How A Piece Is Written

Good morning, website.

It’s currently 4:26 AM on Monday, July 30. I’m set to fly to Atlanta in roughly fifteen hours. My brain is refusing to go to sleep, and now my knee is bothering me enough to make lying in the dark unsustainable.

Let’s try and persuade my brain to shut down for a while by pulling some thoughts from there.

I’ve wanted to discuss in some fashion how exactly I write the things I write. I’ve (mostly) standardized my process at this point depending on the sort of piece, and I keep four quasi-categories into which nearly everything I’ve written in the past year falls.

The first step, before anything is categorized, is initial concept. Each of the three primary ongoing outlets/projects (Soc Takes, this website, the YouTube channel) has a document in that folder into which all of my ideas get thrown. The Soc Takes file is the longest at the moment, which is to be expected. Whenever an idea strikes me that seems interesting or entertaining enough to pursue, it gets added to the list. The list is further broken into four sections: concept, for early thoughts with no notes taken; planned, for pieces that have notes and data but nothing yet written; draft, for pieces that are actively being written; and edit, where finished drafts are mostly ready for publication and I’m not likely to make any additional changes. I also keep a fifth section for published pieces mainly as a list to reference recent or ongoing projects. That section gets trimmed as needed.

Right now, there are ten items in concept, two in planned, two in draft, and two in edit. Some pieces in concept might stay there for months, and others are simply scrapped altogether if I find that someone else has answered the same question.

As for the four categories, I group my pieces into research articles, wherein I’m finding and logging data (think Project 50/50 or the USL Progress Reports) and typically start in Excel; narrative articles, that typically begin with handwritten notes; rhetorical question pieces that are nearly exclusively opinion pieces where the conclusion isn’t the focus so much as the problem I’m debating; and rant pieces where I sit down and complain about something irritating me.

The rant pieces are the quickest to write and typically the shortest. A prime example of this is “Why is there still no Women’s Open Cup?” That piece, from start to finish, took maybe an hour. I sit down with either WordPress or FocusWriter on one screen and a web browser on the other, do enough research as I’m writing to illustrate my point, and wrap things up. One draft, edit as I go.

Rhetorical pieces generally take a bit longer, and I’ve tended lately to survey people online for their thoughts as I’m writing. The most recent example of this category is my piece on VAR usage and officiating. While it is branded as an opinion piece, I’m not positioning my thoughts as the solution so much as discussing what could be a better idea moving forward. That piece in particular took around two hours start to finish, and was written mainly as a reaction to the World Cup.

Narrative style pieces take the longest to write, usually as a byproduct of what I’m documenting. A good example is the Supporting Local Soccer series, the latest installment of which can be found here. That piece, along with the others in the series, began as shorthand notes taken on my phone during the game itself and from a rough outline written up later. Turning stream of consciousness notes into something cohesive takes more time, I’ve found, and that piece was in progress for weeks. It’s not difficult to write so much as time-consuming, requiring more involved editing and organization as I write than others.

The research pieces take the greatest amount of time from concept to edit, simply due to the amount of data I tend to work with. The USL Progress Reports, for instance, required quite a bit of data collection that then needs to be incorporated into a spreadsheet in which I run my calculations. These are honestly a lot of fun to write, and are the most educational to me personally. These always begin in Excel, and typically stay there until I have enough data to start writing something. Usually, once I start to see something interesting, I’ll write out an introduction and finalize a title for the project. I’ve taken lately to writing as I research, so that I’m splitting work evenly between Excel and writing.

Most of the time, I’m working on the ongoing research pieces, of which there are several in progress. I have one on MLS that began slightly as a joke but I’ve since decided to take seriously enough to log literally hundreds of games. It’s probably not necessary, but at the very least the data I’ve found is interesting. Another on the USL has led to 6 of 8 years worth of data logged in Excel. These won’t be finished any time soon, but are always fun to work on.

Whenever I get sick of processing data, I’ll switch to something completely different. Supporting Local Soccer in particular has been a welcome respite from thousand-row spreadsheets, although those take substantially more effort on the writing end. Every so often, something starts off as one category before growing into something much more in-depth that takes it into research territory, and I’m usually much happier with the end result. The rant pieces are almost never planned or scheduled, and simply happen as I get irritated about something.

For Supporting Local Soccer, every piece begins as notes on my phone which are then copied to my server. After that, I’ll take an hour or so to start elaborating on my thoughts and adding clarifying information to the raw notes. From there, it’s all about writing and organizing, and expanding from bullet points into a cohesive piece.

Anyway, this is already nearing 1000 words, so I’m calling this one done.

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