Write Now with Kristin Wong

How this writer breaks up every piece into four parts

Write Now with Kristin Wong
Photo courtesy of Kirstin Wong

Who Are You?

I’m Kristin Wong, a freelance journalist based in Los Angeles and New York. I’ve written for the New York Times, The Cut, CNBC, Glamour, Travel + Leisure, and a handful of other places, and I recently took on the role of Managing Editor at The Financial Diet.

What Do You Write?

I’ve been writing since I was a kid. Writing always felt familiar and soothing. Throughout the years, I’ve tried nearly every form of writing, from journalism to fiction to screenwriting to poetry. For me, writing is less about the what and more about the why — I write to communicate ideas and connect with people. It’s a selfish endeavor, really. Whether it’s fiction or service journalism or essaying, I write to be understood and to get closer to my readers.

Writing is both a hobby and a business for me, and that’s a delicate balance. I feel fortunate every day that I get to do this as a career, but your passions can get complicated when you mingle them with money. With writing, there is a constant tension between writing what you want to write and what someone will pay you to write. It’s an ongoing balancing act, but it’s the price you pay to earn a living doing what you love, so I’m happy to pay those dues.

Where Do You Write?

Most of my writing is done on a computer, so I’m a big fan of Google Drive, which makes it easy to share your writing with other people for feedback. When I write by hand in my journal, I love using the Lamy pen, but I’m biased — my uncle gifted me one before I moved to Los Angeles to pursue a writing career. I also have a horde of nice notebooks I’ve collected over the years but am too anxious to use. Pretty notebooks come with so much pressure to write pretty things! But mostly I write on my laptop from the kitchen table. It’s not very glamorous.

When Do You Write?

When I’m writing an article that’s been assigned, I break up the assignment into four stages: freewriting, reporting, shitty first draft, then editing.

Freewriting is just stream-of-consciousness writing on whatever topic is assigned. The final draft rarely looks anything like the freewriting version, but this step keeps me from writing formulaic pieces that lack any original voice. Usually, the lede of my article is based on some of the freewriting I did on that topic. It also helps me wrap my head around the topic more.

From there, I do my reporting: collecting data, researching, interviewing people. Then I create a sloppy outline of the draft, copy and paste my freewriting and reporting into the appropriate sections, and write a shitty first draft. (If you’re not familiar with the concept of Shitty First Drafts, check out Anne Lamott’s explanation — it’s been my remedy for writer’s block). From there, it’s just a matter of editing and editing until my deadline rolls around. I schedule each of these stages as tasks on my calendar, working backward from the deadline.

Why Do You Write?

When I watch a movie like Parasite or listen to a song like Montauk by Rufus Wainwright, I get equal parts inspired and envious — I wish I could write like that! It’s funny how inspiration can also be disheartening. So I try to temper my inspiration with reality — what kind of writing am I good at? I’m not sure I have it in me to write an epic screenplay, and I’m certain I could never write an even halfway decent song. But I can write a pretty good essay, so I try to remind myself that every writer’s talents are going to vary. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t try your hand at different types of writing — I suck at poetry but still enjoy writing it — but if you rely too heavily on inspiration, I think it becomes counterproductive. You can start to emulate other writers too closely and lose your own voice. To go back to the question, I write because writing is a way for me to express myself and connect with others. Ultimately, I suppose that’s what motivates me.

How Do You Overcome Writer’s Block?

Anne Lamott’s concept of Shitty First Drafts has helped me beat writer’s block almost entirely. To sum it up, it’s writing a draft without simultaneously editing it or thinking about your reader. It’s writing an extremely rough draft that doesn’t have to be good. Stephen King calls it “writing with the door closed.” You write without the pressure that anyone else is going to see it. Thanks to this idea, I rarely get writer’s block anymore, because I think a big part of writer’s block is the anxiety over how your writing will be received, even if that anxiety is subconscious.

Bonus: What Do You Enjoy Doing When Not Writing?

So many things! Hiking, photography, road trips with friends. Lately, I’ve been into birdwatching.

A version of this article also appeared on Medium.