Reader Question: How Do You Come Up With Your Topics?
This week, I answer a question about the writing process:
Reader Alan asks:
You always seem to know the stuff I want answers to from girls’ about guys’ style. How do you come up with the things you write about on Style Girlfriend?
Well that’s good to hear.
Sometimes, of course, I simply answer the questions that appear in my inbox, like this one. About half the time, they’re specific, one-off conundrums (“What do I wear to a football tailgate in the South?”). The rest of the time, I see the same question over and over so often that I know I have to do a larger post on the topic, like window shopping for stylish fall shoes.
Once I know what I want to write about, I mull over what I actually want to say for awhile. I think about the straightforward information I can give you, and maybe do my own digging online for the facts. Next, I consider the “girl angle” – what can I tell you that you can’t just google on your own? Like with jeans, for instance, I can tell you that while bootcut may be a comfortable option, most women in your life will consider you to be totally out of touch with 2012 style, so probably just…skip ’em.
Then I sit down to write.
Because there’s so much brewing before I actually plop down in front of my computer, by the time the story does come out, it usually pours out fully formed. Then I go back through and make small tweaks and edits because 1) there’s always points you can can make better or more clearly once you see it on screen and 2) I’m totally anal.
Of course, that whole “mulling” thing doesn’t always work. Like this past Sunday morning, when I found myself in a daylight savings-induced half-sleep and realized I’d written an entire article in my dreams. As my eyes fluttered open, I knew I was suddenly in danger of rapidly losing all of it.
In my dream state, I had identified a thesis, accompanied by bullets and a story arc that made perfect sense, was snappy, the whole package really – entertaining but informative (I mean, I hope), from beginning to end.
As I lazily came to, I understood that all of this was floating around my sleep-addled brain, not stored safely on my hard drive, or even jotted down on paper. I needed to capture this article on guys’ style, fast.
I jumped out of bed and ran to the living room. At my desk, I punched the power key on my laptop, and the machine thrummed to life. Too slowly. With the screen still black, I grabbed the notepad next to it, usually reserved for my day’s “To Do’s. Good enough. I started scribbling things down.
Visions from dreams I must have had throughout the night floated around my waking brain: Ann Romney dressed like Stevie Nicks…the dog I’d babysat all week doing tricks I hadn’t seen her perform in real life….a hotel room with a wraparound terrace that I think overlooked Tokyo…bumped into each other in my brain, then burst into the ether like soapy bubbles.
I managed to capture the first bullet – “Dress stylish for business meetings, but be sure you’re comfortable.” It was as far as I got before things stopped making sense.
The story was gone.
Which is too bad, because I feel pretty confident that I’d sleep-written a pretty great piece that a lot of you guys would have found really helpful. Hopefully next time I’ll be quicker to capture these ideas with my eyes open. And I definitely won’t be going to bed without a notebook by my side any more.