Writers generally talk to somebody official at the beginning and end of writing a piece. They take assignments and brainstorm at the front, and answer questions when the piece is edited. Debriefing involves talking with an editor just before typing, and we’ll talk about it elsewhere.
Different specialists help in different ways in different parts of the middle of the process. At the very beginning of gathering information, librarians and researchers can enrich your materials and save you lots of time. They listen to what you’re up to, and tell you which parts they can get for you, usually online. They can suggest sources you don’t have or know about. They can find things in back files and previous issues of periodicals faster than you can. A good librarian is a godsend , and you should cultivate at least one. I collect them.
Photographers make great companions while you’re gathering materials. Many writers discover that their best quotes were spoken to their photographers, and photographers know that they see more and better with another set of eyes to spot things. A photographer will make you more likely to see visual information, and just one photo may save you and your readers three hard paragraphs. Driving to the scene, brainstorm with your photographer about what you’re after and ways to treat it. Driving back, map out the piece with the photographer. Television crews do this planning on the fly routinely.
Graphic artists are great brainstormers simply because they don’t think like a writer, like you. They can package complex information into graphs, charts, diagrams, videos, and pictures that explain things better than words. Think for a moment about the internal structure of your wrist; now imagine it moving, and then broken, and then repaired surgically. Impossible with words alone.
We think of copyeditors as late in the process, but they’re also helpful in the middle, particularly with questions of format and usage. You flatter them when you ask them for advice early, and they will treat your copy better later. Copyeditors know everything, not just the rules of publication, but also the corporate memory of treating the subject. A skilled headline writer can pop a disorganized article into focus, and you want that clarity while you’re still typing. Copyeditors can perform magic on key sentences that need work.
Here’s a copyeditor trick you can do by yourself. When you have a problem, cover the screen and ask out loud, “What am I trying to say here?” Answer the question orally, and the solution will pop into your head. This technique works even better and faster with two people.
Why don’t writers ask for help in the middle of their writing process? They don’t want to seem stupid. They think that only weak writers need help. They don’t have any helpers. They don’t have time to save time. Lame; ask for help.
You may not have access to any of these helpful specialists where you work, especially if you’re a freelancer. But sometimes you will, and you should get their best help from them while you’ve got them. Seek them out and cultivate them; they’ll make you better.
[Anybody care to contribute anecdotes about mid-process helpers?]