses to help you master your craft.

Step 1: Explore

Exploration is more than just a stage in the writing process. It’s a way of life. The writer is a curious person who must discover topics to write about and, over time, come to see the world as a storehouse of story ideas. Just as your dog goes out into the yard to sniff for signs of other animals, so the writer is ignited by the hint of something in the air, a thought, a theory, an emotion, a story, a character worth attention, a problem to be solved.

Step 2: Gather

No writer writes well from thin air – or a chair. The productive writer is a hunter and gatherer, collecting data, information from interviews, online research, narrative elements such as scenes and dialogue, memories and personal observations, key words and interesting language. Francis X. Clines always knew he could find a story, “If I could just get out of the office.”

Step 3: Organize

Enter the offices or workplaces of some writers and you find yourself in the space of some crazed hoarder, notepads stacked up for years, files on the floor, last week’s paper cups filled with stale coffee. No wonder they can’t get their arms around the story. Before a writer can plan a story, that writer must organize the material: cleaning, stacking, collating, compiling, tossing, filing, and indexing. The bigger the meal to be served, the more carefully the table must be set.

Step 4: Focus

The central act of writing is finding a focus for the work, resulting in a keen knowledge of what the story is about, an insight often reflected in titles, theme statements, captions, summaries, conclusions, “nut” paragraphs, and the like. The writer looks for this defining idea or language from the beginning of the process, but it is often found late, too late for the writer to do it justice.

Step 5: Select

Inexperienced writers often use in their stories most of the material they have collected. The best, most experienced writers use a small percentage of the research, a process of selection that supports the focus of the work. If the writer is unable to select between the “good” and the “pretty good,” it may because the focus is still … out of focus. The writer may have to go back a step or two, gathering new material that leads to a clearer understanding of the purpose of the work.

Step 6: Order

Even when the best material is selected, it is not always clear what the order of the major elements should be, so the writer searches for the building blocks of the work, as well as an efficient blueprint for the whole. The writer can select a genre, form, or format that already exists – a sonnet, a business letter, a Tweet, an epic poem – or can create a new one. Whatever the architecture of the final work, it will be judged by three of its parts: the beginning, the middle, and the end.

Step 7: Draft

Look at all the work that can come before the writer begins a formal draft, a step that can always be frustrated by procrastination. The writer tries to struggle against bad inertia, the force that keeps you static, and find good inertia, the energy that keeps you going. One of the most useful strategies is to rehearse the story before drafting, that is, to accomplish some of the work in your head, especially a good opening or introduction. Replacing procrastination as rehearsal gets the daydreaming writer off the hook, and turns a negative force into something useful.

Step 8: Revise

Productive and effective writers leave time and reserve energy for revision, a step that includes everything from story reconstruction to proof reading. Showing a draft to a test audience – editor, teacher, friend – can help, but the writer’s task is to create a final draft that works for the reader and satisfies the standards of the writer. A teacher or editor can help the writer see the unfulfilled potential in an early draft and help the writer make the work better and better.

Learn more about these steps and other tips for writing in NewsU's Help! for Writers course.

10 Resources for Writers

Get Me Rewrite: The Craft of Revision

This course covers everything you need to improve your writing through the craft of revision. Using fun, interactive activities, you’ll explore why writers face an uphill battle making time to revise their work and how they can overcome thinking their first draft is their best draft, how to review your work with fresh eyes (and ears) to catch mistakes and fine-tune awkward passages, how to make a great piece even better by removing unnecessary words, and more.

The Art of the Interview: Master Class with Jacqui Banaszynski

In this exclusive three-hour Master Class, hear Pulitzer Prize-winner Jacqui Banaszynski describe how she turns to “guru” sources to determine the best stories to pursue and the best subjects to build them around. Hear how she gains access to reluctant sources and builds a rapport with them. Hear how she uses “storyteller questions” to turn the people she interviews into storytellers themselves. Learn how to take your interviews deeper by asking better questions, more probing questions, the questions that separate the best stories from those we all too quickly forget.

Cleaning Your Copy: Grammar, Style and More

Mistakes in grammar, spelling and style are like coffee stains on a shirt. People notice. Readers notice. Those mistakes will eat away at your credibility as a writer and erode readers' faith in your work. How can you clean up your act? This self-directed course will help you understand the basics of grammar, spelling, punctuation and AP style. Brush up on your skills so you can create clean, error-free copy—no matter what you're writing.

Reporting, Writing for TV and the Web: Aim for the Heart

Great stories hang in the viewer’s ear and catch the viewer’s eye. Great stories aim straight for the viewer’s heart. The best news stories don’t just inform; they teach, illuminate, and inspire viewers. In this course, you'll learn how to connect with viewers by telling powerful stories that aim for their hearts.

The Writer's Workbench: 50 Tools You Can Use

This course contains essays — written by a master of the trade — on 50 writing tools that are essential to everyone who wants to be a better writer. Roy Peter Clark shares with you the writing tools he has compiled from reporters and editors, from authors of books on writing and from teachers and coaches. The essays illuminate these tools and teach everything from the importance of strong verbs to the necessity of learning from criticism.

Writers Without Editors: How to Edit Your Own Writing

In a world where speed is of the essence, there's less time for the many layers of editing that have traditionally stood between writers and readers. Fortunately, if you write, you have a facility for language that you can use to edit. In this online seminar, offered several times a year, you’ll gain the skills you need to polish your own prose.

The Writing Process: Improve Your Writing Task in Five Steps

Break free of predictable writing — and habits — and rediscover the power of your craft. Let award-winning writers, editors and coaches from The Poynter Institute help you in this unique e-learning program. Has your writing become formulaic and predictable? The on-demand video replays in this series will help you rediscover the power of your craft, one step at a time. This five-part series will help you generate better story ideas, collect stronger details, find your focus, build clear structure and revise your writing. No matter what you write, we'll help you hone your voice and elevate your storytelling.

How to Use Detail in Your Writing

In a crowded media world, how do you make your stories distinctive? Powerful, telling details will hook your audience and keep them engaged in your story. Using details is more than listing what a mayor or CEO is wearing, but highlighting the message she sends with the tone of her voice, the raising of an eyebrow, the painting on her office wall.

Becoming a More Effective Writer: Clarity and Organization

Build the reporting and writing habits you need to organize your information better and write more clearly. In this online seminar, offered several times a year, get one-on-one coaching and feedback on your work. Whether you write breaking news alerts, meeting summaries, business plans or email, you’ll learn the tools you need to deliver what your readers need and want.

Write with Voice and Tone

Memorable writing has a strong voice and appropriate tone. Whether you’re crafting tweets, blog posts or long narratives, you want to hit the right chord when it comes to tone and voice. This will distinguish your writing from others and connect with your audience.