Green Markers and Coffee

Continuing with some thoughts on writing, I thought I’d share this post from The Open Notebook. David Dobbs interviews leading science writer, David Quammen, about his process as he combines his notes from the field and recordings of interviews with scientists into a cohesive, finished piece.  I especially loved Quammen’s statements about beginning the writing process.

Quammen talks about piles and piles of field notebooks he has from his trips.  Somehow these get condensed into paragraphs, which are strung together to form chapters of his books.  He says, “I don’t make an inventory, and I don’t make an outline. I just pile this stuff up there and then eventually, after three years or four years or so, I start writing. I sit down with all these notebooks and sources and I drink coffee until I go into a trance and I start writing.”

He talks about using a green magic marker to put a slash by interesting tidbits of writing while going through his notebooks: “So I don’t know exactly what the structure is going to be . . . until I see what’s interesting and what’s not interesting. One of my organizing principles, always, is Throw out the boring stuff. If it’s important but boring, leave it out — it’s probably not necessary.”

For Quammen, writing begins with piles of notebooks and a green marker to pull out the interesting stories.  For me, it’s more of a half-outline, half-stream of consciousness filled with sentence fragments that eventually morphs into something coherent within the same Word document.  And, like Quammen, coffee is most likely involved as well.

What does the beginning of the writing process look like for you?


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