* Let’s say you’re writing a piece titled “How to Grow Bigger and Brighter Begonias.” Before you start writing, organize your research material through a system of indexing and filing; you must know where everything is and how to get at it easily. (If your notes or interview transcripts aren’t extensive, you can simply number your notebook pages, then make a list of broad information categories with references to page numbers.
* Stop thinking of your article as an article. Concentrate only on the first step-your opening. What is it about growing begonias that most interests you? What will be most interesting and valuable to your target reader?
Start writing with a good begonia-related line that will grab readers’ attention, set the right tone and get to the point quickly (be sure you know what the main point of the piece is). If your lead and what follows feels right, keep writing, all the way to the end.
However, if you sense that the article is getting away from you and you’ve lost your focus, stop.
* Look at the writing as a construction process of informational blocks.
Make a 3 x 5 index card for each block and label it accordingly. For our example article, you might have index cards labeled “Joy of Growing Begonias,” “How to Get Started” “Types of Begonias,” “Seasonal/Weather Factors,” “Special Tools,” “Fertilizers,” “Common Mistakes,” “Costs Involved” and so on.
* Lay out your cards in the order of the article you envision writing. Step back and look your cards over, start to finish. Think of them as a blueprint.
Does your article introduce your angle clearly (beginning), develop your main points in logical progression (middle), conclude satisfactorily (end)? Do your blocks seem to fit seamlessly, focusing in on your angle and theme, or have you gone off on tangents? Are related pieces of information scattered or grouped together? Have you duplicated certain information or points? Do cards suggest sections that could be trimmed, deleted, turned into sidebars?
* Create new cards for points you may have overlooked but want to cover; delete unnecessary blocks/cards that stray from your angle.
Rearrange the cards until the sequence feels right to you. As you do this, ask yourself: “What is my next, logical block?” (Logic is invariably the key to effective transition.) “Where should my article logically go from here?”
For instance, are you writing about fertilizers without first identifying different begonia types, basic information that might more logically be placed near the top? When you’ve finished your sections on special tools and fertilizers, would it be appropriate to discuss costs? Or would costs be more smoothly included along the way, with each product? Should tools be handled separately in a sidebar? And so on.
* Resume writing, from the top. Write until a block feels complete, relying on your organized research files when necessary. Keep writing block after block, building your article a section at a time, until you feel you’ve told the readers exactly what they need to know about growing bigger and brighter begonias, but nothing more.
* Rearrange the cards as necessary as you revise the article. Don’t be surprised if you delete whole blocks–or material within blocks–that are extraneous to the narrow focus you’ve chosen. Remember; you’re writing an article on a particular angle of begonia growing, not a book on the general topic.
“Organization” can be taken too far, of course. Beware of becoming so meticulous and rigid that the process becomes paralyzing, robbing your writing of its natural energy and rhythms. Your goal is to get your piece down on paper in as continuous and natural a process as possible, letting logic be your guide.