Advice for Writers Vol. 1: My Silly Little Chart

Advice for Writers Vol. 1: My Silly Little Chart

The biggest lesson I’ve learned throughout the entire madness that is the Murdaugh story — like BIGGEST lesson, even in consideration of the story itself, all the crazy twists and turns, the apparent mental health crisis happening in some corners of True Crime social media, the meanness of people in general and elbow jabs from media fighting for their corner of earth online … is that anyone can write a book.


Like for real. Anyone.

Do I need to say it? Do I actually need to say “Colleton County Clerk of Court Becky Hill”?

Think what you want about her, she’s a woman who knows how to manifest. She manifested her book AND she manifested her own downfall.

And she’s not alone in the “manifesting her own book” part. 

There was a while there where it seemed like there was a new self-published book getting posted on Amazon every week by a person from the back row who just “had” to share their definitive take on the story despite doing little to no independent reporting on the story … despite not being able to offer anything new to the narrative … despite not having any actual writing ability.

They still wrote and published a book, which … you know … kudos!

Remember this. It took me until this case to realize that the only thing you need to write a book is to write a book.

It doesn’t matter if you’re good. It doesn’t matter if people want to hear from you. If you want to write, then write. Why not!

That said, writing is the hardest thing I do every day. And though I love it, I dread it. Until it’s done. When it’s done I feel like the happiest, strongest, most capable and talented version of myself. And I forget all the pain.

Then the next deadline comes and I’m back in dread mode.

So … I know what it feels like to know you CAN write … to know that people actually do want to hear from you and that you do actually have something to contribute … while also getting stuck in the dread zone.

Here’s how I get out of it. It works 100 percent of the time. It’s what I used to tell my reporters to do when I was an editor. It’s what I taught my niece when she wanted help writing a short story for school. I learned it from my former therapist and it was life-changing. I’ve sort of morphed it into my own thing, though, over the years.

Here are the steps.

  1. Get a clipboard. 
  2. Get a stack of clean, crisp white printer paper.
  3. Get a box of pencils and sharpen them. Does it have to be pencils? No. There’s no rules here really. This is just what I do because I like the sound of a pencil on stack of clean white printer paper on a clipboard.
  4. Step away from the computer.
  5. Put your phone down but keep it close … this isn’t detention.
  6. Draw a vertical line about one-third of the way in from the left. I like a third but you can do halfway … whatever works for you.
  7. Now list everything you know about the thing you want to write about. This can be a collection of phrases, ticklers, single words, sentences even. Just write everything that you want to include. Every thought that comes to mind. Every joke you might want to tell.
  8. When you run out of space, continue the process on the next page and the page after that if you have to.
  9. Now go back to the first page and in the two-thirds of a page on the right, start your attempts at writing a SINGLE sentence about what this story is about. This isn’t always easy. Scratch out whatever doesn’t work. You can even violently scratch it out. It’s cathartic.
  10. Once you have a SINGLE perfect sentence that expertly summarizes what this thing you’re about to write is about, start your outline. The outline can go in the two-thirds space under all your attempts at that sentence. I usually write a single word for the subject (for instance, our True Sunlight scripts usually look like MANDY INTRO, UPDATES, MURDAUGH, BOWEN, COLUCCI). Just single words that encapsulate the main topics of your story, book, article, essay, poem whatever. Oh and obviously you’re using the info from the one-third part of your pages to determine what those topics should be.
  11. When you have the big picture of the story, book, article, essay, poem whatever, then get into the nitty gritty. Start with your first outline keyword and start listing any bullet points about what you want to say for the topic. For instance, in a script, you might see the keyword MURDAUGH with the bullet points “appeal and why this makes no sense when you look at the plea deal” and “how much do appeals cost?” and “how are Dick/Jim getting paid?” … that kind of thing. 
  12. Now take it to Google docs lol. 

It’s not a perfect process but it works for me because it helps me get the process started at a time when all I’d rather do is watch “Vanderpump” reruns or lie on a beanbag and read Riley Sager or Pinterest bathroom remodels that incorporate a tub into a wet room.

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