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The Mastery Path for Writers: a new way to learn the skills you need

Lesson 10: What Do I Do With My Material?

If you spend a few weeks—a few months—even a few years—collecting material, you will soon have quite a pile of it. So, what do you do with it now?

You don’t have to do anything at all with it, if you don’t want to. Collecting is a practice; it builds your content-mind as well as providing you with material. If you don’t like any of the stuff you’ve collected so far, be satisfied with knowing that you have been strengthening your writer’s mind.

Chances are good, though, that there is some material in that pile you will want to use. In order to find that useful material, you will need to engage with what you've collected

Take some of your practice time to read through the material you have collected, slowly. It’s essential, as you read, not to correct your writing or judge it. Instead, read without judgment, and simply mark anything that stands out for you: a word, a sentence, an idea, an entire passage. If new ideas come to you as you do this, write them down, too.

If you have collected a lot of material, it may take you several sessions to read through it all.

As you read, notice whether any of the material you have produced seems to “go with” other bits of material. You may find that you have returned, over and over, to one subject, without realizing you were doing that. Or you may find that now, as you read, one idea or image seems to connect with others you collected at different times. Now you can take your collecting another step forward. Here’s how:

Take all the bits of collected material that seem to go together and give them a new home. You can do this by cutting and pasting from one document to a new one, if you are working on the computer. If you’re keeping your material in a notebook, you may now want to type your selected material into a computer file, or photocopy pages from your notebook and put them into a file folder. Give your file a name and put it someplace where you can find it easily.

You have now taken an important next step in the process of developing a piece of writing; you have selected , from all your collected material, certain bits that have something in common. You may know what that something is; you may have only a vague sense of a connection between these selected bits. It doesn’t matter whether you know exactly why you have chosen this material; what matters is the act of choosing.

One of the most important things that unskilled writers fail to understand is that writing is all about making choices. Many beginners are, in fact, afraid to make choices—afraid to do it “wrong.” But making choices in writing is just another skill that can be learned. And learning it takes practice.

So I encourage you to collect a lot of material, and then do a lot of this practice of selecting. Ask yourself, as you review your focused freewriting, Can I use this material? Does it connect with anything else I’ve written? The more you practice making these choices, the more agile and flexible your content-mind becomes, the more easily you will discover possible connections between disparate bits of collected material.

You may not use all of your selected material. Or you may find that someday material you thought was going to lead you in one direction takes you someplace else entirely.

Once you have tucked some bits of material away in a new folder or a new document (or folder) on your computer, you have made a place to collect more material on this particular subject. When new ideas or information come to you, you have a place to put them so they won’t get lost. You can also further refine your focused freewriting practice by taking one of your subject folders, reading through all the material, and then doing more focused freewriting on that subject. By the time you have done this a few times, you may very well have collected enough material to write a draft.

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