This article is based on excerpts from Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content (Wiley, September 2014).
The writer Andre Dubus (House of Sand and Fog) has described writing as inching your way along a very dark, very long tunnel: You can make out the next few feet in front of you, but you're not quite certain where you'll end up or when you'll get there.
For me, at times, writing can feel like birthing a Volkswagen.
What helps with the uncertainty and enormity of the task is to start with some kind of process to guide the way—necessary checkpoints toward that final piece or the beacons that guide the entire effort.
Process is one of those things that in many parts of life I consider hopelessly boring and mind-numbing. Like peeling the skins of raw tomatoes—or scrubbing dirt from beets.
But in writing, process is necessary because you need a road map to get you to where you need to be—essentially, a kind of writing GPS that gets you from discombobulated thoughts to a coherent, cogent piece of writing that others can understand and appreciate.
Though there is no one way to write—just as there is no one way to roast a turkey or parent a child—there are terrible ways to do all three.
What works for me is the process I outline here. Maybe it will inspire you, too. In any event, I suggest you find some process: Good writing takes planning and preparation; it doesn't just emerge, fully formed, as if from the head of Zeus. Or your own head, for that matter.
Ann Handley is chief content officer of MarketingProfs, author of Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Ridiculously Good Content, and co-author of the best-selling book on content marketing, Content Rules. Ann co-founded ClickZ.com, one of the first sources of interactive marketing news and commentary.