Tricks for going from first draft to nearly-finished when your mind just wants to be done

Photo by Taylor Wright on Unsplash

Over the coming weeks, writer Sarah Stankorb offers a window into her process. She says there’s no single, right way to write, but a glimpse at another writer’s tricks can offer insights into one’s own methods.

Finishing a first draft is a brain-emptying venture. Whether by plotter’s outline or zipping through a vomit draft (“pantser” mode), the momentum of fresh words on a page can be hard to match. It’s the activity of creation. If you’re lucky, it carries a sense of being touched by the muse.

Almost always, the result, even if inspired, is a bit of a mess.

Anything to just get started

Over the coming weeks, writer Sarah Stankorb offers a window into her process. Sometimes the hardest part is coming up with a fresh way to start.

Photo by Dollar Gill on Unsplash

The blank page still awaits me. As detailed in my recent post on outlining, I’m the sort of writer who buries herself in initial research and interviews, so deeply that I’ve had to come up with alternative outlining methods just to relocate the story once I am finally ready to write

The outline is an important tool, a handy reminder that You have a plan. You’re not just winging this.

Once I’ve invested mental…

Introducing a new series on writing hacks

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Over the coming weeks, writer Sarah Stankorb offers a window into her process. She insists there’s no singular way to approach writing, but sometimes it helps to borrow other writers’ methods.

I’ve been writing professionally for over a decade, have published hundreds of articles and essays, and the gut-check moment before I begin is always the same: why do I do this to myself?

When a story matters to me — and I’m lucky enough that most do — I go into a curiosity-churning form of hyperdrive. I put books on hold at the library, gobble my way through what…

First Baptist-Dallas shot off fireworks and once again, linked Christian faith and American patriotism

Freedom Sunday service, First Baptist Church, Dallas

First Baptist-Dallas is an influential megachurch that last year featured a mid-pandemic, July 4th, “Celebrate Freedom” sermon by Mike Pence and a maskless choir. Again this year, pastor Robert Jeffress dubbed the Sunday leading into July 4th “Freedom Sunday.” While signs of Christian nationalism have become the norm in many right-leaning churches across the US — lavish, holiday red, white, and blue American flag altar bunting is common — not many do it with the literal fireworks at the altar seen at First Baptist Church, Dallas this weekend.

Grand Old Flag-type patriotic anthems mingled with a brassy orchestra in lieu…


Of all the haunting remnants of the past year, the one I can’t shake is my daughter’s eerily real doll

Image courtesy of the author

We were falling deep into our pandemic winter, and after the better part of a year of fully online or hybrid school, my daughter’s noneducational hours had become dominated by additional screen time so that I could keep working. She transformed into a third-grader with a casual online “window shopping” habit and a growing obsession with Reborn Babies, strangely realistic, silicone baby dolls.

I wasn’t sure how I’d survived the better part of the year as a freelance writer in shutdown with a throbbing ball of stress growing and contracting somewhere over my heart, my nervous stomach. …

To spark imagination, we need the newness of other places

I’m on my final flight home after a reporting trip to Mississippi.

Relying on the closest airport to my reporting destination there left me crisscrossing on a flat, northern Alabama state route, with nothing but a single turn after an hour spent alone in a clean rental car, skipping between various signals for the same handful of country and “Today’s Hits!” radio stations.

There’s a vast openness to the drive here, the trip itself organized with large gaps on my calendar reserved for hunting down documents or trying to get so-and-so to talk to me.

I was never a frequent…

The writer who coined ‘Xennial’ on the attempts to describe this unique cohort

Photo: Daniel Schludi/Unsplash

It’s strange, having a public but evidently forgettable claim to fame. Like being the Guinness Book of World Records holder for longest pinkie nail or voicing a one-hit wonder limited to local radio. Yet over the last month, my social media pinged repeatedly with people insisting I get credit for describing the cusp of us at the inflection point between Gen X and millennial, Xennials.

Four years ago, that’s all I’d wanted.

Truth be told, this batch of tweeters seemed mostly angry that someone had the temerity to describe our cohort of Xennials as “geriatric.” A story on Medium rocketed…

The sitcom about a girl band redux hits the perfect notes for our time

Photo: Peacock/Contributor/Getty Images

During my morning machine run a few weeks ago, with my workout-distraction show streaming on my phone, I felt my pace slow. The main character was brutally attacked and raped. Again.

After the year of strain, death and fear we’ve all just lived, I long for joy. When I’m in the midst of writing multiple stories about sexual abuse and spending my workday absorbing stories of trauma, I need a break, an escape.

Here enter Girls5Eva, a Peacock original filled with Tina Fey-paced dialogue (minus some of her takes that have not aged well), plus stars who make one another…

On covering trauma in a grin-and-bear-it industry that I just can’t quit

Photo: Heath Korvola/Getty Images

My Twitter feed is a strange amalgam of journalists, professors, theologians, pastors, deconstructing evangelicals, and church abuse survivors. I’m at this unique nexus where I see the exhaustion of reporters who have been charging to the frontlines for over a year now trying to understand Covid-19, absorbing devastating illness and death, the resilience and heartbreak of medical professionals, all while doing their best to get each detail of their own medical coverage right because to mess up could mean the difference between life or death for someone else.

I see pastors who have tried to hold their churches together virtually…

Protection against illness and death should be enough to convince people to roll up their sleeves. But since it isn’t, let’s bring on the gimmicks.

Credit: Yulia Reznikov/Getty Images

“You can’t win if you don’t play!”

“Odds are, you’ll have fun!”

These are slogans I knew growing up, along with a 7:30 pm prohibition on any child-made sound as the Ohio Pick-3 aired on TV. My dad would strategize, consult tattered books listing previous winning numbers, carefully choose his number combination, and lay out a dollar or two he’d almost always lose. But he won enough to keep him interested, betting his luck might change.

There’s a certain brilliance in Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s “Vax-a-Million” announcement. Over the next five weeks, each week a $1 million dollar winner will…

Sarah Stankorb

Sarah Stankorb is a contributor to GEN. Other works in The Washington Post, Marie Claire, Glamour, O, and The Atlantic. @sarahstankorb

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